Quote of the Moment

"Stare. It is the way to educate your eye and more."

Walker Evans, American photographer.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Toddle to Amherst

On Saturday, Sept. 25th four of us set out for Amherst, Mass. to visit the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  It was a beautiful warm sunny day for a drive, with the leaves just starting to turn.  When we got to Amherst it took us a few minutes to find the Mead; there was a craft fair going on downtown (which we successfully avoided!) and the museum is located at the center of the idyllically beautiful Amherst campus.  With the help of some students we found it, however, and what a treat this little museum is.  Here is a description from the museum website:

"The Mead occupies its original building opened in 1949 (renovated in 1999-2001) established with funds bequeathed by architect William Rutherford Mead, Amherst College Class of 1867. Eight galleries feature regularly changing installations and special exhibitions spanning a wide range of historical periods, national schools, and artistic media. Highlights of the permanent collection include American and European old masters, an English Baroque room, ancient Assyrian carvings, Russian modern art, West African sculpture, Japanese prints, and Mexican ceramics." 

In addition to the renovation mentioned above, the entire collection was reinstalled in newly painted galleries this past summer and the results are stunning.  The wall colors (no boring white here!) really make the installations stand out and the entire experience is a feast for the eyes.

The exhibits gallery page features some of my many favorites from the Mead's wonderfully eclectic collection.  (To view more visit the Mead website, which features in depth research and viewing capabilities).

Some of the highlights for me were: Bouguereau's "Le Travail interrompu" (Penelope) (1891); "Gloucester Harbor" by Willard Metcalf (1895); the Assyrian alabaster reliefs from circa 9th centure B.C.; marble sculpture titled "Sleeping Children" by William Rinehart (1874); a small Bronze Bacchante by MacMonnies (1894); and some of the Roman objects, notably the little oil lamps (note where the wick would protrude on the example in the Exhibits Gallery page; naughty Romans!) 

I recommend ending a visit in the Rotherwas Room.  This is a room commissioned by English knight Sir Roger Bodenham for his estate, called Rotherwas Court.  This sumptuous walnut-panelled dining room was acquired by Amherst graduate Herbert Lee Pratt for his neo-Jacobean estate in Long Island in 1913.  Pratt bequeathed the room and a major collection of paintings, furniture and silver to Amherst in 1944 and the room was incorporated into the Mead Museum during it's construction in 1948-49.  There are leather armchairs to relax in while you take in the Renaissance and Baroque art on view in the room and enjoy the magnificent view from the room's windows.

During our tour of the Mead my friends and I came across some students hanging out and reading in one of the galleries; it was quiet and comfortable and a favorite place of theirs, they told us.  And I could see why; this museum has a very welcoming atmosphere and friendly, helpful staff.

After our visit to the Mead we ventured back into downtown Amherst for lunch at Judie's, an Amherst eaterie that has been around for years that features a varied menu and reasonable prices.  The sweet potato fries and Bomba (sherbert encased in a white chocolate shell) were particularly yummy!

After fortifying ourselves we ventured off to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.  This was conceived and founded by illustrator Eric Carle and his wife.  It opened in 2002 and features works by Carle and other contemporary illustrators as well as a selection of historic illustrations and traveling exhibits.  There are also regular book signings by contemporary children's writers and illustrators.

This is a great museum for families and a perfect choice for a first art museum experience for young children.  There is a video to the left of the admission desk when you enter that is narrated by Eric Carle and is designed to introduce children to the idea of a museum and how to behave appropriately.  The video is engaging and not preachy at all and Carle's charm and personality set the stage for viewing the exhibits very well.

Currently the West Gallery is devoted mostly to the art, life and artistic process of Eric Carle, which also features some of the donated historical collection. This exhibit will be on view until March of 2011.  The Central Gallery features the art of Leo Leoninni, specifically his book "Geraldine the Music Mouse," until the end of November 2010.  The East Gallery is currently being readied for a new exhibit but featured the art of an Austrian illustrator named Lisbeth Zwerger when we were there.  Zwerger's illustrations are done mostly in watercolor; many are small and incredibly detailed.  She illustrated a lot of classic stories such as Noah's Ark, Swan Lake, Alice In Wonderland, etc. 

In addition to the galleries there is a library of picture books that families can hang out and read stories in.  All of the books in this library are shelved alphabetically by illustrator.  There is also an art room where children can make art, complete with a drying rack outside so that you can leave your work to dry and pick it up on your way out.  A theatre near the entrance offers puppet shows and other kid-friendly entertainment on a regular basis and then there is the gift shop.  I warn you: set limits or you could easily go berserk in here!  There is an extensive collection of children's books for all ages, plus adult art books, toys, games, baby gifts, stationery..... One of my friends purchased a wonderful baby shower package completely in the Very Hungry Caterpillar theme. 

On the Exhibits Gallery page I have posted the Carle Museum's logo and a photo of myself and two of my friends in front of the Very Hungry Caterpillar (I couldn't find other representative images to import from the website).  You can bring a picnic lunch here or go to the Atkins Farm Market just down the street for refreshment (another very tempting shopping experience!)