Category Archives: Families

The Art of Cleaning and Cleaning as Art

meganhildebrandt1bodine

Artist Megan Hildebrandt will kick-off the BMA’s American Wing Reopening Celebration on Sunday, November 23 at 10:00 am with a great Baltimore tradition – step scrubbing. BMA educator Jessica Braiterman caught up with Megan to find out more about the step scrubbing.

JB: How did you get started with your step-scrubbing project?

MH: The project began in the spring of 2008. Local history was very central to my practice at that time, and I had been researching the history of Baltimore, specifically Highlandtown (where I was in residence at Creative Alliance). I came across Aubrey Bodine’s amazing (however staged) photographs of women and children step-scrubbing. Asking some locals about the tradition, they all remembered it as an essential ritual of life, a weekly routine that underscored the importance of community via the front marble stoop. I wondered why I rarely saw anyone scrubbing their steps anymore. The few I did see scrubbing had a lot in common– many of the women wore housedresses and even had their hair in curlers – and maybe had an average age of 60. It was as though the tradition was nearly gone, and these women were the keepers of it. So I began to scrub. Every Saturday Morning.

JB: What are some of the more memorable experiences while scrubbing people’s steps in Baltimore?

MH: I remember how warmly I was greeted by people. I think I caught them off-guard pretty often, offering a service for free. But they did pay me in their own ways. Many would stand outside and offer tips about how to better scrub, what product was best to use on marble (Bonami!), and memories of their brothers and sisters taking turns with the chore. Highlandtown in 2008 was really changing a lot – many Polish families who had lived in those rowhouses for decades, many new immigrants from all over the world who had just moved in, and every color person you can imagine. In this way, I sometimes acted as an introduction to a ritual in their new neighborhood; sometimes as a reminder; sometimes a student; sometimes a teacher. My job changed with every door I knocked on.

JB: Did you gain a new appreciation for cleaning as a result?

MH: The task at  hand of scrubbing was an immediate way to engage my audience. Once I was cleaning their steps, we had something to talk about. I have always appreciated the way labor allows for a fluidity, a sense of being alongside, a closeness. And the repetition involved in scrubbing definitely has echoes in my other artwork.

JB: How has step-scrubbing informed or connected to your other artistic practices?

MH: As I said, repetition and ritual is a main tenant of my work at present. I believe it does trace directly to the Do Your Steps project. Knowing that every Saturday morning, I was going to walk around East Baltimore for two or three hours and scrub steps gave me a wonderful structure in which to work. The same can be said of my autobiographical drawings. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2009, working in grid-like formations became another way of repeating an image, and the scale of the drawings was so large they became performative.

JB: What do you hope for the large-scale scrubbing of the BMA’s front steps on November 23?

MH: I hope it to be a visual code, a somewhat quiet poem of history, a bright spectacle. I hope for it to act as a communal unlocking of tradition – perfect for the 100th anniversary.

You can join Megan on November 23 at 10:00 am for some elbow-greasing fun on the BMA’s front steps. Don your best apron and rubber gloves and join Hildebrandt to scrub the BMA’s front steps. Register ahead of time by emailing the artist at: meganhildebrandt11@gmail.com

Stay for performances, storytelling, art activities and more throughout the whole day at the museum.

The step scrubbing project has been generously sponsored by Faultless Starch/Bon Ami.

Photo credits from left: Courtesy of the artist; Photograph by A. Aubrey Bodine • © Jennifer B. Bodine • Courtesy of www.aaubreybodine.com

Create a gallery of silhouette portraits – an art activity to try at home.

Avernon4avernon

Portraits are a beloved art form that capture the unique spirit of a person in a moment in time. Many fine portraits will be on view in our beautifully renovated American Wing, reopening November 23.

One form of portraiture is the silhouette. You can make silhouettes of everyone in your family.

