Stories in Art is a program for kids ages 4 to 7. Twice a year, the NGA offers a four-week program that focuses on a unified theme. This summer that theme is Italian Art. Each week the kids focus on one piece of art. This week that piece of art was a bust of Giuliano de Medici by Andrea del Verrocchio.
The experience began with us rushing to the NGA Monday morning to find parking and arrive at the door by 10 am. There are no reserved spots in the classes, so you must sign up when the museum opens. We happily made it on time and were among the first to sign in. While waiting for our class to begin, we visited the Van Gogh paintings, since the girls are quite taken with Van Gogh these days (see here).
At 10:30 am we met our teacher in the rotunda and she led the kids back to the gallery that held the Verrocchio bust. The kids all sat in front of the bust and were led to observe many intricate details about the bust. We learned that the proud look on the subject's face was because the bust was in celebration of his twenty-second birthday (apparently a big deal in Florentine society). The reason there were no details in his eyes was because the bust had once been painted, but the paint had worn off. Beside the bust of Giuliano de Medici was a painted terra cotta bust of Giuliano's brother. The children were then led to contrast the two busts. One striking difference was that Giuliano's brother had a terribly angry expression. Definitely wouldn't want to run into him in a dark alley in Florence.
After this detailed discussion of the bust, the teacher led the children to another gallery in the Italian section (this allowed a second group of children to observe the bust). Here the teacher read Tomie dePaola's The Mysterious Giant of Barletta. We love Tomie dePaola and were not let down by this charming story of a statue coming to life to save a village in Italy. Meg and Clare later begged me to find the book because they loved it so much.
After reading the book, the teacher led the children to the West Garden Court where sheets of brown paper had been placed on the floor as workstations for the children. Each child was given terra cotta-colored modeling clay and a sculpture tool. They were then allowed to create in one of the most beautiful spots in the building. What fantastic inspiration.
Prior to this point the teacher told the kids a story. She said, "Yesterday a little girl tried to make a birdhouse but couldn't quite do it. Instead of crying, she squooshed her clay back into a ball and made something else. As artist we sometimes have to do that." Oh did that story resonate with Clare, who becomes so upset when she can't do something. She later repeated the story to me which tells me she was thinking about it for awhile.
Here are a few pictures of Meg and Clare sculpting in the West Garden Court of the National Gallery of Art.