- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hundreds of pieces of art, including dozens of Matisses, American antique furnishings and African ceremonial masks, are showcased at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Sound like too much for a young child to handle?

Not necessarily, says Marcia Gregory, who is in charge of training museum docents.

“You just have to keep it short. I would say 20 minutes with the really young ones. And bring snacks,” says Ms. Gregory, who has brought her own preschooler to the museum on several occasions.

Ms. Gregory says a children’s favorite at the museum is the first-floor group of Cheney Miniature Rooms, 12 dollhouse-size rooms that re-create American and English architectural interiors and exteriors from the 17th to 19th centuries. One of the rooms is a re-creation of a New England sea captain’s study, complete with half-inch maps and nautical instruments; another room portrays a Colonial china shop, featuring pieces of china no larger than the width of a pinkie nail.

“Kids love it. … Actually, adults love it too,” Ms. Gregory says.

When planning a museum visit with children, it’s important to let the wee ones have a say as to what they want to see, says Anne Mannix, a museum spokeswoman.

“You want them to be excited and engaged so they want to come back and see more,” Ms. Mannix says. “Let them lead the way,” she advises.

To further assist visitors with children, the museum offers several family guides to specific exhibits and the museum as a whole. One of the guides is devoted to the works of Henri Matisse, which are part of the museum’s Cone Collection.

The Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, were major art collectors in the Baltimore area in the early 20th century and were among the first to discover and buy the works of Matisse. The guide talks about Matisse’s use of bold and bright colors and love of repetitive patterns. The guide also gives ideas for hands-on coloring and drawing activities.

“We want everyone, even those who don’t have any prior knowledge of art, to have a rewarding experience here,” Ms. Mannix says.

Other wings of the three-story museum include a Claude Monet collection, a newly opened Picasso exhibit, contemporary art, American period rooms and English sporting art (consisting mostly of paintings of racehorses).

The museum also offers interactive kits — a song pack, a sketch pack and a costume pack — several times a week. (Call for availability.) The song pack consists of a CD player and a CD with songs that connect to certain pieces of art. African drums, bells and flutes are used in music that links to a ceremonial mask from the Mali-Guinea region, displayed on the first floor.

“It’s a way to enhance the experience, get all senses involved,” Ms. Mannix says.

The costume pack features ruffly collars and bonnets, similar to those worn by upper-class children portrayed in 17th- and 18th-century paintings. The sketch kit includes paper, pencils and tips on drawing, such as how to create perspective and depth in a picture.

Still, family guides and interactive kits are not all the museum has to offer young visitors. Several times a month, family-friendly activities are held, such as story time, musical performances and hands-on art workshops. Among upcoming activities is “Hands-on: Stories in Light” at 2 p.m. Feb. 5. It will focus on the paintings of black artist Henry Ossawa Tanner and will feature storytelling and an opportunity for children to paint and experiment with layering watercolors.

The museum also has a sculpture garden with dozens of works by artists, including Auguste Rodin and Henri Laurens. Towering above the sculptures are maple and oak trees, and wooden benches are placed in several corners. On a recent morning, dozens of moms with babies and toddlers in strollers were visiting the museum and garden.

“Nobody’s really too young to visit the museum,” Ms. Mannix says. “The youngest ones can enjoy bright colors and patterns. … With older children, you can incorporate lessons on history, artistic technique and intent.”

When you go:

Location: The Baltimore Museum of Art is at 10 Art Museum Drive in Baltimore.

Directions: Take Interstate 295 north toward Baltimore. Once in Baltimore, turn right onto Russell Street and then merge onto Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. After about two miles, make a slight left onto North Howard Street. After about 1.5 miles, the street turns into Wyman Park Drive. Stay straight to go onto Art Museum Drive. The museum will be on the left.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. On the first Thursday of every month (which also features free admission) the museum is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays, Tuesdays and major holidays.

Parking: Metered street parking

Admission: $10 for adults, $8 for seniors age 65 and older, $6 for full-time college students, free for children and teenagers 18 and younger

Information: 410/396-7100 or www.artbma.org

Notes:

• The museum has a restaurant, Gertrude’s, that serves foods from the region. The restaurant also offers more wallet- and child-friendly dishes, including turkey sandwiches, hamburgers and vegetarian chili.

• Wear comfortable shoes. The museum is 200,000 square feet, not including the sculpture garden.

• The next Free First Thursday event is 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 2. It’s titled “Celebrate Picasso” and will include dance performances and hands-on workshops, which start at 5:30 p.m.

Another family-friendly event, “Hands-On: Stories in Light,” will take place 2 p.m. Feb. 5. It will feature talks on 19th- and early-20th-century black artist Henry Ossawa Tanner plus hands-on experiments with layers of translucent watercolors.

The museum also will host a Black History Month Family Day from 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 19. It will feature a performance by the Soulful Symphony’s jazz quintet and slam poet Gayle Danley as well as tours of the Tanner exhibit and hands-on workshops for the entire family.

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