January 27, 2008
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Hi Friends, I'm recovering a bit from my recent lack of words and have been pondering a return to the blog. Yesterday I had an exhilarating day, it's as good a place to start as any. Stan, Luke and I headed into the city in the late morning to investigate children's art classes at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Several weeks ago, Luke passed through the kitchen after school and mentioned something to me about his art teacher suggesting he take art lessons at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This is a fuzzy memory, I don't know whether I was putting dinner in the oven, feeding the dog, watching Ellen dancing across the stage and being impressed that she, at the age of 50, could lip sync all the words to this new song I'd never even heard...I don't know, but poor Luke wasn't heard, I just didn't get the suggestion. However, on Friday, I was pondering taking the kids to the art museum this weekend and looking on the website, when I saw the link "children's classes" and clicked. The classes started yesterday and surely, I thought, they'd be filled long ago. But the gnawing thought wouldn't leave and by Saturday morning I told everyone it was an emergency. We must get to the museum, pronto. Stan loves it when I do this, as you can imagine. Sean didn't want to go, so he stayed home with Seth who was "studying for midterms." I thought this would be a good opportunity to do something special with the middle child alone.
I only know one way to park at the museum, in the front circle. We needed to enter the back entrance according to the person on the phone who, because she could not or would not tell us whether the classes were closed, caused us to take this trip across the bridge and into the city. We parked in front, jaywalked (ran) across a multilane circle, and jogged up the "Rocky steps" - and some local dude who stood by watching, provided the accompaniment for us - "Da da dada da dada DA da da..." Walking around the building I couldn't help myself, I moaned the entire time about the absolutely exquisite "pure Minnesota dolomite" that makes up the entire building inside and out. A creamy, orangey color that soothes my soul every time I walk the floors, stairs, around its pillars and within its walls. Stan and Luke, cold and looking anxiously ahead for the door, were not so impressed. I can not fathom how. Finally, we made it around to the back and went in.
Stan went to the desk and found the classes were closed. There were three ladies at the long, oval desk. Two of them talked to Stan, giving him options in the city, suggesting art schools that gave children's Saturday morning classes. The third lady made conversation with Luke and me. She said she had friends from our hometown and then asked Luke what kind of art he liked to do. He said he liked to draw, mostly. She said, matter-of-factly, "Draw me something," and handed him a piece of paper and a tiny golf pencil. He looked around for an inspiration and she pointed to a high balcony above, where there was a small gift shop area and a giant frieze on the wall behind it.
Luke immediately got to work. He is the most centered, solid person. There he was facing this strange woman two feet away who curiously watched his every pencil stroke, and he stood drawing for 25 minutes at her request without a care. In the almost eleven years I've known the kid, not an ounce of that quality has worn off on me, sadly to say. I walked back and forth between Luke and Stan, who was buying us a family membership at this point. As I peered over Luke's shoulder at his drawing, the lady said to me, with wonder and pointing to his drawing, "I've been sitting in this chair for years and I've never even seen that wallpaper." That's the beauty of Luke's art, it always holds a detail that you have never noticed. If he drew my living room, there would be something in the drawing that I have never seen before. I suppose that is art itself, showing the observer something theretofore unseen.
Finally, I encouraged Luke to quit so we could walk through the museum and check out his favorite artist, Vincent Van Gogh. He gave his drawing to the nice lady and we began. Each and every time I go to this museum I find myself in the Arms and Armor section first. Arms and Armor? Look for yourself, it's fascinating. You can even zoom in for details. It will not have the same impact on the net and it's a small sample, but I'm telling you, these pieces as a group and singularly are breathtaking. The details engraved into the metal are unbelievable: hearts, musical instruments, letters with meanings like God's will be done, faces, flowers...I could never do it justice. This collection never ceases to amaze me. I could stand there all day looking at helmets, rifles, jousts, spears, powder containers, horse armor....who were these people? What were they doing with all of this ostentation? What did they find important? Were there men tiny enough to fit into that armor? Did this spear ever kill someone? Did the horse that wore this armor live a long life? What were the fair maidens doing?
We did see Vincent's sunflowers and a few others. There was a large display of Monet. I kept being called by the works of Pisarro and Cezanne. I really loved Cezanne's pieces, like Winter Landscape, Giverny. At one point, in the European collection, 1850 - 1900's, I saw a young fellow standing behind a curved wall, unwrapping a beautiful bouquet of flowers and peering down the long, wide corridor into the collection. I smiled and had a certain feeling that he was planning to propose to his sweetheart. Then I turned the corner, finding myself in a small room with strange misshapen faces and forgot all about the fellow with the flowers.
Before we left, I coaxed Luke and Stan away from a low, circular fountain where Luke threw pennies and sat on the black stone benches to rest and hold his hungry stomach. I figured it might be interesting to see a little modern art before we headed home. That's where the pictures on this post come in. This artist, William Kentridge, designed these many huge, woven tapestries that hung ceiling to floor in a cavernous white room. The sight of all of them together made us sit down on the bench in the center and feel their heaviness, and yet a bit of loftiness because their theme, man trudging over old maps burdened with instruments of work, had a feeling of progress through and over time. The word they said to me was WORK. With a bit of progress thrown in.
As we left, we passed the smooth, charcoal black fountain right behind the fellow on his knee who was slipping a large diamond ring onto the girl seated and blushing in the Saturday crowd. I was the first to say congratulations, because I was the one who knew what he was up to from the very start. Then there was applause that continued as we made our way down the corridor to leave.
We left out the front doors and down the 99 steps of the art museum. We didn't get what we were after, but we saw Vincent's Sunflowers, I rediscovered Cezanne, we witnessed the very beginning of a lifelong love, Luke helped a nice lady appreciate the details in life and I pondered, once again, the mystery of my love of arms and armor and pure Minnesota dolomite.