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Family Guides and Art Hunts in the Digital Collections

Nancy Mandel
November 19, 2014

Han'guk misul sok ŭi tongmul : Ŏrinidŭl ŭl wihan kiljabi
Cover of Han'guk misul sok ŭi tongmul: Ŏrinidŭl ŭl wihan kiljabi, the Korean-language version of The Wild Ones in Korean Art: Children's Guide

«The 130 items in the collection of family guides and art hunts represent over thirty years of Museum educators' efforts to encourage children of all ages to "look at the [artworks] closely, analyze what you see, and to become curious about the meaning and functions" of art objects (Masks of Africa in the Permanent Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994).»

masks of africa
Masks of Africa in the Permanent Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Even though most of the exhibitions closed years ago and gallery arrangements may be quite different from what they were in previous decades, many elements of these guides and hunts could be useful in themselves or serve as inspiration for both children and grownups today.

An appropriately classic example with a path to follow, questions requiring both observation and imagination to answer, and suggestions for at-home art projects ("Try making your own black-figure vase"—from black construction paper) is this guide to the reopened Greek galleries from 1999.

New greek galleries

The New Greek Galleries: A Family Guide

Some are brief brochures focused on special exhibitions, like this single-fold one for the 1999 exhibition Gustave Moreau: Between Epic and Dream.

gustave moreau

Moreau family guide, featuring Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra

Issues of an occasional publication called Museum Kids are included; still relevant after all these years is this one discussing From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwiler, with an essay by E. L. Konigsburg on how she came to write the book that has tempted generations of New York kids to think of living secretly in the great museum. She says: "The beginnings of the idea for the book started with a piece of popcorn on a blue silk chair."

A few of the family guides are substantial, text-heavy booklets aimed more at teachers and parents than directly at children; many more are simpler but still thoughtful.

These children's guides incorporate use elements of play. Popular is the scavenger hunt or art walk, demanding good observation (and the following of instructions) as seen in this example from 2000, Rooms with a View, which asks visitors to "look at things inside out; that is, from the inside, looking outside."

rooms with a views
Rooms with a View, 2000 edition

A one-page guide to the 1994 exhibition Pharaoh's Gifts combines elements of the art hunt with an at-home art activity while explaining the context, use, and materials of Egyptian objects.

pharoah gifts
Pharaoh's Gifts Family Hunt

Drawing tasks are often included to spark a direct creative response in young visitors, for instance in A Gallery Hunt in Precolumbian Art.

Precolumbian Art drawing task

There are also lots and lots of questions that encourage close looking and imaginative identification. The wide-ranging themes include tea sets, Ottoman calligraphy, animals of many kinds, food, and children's play. Most of these publication are in English, but editions in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean have also been created on occasion.

Nancy Mandel

Nancy Mandel was formerly the manager for library administration in the Thomas J. Watson Library.