Art and history collide at BRM

Art and history collide in an exciting way for kids during the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s Museum Explorer Mornings. One of the things a group of them recently learned is that yes, a pig can be a portrait too.

Portrait of a Pig, by Jamie Wyeth, was popular for Sara, Aubrey and Leah who were in a group led by museum guide Pat Barone.

Pat Barone demonstrates Jamie Wyeth's fingernail technique on "Portrait of a Pig."

Pat Barone demonstrates Jamie Wyeth's fingernail technique on "Portrait of a Pig."

The girls were amazed that a painting of a pig could be a portrait too. Barone also explained that Wyeth ran his fingers across the wet paint to visually create the texture of the animal's skin and hair.

The museum is striving to educate children by creating a relationship between history and art. Some might ask why children should study art in the first place. The reply is that it exposes them to history and artistic techniques.

When shown Horace Binney Hare, by Thomas Sully, Sara asked, why his cheeks were pink?. The girls wondered if it was because he had been out in the cold or if the artist just decided to make them that way.

In Andrew Wyeth's Snow Hill, they learned about the holiday tradition of the maypole, celebrated on May 1.

Sara enthusiastically announced, "We did a maypole at school."

Snow Hill also taught the kids about tempera, a form of painting that combines eggs with water, a technique Wyeth used to paint the piece. They were amazed that eggs could be used to paint.

Then there was the Portrait of Mary Du Pont by Jefferson David Chalfant. The girls studied the regal-looking woman and immediately pointed out the book in her lap, recognizing that it indicated that she was smart.

Barone then pointed to the lamp at her side, explaining that it was an important detail since electricity was new and she was rich enough to afford the luxury.

Barone also emphasized that many portraits were painted before the invention of cameras. This helped the kids understand that portraits seized a moment in time.

History wasn't the only thing that the girls absorbed; they also spotted nuances that artists used. For instance, when looking at N.C. Wyeth's Mrs. Wyeth in a Rocking Chair, they were asked what colors the dress was. From a distance, the dress looked to be white, but the girls saw something else.

"There's purple," Sara said.

"There's green," Leah said while pointing.

"And blue," Aubrey added.

The painting taught them that the play of sunlight on the dress affected the colors that Wyeth used.

Fashion was also part of the educational process. In Roasted Chestnuts, (also painted by Andrew Wyeth), there is a man standing by the side of the road selling roasted chestnuts. The girls learned that he's wearing an Eisenhower jacket, a short-waist jacket made popular by future president Dwight Eisenhower during WWII.

At the end of the day, when asked what one of their favorite paintings was, the vote was unanimous: "The pig one."

Also at the end of the day, the kids made collages that were reflections of themselves. Aubrey and Leah used images of butterflies.

Leah glued pictures of "Wicked" on hers, proudly saying, "I've been to Broadway."

Sara decorated hers with pictures of the sea and beaches. With these collages, they were realizing that art was a way to display their individuality and interests.

The Explorer Mornings, open to kids aged 3-10, uses art as a tool to teach children not just about history in general, but how everyday people lived their lives and artistically interpreted the world around them.

Featured photo: Pat Barone points out the details that convey N.C. Wyeth's personality in his self-portrait.

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About Erin Moonyeen Haley

After graduating from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a degree in Writing for Film and Television, Erin made the cross-country road trip to Los Angeles where she worked nights at Disneyland before landing assistant gigs at agencies and various production companies. After five years, she decided on a career change and returned to the East Coast, enrolling in West Chester University to earn a Masters in English. Now, she is going on to earn her teaching certificate to teach English in the high school classroom. Throughout all of these years, she's been able to keep her resume eclectic, interning at the Cannes Film Festival, studying art history in Florence, Italy, volunteering for Habitat for Humanity and writing freelance articles for such websites as EHow.com, garden guides.com and suite101.com. In the end, writing, traveling, and teaching remain her ultimate passions.

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