What is one of the best ways to introduce young children to fine art? Take them for a walk in the park– a sculpture park. That is precisely what I did with Luke and Leah for New Experience #19, and we had a playful, art-filled afternoon.
We took a ride to the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey a few days ago. This beautiful outdoor museum is located in the midst of warehouses in a sprawling New Jersey suburb- a strange location for an amazing collection of sculptures by well-known and emerging contemporary artists. As we drove down Route 295, we saw a huge sculpture marking the exit. That was just the first of many we would see on our ride through Hamilton. Giant sculptures line the roads, and there are life-size sculptures of people photographing the huge ones. Luke and Leah loved looking out the window and finding the next sculpture on the road. The pieces of art added so much interest and beauty to the neighborhood. Best of all, after seeing so many of them, the kids couldn’t wait to arrive.
Once we entered the Grounds for Sculpture, the kids had so much fun running from sculpture to sculpture. That is one of the best parts about a sculpture park- children can run and parents don’t have to endure a mini-heart attack every time they get close to a piece of art. My children are sticklers for the rules. They definitely don’t get that quality from me, as I bend as many rules as possible. But, it made me proud to see them check for a green tag before touching the artwork. A few of the sculptures have red tags and are not allowed to be touched, but most of the ones we found were completely touchable. I think the kids enjoyed touching the sculptures just because they could. They are used to hearing me screech, “Don’t touch!” when they are still about 15 feet away from any kind of museum artifact.
The sculptures in the park are extraordinary. Some of my favorites are Seward Johnson’s interpretations of Impressionist paintings. The children were fascinated by the giant contemporary sculptures. Leah especially liked the ones inflated with air by Sharon Engelstein and the sculptures made of everyday items like shoes and toilet bowls. If you ever want to get a preschooler and a kindergartener to talk about art, just ask them how they can turn a toilet bowl into a sculpture. Trust me on that one.
One of the best parts about walking through a contemporary sculpture garden with young children is that they don’t say, “Oh, I could make that sculpture” in a sarcastic voice, meaning that the sculpture did not look difficult to create. When a child looks at a sculpture and says, “Oh, I could make that sculpture,” he is hopeful and enthusiastic. He believes that creating art is within his reach.
So, the day after we went to the Grounds for Sculpture, we made our own sculptures using soap. We talked about how sculptures can be assembled of many pieces or carved from one piece. I put out bars of soap, butter knives, spreaders, paintbrushes, skewers, corn cob holders, and a potato peeler. I showed Luke and Leah how I could carve the soap, but I did not give them any rules. They had fun experimenting with each instrument, carefully whittling away at their soap bars. The potato peeler was the object they enjoyed using the most. We sat alongside each other and sculpted. Our sculptures are not masterpieces, but like all of the art projects I do with my kids, the process is more important than the product.
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