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Art through children's eyes

Reflections on a first art museum experience at Philbrook Museum of Art

“Have you lost your mind?” was my daughter-in-law’s response when I asked to take my four active grandsons, ranging in age from seven to 13, to Philbrook Museum of Art.

Like so many school children, the boys enrolled in online school this fall. Since the arts take a backseat in a virtual curriculum, the dormant art teacher in me awakened, and I offered to teach a weekly, in-person art class for my grandsons. I dug out lesson plans and introduced a design element or principle each week, along with a creative assignment emphasizing that particular concept. The most recent topic was one of the principles of design: pattern. 

Knowing that Philbrook was hosting a special exhibit of Native American women artists, "Hearts of Our People," and noting the stunning patterns, I arranged a field trip. My grandsons were excited – even after reading my list of rules for museum etiquette and behavior. Upon entering Philbrook’s doors, the boys instantly were awestruck by Sharon Louden's installation in the rotunda. Seconds later, they scurried to the balcony for a different perspective. Buoyed by their enthusiasm, I led the way to the special exhibit, "Hearts of Our People”. While the artists' notes were insightful and thought provoking, much was beyond the attention span of my crew. Together, we looked for patterns, talked about the creativity and experiences represented and took special note of the exquisite Maria Martinez pottery. I was intrigued by their perspective.

Before proceeding to the gardens, the boys visited rooms that house Philbrook’s permanent collection. Our first stop was the Italian Room to see Kehinde Wiley's "Equestrian Portrait of Phillip IV" and its powerful, brilliantly-colored patterns. A nearby room of Egyptian artifacts was discovered, and, with unbridled excitement, they pointed out the “mummy.” As they studied it carefully, I explained that it was not an actual mummy, but a case for one, called a sarcophagus. 

Our final destination was the last piece in the special exhibit: "Maria," a classic low rider El Camino, reimagined by Pueblo Artist Rose B. Simpson, with a nod to the illustrious potter, Maria Martinez. “Is it a car or a pickup?” they asked, as they laid eyes on their first El Camino. We sat on a bench and discussed the cultural significance and patterns reminiscent of Martinez’ black-on-black pottery.

As we left, I felt pride in my grandsons' behavior, their curiosity and in their first steps toward awareness of cultures and the range of artistic expression.  

A field trip to Philbrook Museum of Art with my grandsons opened a window to the world, one we will all reflect on throughout our lives.

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