You’ll need: black paper, white paper, pencil, scissors, index card or wooden stick (optional)

How to make your silhouette
Choose your model. Sit so you can see their profile, or the side of their body. Practice sketching the shape of their face with white paper so it is easy to see. Start with an oval shape. About halfway down, make the indent for the eyes. (Our brains are so big that they take up about half of the skull!)  After the eye, create the curve of the nose, followed by two lips, and chin. Consider adding a fun hair style, a great hat, or a bold collar to show the personality of your sitter in the silhouette.

After practicing on white paper to get the shape you like best, redraw it on black paper and cut it out with scissors. You can glue this to your favorite paper and frame it. You could also glue it to a wooden stick and make a puppet.

Create a gallery of silhouette portraits—or make a shadow puppet show with silhouettes on wooden sticks!

Meet silhouette artist Alex Vernon at the BMA’s American Wing Reopening Celebration on November 23. He’ll be creating custom silhouettes for visitors to take home.
Images courtesy of Alex Vernon

A (Very Few of Many) Favorite Art Books for Kids

When I was a kid, summer meant being flopped in the grass with a book. Truth be told you might still find me there. And I may be reading one of these favorites, old and new.

For the youngest readers, So Many Stars is a delightful board book out in a new expanded edition (big at 24 pages) created with artwork by one of our brightest stars, Andy Warhol. Many images from his “So” Series are included here, as in “So Sunny” and “I Love You So”. I can’t think of a better introduction to Warhol than this sweet and playful book. Ages 1-4.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Yes, it’s a bestseller and deservedly so! The Day the Crayons Quit (by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers) is laugh out loud funny.  The concept is brilliant: anthropomorphized crayons revolt. And you thought all was calm in that pack of Crayolas! Parent alert: you will NOT get tired of re-reading this one (because you will be reading it over and again.)  Ages 4-7.

Nina's Book of Little Things

Sometimes it isn’t about reading and looking, it’s about making.  A treasured favorite, Nina’s Book of Little Things!, is out in a fresh new edition. Keith Haring created this book for a 7 year old friend and what a gift it is, full of love and inspiration. Of all the cre-activity (I think I just coined that word) books published, this is still one of the very best. Thank you, Nina, for sharing your book! Ages 6+.

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book (by Johanna Basford) provides hours and hours of coloring in beautifully intricate nature designs. I mean the kind that obsessively draw you in (no pun intended). Bonus: it is layered with hidden images, mazes, and spaces to draw. Excuse me – got to get back to my colored pencils  . . .  Ages 7+.

The popular surrealist painter’s “real” muse is revealed in this absorbing picture book tale. Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D. B. Johnson is a visual treat that will keep you looking and looking again (and even again) at the inspired illustrations. Use this as a great introduction to the Magritte paintings that are referenced in the  book.  Kind of surreal in itself! Ages 4+.

Sandy's Circus

Find out how the iconic inventor of the mobile got his start in Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder (by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Boris Kulikov), and about finding and following your own path. And maybe a little bit about childlike wonder and imagination.  If you’ve never seen Sandy (Alexander) Calder perform his circus, you can watch a video here. Ages 6+.

Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons (by Speck Lee Tailfeather, illustrated by Natska Seki) gives a nice introduction to great constructions of the world, from the Gothic cathedral to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yes, it is told from a pigeon’s eye view with that unique high-flying perspective.  This is for the child who likes to pour over pictures and browse. Chock full of good information, it will pique interest not only in architecture, its history and styles, but the world as portrayed through engaging collages. Ages 8+.

            

Optical illusions are a topic of endless fascination for many kids. My Big Book of Art and Illusion by Silke Vry gives examples of all variety of visual tricks using art from the classic to contemporary, heavy on the contemporary. What AMAZING (and fun) effects! Each example is explained and each spread includes a related activity.  Ages 8+.

Happy reading!

We carry all of these books in the BMA Pop-Up Shop. You can also order them online at shopartbma.org, via the links above.