- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

By all means, spend time outdoors in wonderful spring weather, but don’t miss the Gilbert Stuart Family Weekend at the National Gallery of Art May 21 and 22, organizers urge.

“This is an opportunity for children to learn about American art and American history — what life was like in the Colonial era, how they sang, what they wore,” says Natalie Ryan, coordinator of family and youth programs at the museum.

The family festival accompanies the museum’s Gilbert Stuart exhibit, which opened March 27 and closes July 31. The exhibit features about 90 works by Stuart, the famed George Washington portrait painter.

The weekend will include live Colonial music on instruments such as the glass armonica, an instrument invented by Benjamin Franklin, and a pipe organ from 1761. The organ originally was owned by Dr. Samuel Bard, Washington’s surgeon.

Also featured will be hands-on activities — children will be able to create wigs and bonnets like those worn by Colonial women and children. These wigs and bonnets, unlike in the Colonial days, however, will be made of paper.

Also, for those who have always wanted to ask George Washington about life at Mount Vernon or what his favorite food was (reportedly ice cream), the former president will be there to answer any and all questions — in the person of William Sommerfield of Philadelphia’s American Historical Theatre, Ms. Ryan says.

The programs are aimed at children ages 3 to 13, but organizers hope they are appealing to adults, too, Ms. Ryan says, adding that she expects 5,000 to 10,000 visitors that weekend.

The National Gallery of Art offers family-friendly activities, such as films and story time, most weekends throughout the year. Once in the spring and once in the fall, the museum puts on a family art festival such as the Gilbert Stuart Family Weekend, which features everything from live music to wig-making and some story time and movies in between.

“This is a chance for us to show in one weekend what we do all year long,” Ms. Ryan says.

The Gilbert Stuart exhibit, which is located on the West Building’s main (top) floor, also will be particularly inviting to children this weekend, she says. Staff members in blue aprons will be on hand to answer children’s questions.

There also will be an activity booklet for children. The scavenger-hunt-like booklet will aim to introduce children to portraiture, she says.

“The booklet will include questions about companion portraits, self-portraiture, full-length portraits and portraits of children,” Ms. Ryan says.

Companion portraits are portraits that are supposed to hang next to each other. Examples in the exhibit include portraits of Dolley and James Madison and Abigail and John Adams.

As far as the portraits of children go, Ms. Ryan says she likes to point out to children how very different it was to have a portrait in Colonial days. Children then had a portrait done maybe once, compared to today, when many families have digital cameras and take pictures often, maybe even daily.

“Imagine having to pick an outfit and stand there for hours,” she says.

Children also are asked to look for clues to the profession of the person in the painting. The clues are often in the clothes the subjects wore or items featured in the background — a sailboat in the case of a captain and a heart in the case of a doctor.

“We hope children will learn some of the vocabulary and concepts of portraiture,” Ms. Ryan says.

The exhibit also includes several paintings of George Washington, some unfinished.

“Gilbert Stuart often left portraits unfinished. He got bored, or he just needed to paint the face to guide future portraits,” leaving the body unfinished, she says.

Aside from the many portraits, the exhibit includes a glass case containing some of Stuart’s belongings, such as a palette, painting instruments and his snuff box.

Also featured during the weekend will be animated films that tell the stories of Early American history and the American presidency. There are several showtimes each day. All activities are ongoing, including the hands-on wig-making, musical performances and George Washington’s appearances.

“We want to create a welcoming, comfortable environment, particularly for first-time museum-goers,” Ms. Ryan says. “We want to introduce them to art, and we also want to show that this is a place where families can spend quality time together.”

When you go:

Location: The National Gallery of Art is located between Third and Seventh streets NW at Constitution Avenue. The gallery, which has two buildings (the West Building and the East Building), is just northwest of the U.S. Capitol.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Parking: Limited metered parking is available. The closest Metro stops are Smithsonian on the Orange Line, Judiciary Square on the Red Line or Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter on the Yellow and Green lines.

Admission: Free.

Information: 202/737-4215 or www.nga.gov.

Notes:

Upcoming family events at the National Gallery of Art include:

• The Gilbert Stuart Family Weekend, May 21 and 22. Regular museum hours. The weekend will include hands-on activities, movies, live music, musical instrument demonstrations and a George Washington re-enactor who will meet and greet visitors. The event revolves around the art of Gilbert Stuart, the famed George Washington portrait painter. All activities take place on the main (top) floor in the West Building. For show and activity times, visit www.nga.gov/ kids/calendarspring05.pdf.

• This spring, the Stories in Art series, which is open to children ages 4 to 8, features “Babar: A Gift for Mother,” by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Judith Gray, at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. today in the West Building Rotunda. After the story, visitors are invited to look at paintings of mothers and children and then make their own work of art to take home. The next story time will feature “I Love My Daddy,” by Sebastian Braun, at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. June 19 in the West Building Rotunda. This story is about a papa bear and his cub. After the story, visitors are welcome to create a work of art to take home.

• This spring, the children’s film program features “Black Beauty” at 10:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday. This program is open to children ages 7 and older. The program also will feature work by seventh-graders at Eastern Middle School in Silver Spring who were assigned the task of comparing the film with the book. The next film is “Open a Door” at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. June 11, 15 and 22. This film, open to children ages 5 and older, shows a day in the life of children in faraway places such as Chile, Iran and South Africa. The June 11 screening will be followed by a hands-on activity.

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