We took advantage of a day off from school this week and headed to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.
It’s far enough away (about 125 miles) that it’s a treat to visit, as well as an entire daylong venture. First, we visited their art studio. The current project is making instruments from a variety of found objects.
I think found objects have the potential for becoming quickly overwhelming. It works here because they set out a limited supply of each type of object and because the goal was specific: make an instrument. My six-year-old seemingly effortlessly came up with something that made noise in multiple ways. He taped two metal jar lids together with beads on the inside. On top he taped a small metal canister with ridged sides, which make noise when he rubs a coffee stirrer against them. Also, you can press down on the ridged metal piece to make a pop! noise with the metal jar lid.
Even my two-year-old could participate, though. I’d begun fiddling around with the materials, placing some beads in a plastic bottle cap and taping another cap on top. She had me untape them, she added some beads, and then she tested the sound. She had me untape so she could add beads several times, until she achieved whatever result she was aiming for, and then she happily shook her instrument all over the place.
We also visited the exhibits, of course, although this got challenging, as my daughter was in a squirmy mood. We especially liked the Monsters and Miracles exhibit, and I particularly like when a preliminary drawing is exhibited along with the finished illustration. I pointed this out to my six-year-old. “See how he made a sketch first, to think out his ideas? He probably made lots of them. And when he had it the way he wanted it, then he did a finished one with color.”
“Like we did with the sunflowers,” he said. Just like with writing, unless we make sure to point it out, children don’t know that the finished artwork isn’t the artist’s first attempt.
The museum also has a great library, full of picture books, and an equally great bookstore. We always pick out a book or two that we discovered in the galleries. This visit our gallery-inspired books were Kibbitzers and Fools: Tales My Zayda Told Me by Simms Taback and Rotten Island by William Steig. We read Jonah and the Two Great Fish by Mordicai Gerstein while in the Monsters and Miracles gallery, but I couldn’t find it in the bookstore. It may end up in a Christmas book order, though, because we all really enjoyed it.
While at the Eric Carle Museum, we are led to books through the illustrations, and viewing the exhibits reminds me to pay even more attention to the illustrations in our favorite books, both in how they were created and in how they make the book a whole.
Inspirations from our visit are percolating, and will find their way into future projects, no doubt.