By Julie Butler // Photography by Ryan Jones
Few children get the chance to interact with world-class art whenever they want—unless, of course, the National Museum of Wildlife Art is located in their backyard. This unique museum offers kids the opportunity to view art as well as participate in creating it through a mini art studio in the children’s gallery. Weekly and monthly kid-friendly programs allow young artists to go, well, wild!
Fables, Feathers, and Fur, offered for free on Wednesday mornings (for children ages three to six), engages kids through storytelling and art making. Museum staff members take turns reading picture books with a wildlife theme, such as A Tower of Giraffes and How Snowshoe Hare Rescued the Sun. Maureen Faris, of Jackson, regularly brings her two daughters to the program. “The girls love coming here,” Faris says. “They get to hear stories and create art with a variety of materials.”
On a recent Wednesday, Faris’ daughters, Phoebe, four, and Daisy, two, settled themselves onto comfy pillows in the gallery to listen to storyteller Jane Lavino, curator of education and exhibits. Before reading A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet, Jane spoke with the children about the painting she was sitting beneath, explaining what it represented and pointing out a greater prairie chicken.
After the interactive storytime, Phoebe darted into the classroom to tackle the day’s art project. She gathered bits of sage and local grasses to place into a small glass orb while stating, “I made a mermaid tail and a black-footed ferret puppet,” referring to some of her previous works. Phoebe also enjoys the studio, where she likes to “cut and mush the clay” into a version of her own sculptures. And both girls have canvases hanging on their bedroom walls, along with paper wildflowers, that they painted during an earlier session.
“It’s a complete experience,” Faris says. “You see wildlife on the way past the refuge, you get here and the animal sculptures welcome you, you go inside and you’re amongst all of this great art, and then you do an art project. It’s a low-commitment, high-reward program.”
Other NMWA Kid Offerings:
Monarch of the Plains Exhibit: Through May 8, kids can create cardboard bison masks with colored pencils. They are encouraged to either take their masks home or leave them for others to enjoy.
Open Studio: This summer’s exhibit highlights the National Park Service’s centennial with an all-ages art-making space. From June 18 to August 18, the museum will display vintage national park posters and hold screen-printing, postcard-making, and plein-air-esque activities.
First Sundays: A family friendly day held on the first Sunday of the month from November through April (mark your calendar). Jackson Elementary School kindergartner Porter Farren has been coming up to the program since he was a toddler. “He really enjoys everything,” says his father, David. “From looking at the pictures, to the sculptures, to the paintings—he’s starting to appreciate it all.”