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"Round Table Capers": Medieval Festivals in the 1950s

Medieval Festival for Children, 1955

Ring toss, with a unicorn's horn, 1955. See slideshow.

From 1951 to 1957, The Cloisters hosted annual festivals for children of Members. Each of the seven festivals—held in the courtyard and given vibrantly titled themes such as "Round Table Capers" (1954) and "When Knights were Bold" (1955)—was an extravagant affair organized by the staff of the Met's Junior Museum, the precursor to what is now the Education Department. Children enjoyed puppet shows, games, donkey rides, and even trained bears.

Invitation to the Medieval Festival for Children, 1951

The Henry Street Players offered dramatic performances, and portable merry-go-rounds and ice cream trucks were brought in for the delight of the young guests. The original festivals came to an end when the twelfth-century chapel of San Martín from Fuentidueña was installed in the open courtyard space, but a different version—hosted by the New York City Parks Department and the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation—is still held every year in Fort Tryon Park.

Left: Invitation, 1951

The Cloisters continues to offer programs for families, including gallery workshops on most weekends and special Family Festival events twice a year. Although trained bears and ice cream trucks are no longer part of the offerings, these events maintain the spirit of the 1950s festivals, entrancing and inspiring new generations of Museum visitors through the art and culture of the medieval world.

See a slideshow of photographs from the festivals.

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