Object of the Month: Calder Gallery at the National Gallery of Art

As was the case in September, this month’s Object of the Month is actually an entire gallery. This gallery is dedicated to the artist, Alexander Calder, and is located in the newly re-opened East Wing of the National Gallery of Art. The latest iteration of this gallery is bright, airy, colorful, and full of shadows. It is in many ways the perfect art space for a young child can while away their time looking and getting lost in their imaginations.
The objects within the gallery can be used in conjunction to several age-appropriate themes.

  • Shadows – The sundial just outside the Smithsonian Castle in the Haupt Garden  + Moonbear’s Shadow by Frank Asch would round out the experience.
  • Color – Calder’s bold color palette is a great way to introduce your child to colors.
  • Shape – Circles, triangles, even a quadrilateral (the elephant’s ears)!
  • Ocean – Finny Fish offers an imaginative take on our ocean friends- combine it with a trip to the Natural History’s Sant Ocean Hall.
  • Balance – His mobiles are a great way to introduce children to the concept of balance.
  • Movement/Wind – Take notice, Calder’s mobiles move and come alive!
  • Space – Many of his pieces reminiscent of the solar system, especially Vertical Constellation with Bomb.

 

Infants, Toddlers, and Twos

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Visit the NGA’s website to learn more about each of these objects.

The animals in the center of the gallery are a perfect height for your infant and toddler, especially those who are in the stroller and struggling to see what is around them. I like the idea of pairing these objects with Sandra Boyton’s Are You a Cow or Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo. I am also very fond of the Crinkly Worm and pairing it with one of my all-time favs- Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni. Whichever literary direction you go, you can also choose to bring photos, stuffed animals, or even watch a short video featuring one of the animals. Head out to the nearby terrace and see if you can imagine moving like a bull or a worm.  If worms, cows, and bulls aren’t your thing, then focus on the elephant. This sculpture is a playful interpretation of the animal and is certain to capture your child’s attention. Enjoy an elephant hunt though the 3Smithsonian and stop by the Sackler Gallery to see the Seated Ganesha, the rotunda of the Natural History Museum to see Henry the Elephant and of course, the Zoo. Take a photo of each visit and display it somewhere at home where your child can see it (you could make a mobile if you want to stay true to the Calder theme). By documenting their experience, it will help them connect events and see their own learning.

Threes and Four

I was recently in this gallery with a group of adults as part of a workshop and I was asked to work with a partner to create something Calder–inspired with paper and some scotch tape. We don’t often think about it, but museums, with the right materials, can also be art studios.  I love these types of activities not just because they support creativity, but because they encourage young children to look carefully. Here are a few gallery-safe ideas:

  • Sketch the shadows on the walls2
  • Use pipe cleaners to make shapes and forms.
  • Add pieces to a mobile that you have started
  • Have them tear a piece of paper into one of the shapes they see  (just remember a trash bag).

Enjoy, have fun, and don’t forget to share your ideas with us too!

The Art Room

We recently featured our art educator, Carolyn Eby, in our bi-weekly Teacher Feature.  We thought it would be great to take another look at the work she is doing with all of our age groups. Check out some of her great ideas!

Infants Explore the Arctic

Carolyn used frozen paints and invited each child to mix them with other colors on their tables. After which, she took a mono print of their work. Children later ripped the mono print to create a collage – a fun activity that also helped them build important fine motor skills!

Toddlers Sand Paint

This sand paint, made with puffy paint and baking soda,  was delivered straight to the toddler class in dump trucks — the perfect accompaniment to their study of, you guessed it, trucks!

PreK-3 Color Mixing

Our preschool students join Carolyn every afternoon for art. Here we see them exploring color with the help of a light table. They also used eyedroppers and watercolors to explore what happened when the colors ran together. So focused!

 

PreK-4 Shapes

Like the three-year-olds, the fours join Carolyn every afternoon. Here she took a common  theme, shapes, and added depth. On the floor, the students are participating in a drawing game in which the dice indicate a color and a shape. Then, she had the class paint with sponges cut into specific shapes. Finally, she has them cutting shapes to match an artwork. They approached the concept in a variety of ways and thus, got a deeper understanding of it and had a lot of fun!

The Everyday Artist

I am, by training, an art historian. After having taught for more than fifteen years in museums, I consider myself a museum educator by experience. I do not, however, consider myself an art educator and _MG_0755yet, I find myself in the position of having to provide and support art based projects. I am not going to lie, I have often felt a little out of my element and concerned about creating authentic art experiences. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one. I am certain there are other early childhood educators and parents out there who dread the “art activity” largely because many of us have the mindset of either being good or bad artists.

I am happy to report that over the past five years, I have managed to take on a different perspective. I’ve learned that my art projects don’t have to have the same goals as those of art educators. I use these projects as a way to extend a theme, facilitate a creative experience and shape a community atmosphere. I don’t try to teach technique or fundamentals and leave that to the experts. Here are some ideas for getting to your own place of Zen with your student’s or children’s art activities.

Extend the Idea

In a class featuring African masks, we visited the National Museum of African Art and explored this mask from Burkino Faso. Our conversation began simply by observing the piece and then connecting the mask with shape of a butterfly wing. We then talked about how the mask connected to nature – not only in its subject matter, but also in its meaning and use. On our way back to the classroom, we walked through a nearby butterfly garden in the hopes of seeing a real butterfly.

Once we returned, I provided students with large cut-outs of butterfly wings and asked them to design their own butterfly patterns. I was drawn to this idea because it extended the butterfly theme and supported the same connection with art and nature. I also liked it because it was simple and manageable for everyone.

Keep it Open-ended

_MG_1294I try to avoid prescribed rules or a specific set of steps for a project because it helps me stay in my comfort zone, and also sets the children up for success.

After a visit to the Freer Gallery of Art’s Peacock Room, we spent the end of class creating our own peacock-inspired painting and frame by using the Whistler’s blue, green and gold color palette. Again, this project was simple to execute but underlined the importance of the color scheme. I also thought it worked well since Whistler felt that his artwork should be beautiful.  Not giving them too many parameters enabled them to create something using their abilities and to do it in their own individual way.

Provide a Variety of Materials

I think a range of materials helps speak to different children and what interests them. For example, when designing the butterfly wings I provided markers, paint and oil pastel crayons. Each produced different effects and gave the children a chance to experiment with different mediums. It was interesting to see what they chose to work with and how they used it. The opportunity to choose for themselves felt like an exercise in creativity. With that said, the trick is trying not to overwhelm them with too many options.

Provide Inspiration

IMG_3536Like the materials, the inspiration piece has to balance. I like posting images around the room when doing an art project – whether it’s an example of another child’s work or of a famous artist, having inspiration available can help get the creative juices flowing.

Share

_MG_1320Finally, I love to give children the chance to share.  Of course there are times when children don’t want to share, but I find that they still benefit from the conversation. I begin by asking them to describe their artwork and then inquire about one or two interesting components. Why they chose a color? Did an element mean something? What did they like about the project? The class gets to see multiple perspectives, practice speaking/listening in a group and be proud of their accomplishments.

 

Want to have some fun with us? Join us for our Preschool Pioneers and create your own art project.