The Parent Paper
City Life by Holly Reich
Museums in a bag at the American Craft Museum
The American Craft Museum is one of my favorite spaces in New York City. It has lofty ceilings that seem to go on as high as the Sistine Chapel, open walls, wide special staircases (and elevators for the little ones) with tall windows that let tons of light into this zen-like environment. The craft objects are displayed with equal attention to space, texture, color, and location. My first tip: leave your coats at the first floor self-serve coatroom. Being hot in a museum is one recipe for failure.
The family workshop, "Museum in a Bag" started with a very brief tour of the museum led by Inspector Collector, an effervescent fellow whose main goal is to make museums fun for kids. "A museum is a toy chest," he enthused, pointing out that the "bonnets" that cover displays were removable. He also led them behind closed doors into a closet that stored museum supplies. "If one can take the bonnet off the display and when you realize that it's just a door you can go through, the fear of the museum disappears," he remarked. But, most notably (yes, hear this parents), rather than saying, "DON'T TOUCH!" when all those little hands started wandering; he pointed out, "Please use your eyes and your brains."
Following the tour we descended to the first floor where tables were set up with supplies for the workshop. The inspector, who has been gathering collections since age 5, had a few of his works on display. For instance, the Green Museum's centerpiece was a pickle shaped pen on a pizza box plastic pedestal surrounded by a bevy of green stuff including string, ribbons, pencils, markers, marbles, game pieces, and crayons. His "Museum in a Box" housed everything from a thread from a much loved and lost scarf to a sequin from one of Elvis's costumes. And his scissors museum held everything from the tiniest of scissors to wavy scissors to scissors that cut heavy paper. Of course, we were all enchanted.
So, when the Inspector directed us to make our own museum, the children quickly picked over the table filled with glues, tape, markers, display mounts, empty frames, watchmaker supply cases with lots of little compartments, children's bead containers, CD-ROM's, American flags, art catalogues, coin collecting catalogues, metro cards, assorted trinkets and pieces of children's games. "Every kid is in training to be a museum curator," he remarked, explaining that every time a child re-sorts and rearranges their stuff they come out with new thought patterns. "The same goes with taking toys out and putting them back. So, it follows that working with their own objects in this setting lets kids develop less fear about museums and more respect."
My daughter Jenna worked on her Creative Mind With Tape Museum made of flags and metro cards housed in a narrow tin box. Dylan was getting frustrated trying to fit a spool of thread into a container. Of course, I was getting frustrated helping him and trying to decipher what he was doing. At just the right moment, the Inspector came by and so gracefully (and gratefully) noted, "You can be an engineer. You are very careful and you watch how everything works, you check the outside and the inside." Turns out, my little guy is a genius!
At the end of the workshop, the Inspector proclaimed, "Every great museum deserves an opening." And so we had one. We celebrated with goldfish and seltzer and pickle flavored dipping salt.
On your way out don't neglect the gift shop. I got a hip pair of pink plastic salad turners for $12. Is this where you say "only in New York?"
American Craft Museum 40 W. 43rd St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues; 212/956-3535