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Beyond fingerpainting: A full palette of kiddie art options at the Graves


Children participate in an Arts Day activity at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. Photo courtesy MGMA
  • Children participate in an Arts Day activity at the Morris Graves Museum of Art. Photo courtesy MGMA

My son has been exposed to art pretty much from the get-go. When he was one month old, I helped hang a gallery show at the Ink People with him in a sling and then stayed for the opening reception. He went to his first poetry reading at about four months. I drag him around to openings and exhibits and even interviews with artists for these articles. He’s familiar with the Arts Alive! and Arts! Arcata circuits and knows where to find the best snacks. And we can often be found at the Morris Graves Museum of Art for the Second Saturday Family Arts Days .

This free monthly program, which has been running for two years now (although it used to be on the Third Thursday of the month), introduces children and their families to the arts in a hands-on way and offers performances by local musicians, dancers and storytellers. The aim is not only to get kids and their families involved in the arts, but also to use the arts as a vehicle to share cultural traditions and ideas. Black History Month, Native American Heritage Month and Dia de Los Muertos are just a few of the events celebrated with crafts and performances that bring cultures to life.

If you miss the Saturday program, though, you can always pick up a Museum Gallery Activity Kit, available to visitors free of charge. These include an interactive education bundle geared toward children and their families. They focus on current exhibits, the life and art of Morris Graves and the history of Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Library. Activities, thought-provoking questions and scavenger hunts provide an in-depth art experience for all ages.

Another way that the Museum reaches children is through the Art Banks program. This program began in 1966 and was designed by the first president of the Humboldt Arts Council, Dr. Richard Anderson. Five Art Banks exhibits, consisting of pieces from the HAC permanent collection, rotate monthly on tours throughout Humboldt County schools and include a docent presentation.

Lucy Quinby, one of the docents and the chair of the Arts and Education committee of the HAC Board, is proud of the depth and breadth of the program. “By going to the public schools, we get art out to practically every child in the county,” she says. The docent presentation gets the kids talking and asking questions about the art, and then the exhibit, which remains at their school for a month, can be used by teachers in future discussions or class assignments.

All of this education for children is a great supplement to what they may be getting in school, but the Museum doesn’t quit there. The programs for adults serve larger folk, be they artists or simply art appreciators. Need to escape your studio and get some honest feedback on your work? Every third Thursday from 6-7 p.m. the Museum offers a free informal critique forum, an opportunity to meet other artists, talk about your work and see what others are doing. All mediums and levels of completion are welcome.

There are always classes and workshops going on. While these aren’t free, they are reasonably priced and offer a variety of topics for various skill levels. Art Explorations in Painting and Drawing meets on Wednesdays from 6-8:30 p.m. The goal of the class is, “to inspire confidence and fun,” and it’s open to artists of all levels. If you think you can’t draw stick figures, or if you’re an accomplished artist wanting to explore new media or ideas, there is something for you in this class.

The next workshop is coming right up: Saturday and Sunday from 12-3 p.m. and will focus on “using sculpture to enhance visual space in your two dimensional work.” Other workshop topics coming up include altered books, plein air landscape painting and life drawing.

And finally, for your inner art historian, the MGMA has collaborated with KEET-TV to present The Power of Art , a discussion series based on the book and PBS series of the same title by Simon Schama. KEET’S Claire Reynolds told me that they were one of just five PBS stations to receive the grant that funded this series.

Series facilitator Kathy Statzer emphasizes that it is a discussion series -- not a lecture series. Kathy, who teaches art history at College of the Redwoods, is pretty passionate about art and its role in society and her goal is to present the work of old masters, but put in the context of our daily lives. Classical art was created by real people about real issues, and can be understood and appreciated by us all. It has affected the world that we live in today, and an understanding of it informs our experience of modern life. With that context, Kathy presents the artwork, shows a clip from the PBS series and then opens things up for discussion. The last two discussions will be held on Tuesdays, July 24 and 31, from 6-8 p.m., at the Graves. The topics will be Art Exposes War (David and Picasso) and Art Guides the Spirit (Turner and Rothko).

I’m always amazed at how many opportunities there are to get involved with the arts in our relatively small neck of the woods. It’s a rare privilege to live in a place with a small-town feel and still know that my son will be able to continue to develop his interest and skills in the arts. If you’d like to read more about any of these programs or register for a class or workshop, you can do it online at, or contact the museum at 442-0278.


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