LITERALLY BRIDGING the generation gap on a recent Sunday afternoon, children and their parents painstakingly pieced together cardboard, craft sticks, chintz swatches, satin ribbon, puzzle pieces and wood scraps. As the youngsters dabbled tempera paint onto their blossoming creations, adults assisted with glue, scissors and suggestions.
Swathed in rich greens and pastel pinks and yellows, dozens of miniature footbridges took shape, looking as though they'd popped right out of a painting of Monet's garden. Appropriately, as families put the finishing touches on their three-dimensional masterpieces, everyone sang "Happy Birthday to You" to the Impressionist whose works inspired the young artists. Then, while moms and dads tidied up, kids celebrated with cake and juice.
Several times a month, families flock to the Ellis A. Gimbel Classroom atthe Baltimore Museum of Art for hands-on programs designed to coordinate withspecial exhibitions or highlights from the permanent collection. The mostrecent offering in the "Second-to-None at the BMA" workshop series -- heldthe second weekend of each month -- "Happy Birthday, Monsieur Monet!" paidhomage to one of the artists featured in "Faces of Impressionism: PortraitsFrom American Collections," a temporary exhibition of 56 works from more than30 U.S. museums. Family activities also regularly take place during"Freestyle" evenings on the first Thursday of each month.
"I try to make it both fun and a little bit substantive," says Dorothy Valakos, associate educator for youth and family programs, of the events she plans with the purpose of encouraging children and parents to visit the museum regularly. "I think we have an obligation to make all of our exhibitions accessible to kids and families."
"Kids really love that gratification of taking something home," she saysof the projects, which use lots of recycled materials that requireparticipants to use their imaginations. Led by art teacher Marjorie Anderson,the workshops allow youngsters to try out techniques or explore themesthey've observed while touring the galleries. "Faces of Impressionism," whichincludes many paintings of children, is the starting point for three upcomingevents. Visitors will print portraits, make topographic maps of faces andexperiment using color and light techniques displayed in portraits by suchartists like Cassatt, Cezanne, Degas, Manet, Monet and Renoir in theexhibition.
In keeping with the museum's goal to become increasingly accessible to families, Valakos has new interactive events in the works for late January, when "Joyce J. Scott: Kicking It With the Old Masters" opens for a four-month run. Designed in cooperation with the Maryland Institute, College of Art, the Kicking It Activity Center will feature several stations to help families explore the Baltimore artist's works, which often deal with controversial themes like racial and sexual stereotypes. Visitors will be able to touch fabrics, beads and other tactile materials like those the artist employs in her multimedia pieces. Other activities include storytelling, a kraft-paper graffiti wall where people can record their responses to questions about stereotypes, and an interactive display that shows how Scott's work responds to current events. A printed family guide will help parents answer children's questions about such works as "Boy With Gun," a piece that addresses the issue of kids and violence.
Probably by next fall, Valakos says, the museum will offer self-guided tour packs with interactive projects related to themes like costumes, sketches and songs. In the meantime, parents can conduct their own activities to make visits more meaningful for children. While touring "Faces of Impressionism," for instance, adults can encourage youngsters to make up stories about people in the portraits, Valakos suggests, or compare aspects like the different ways subjects position their hands.
BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF ART -- Art Museum Drive at North Charles and 31st streets, Baltimore. 410/396-7100 or 410/396-6320 (education department). Web site: www.artbma.org. Take I-95 north to I-395 to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Turn left on Howard Street and continue past 29th Street. At the fork, bear right onto Art Museum Drive. Open 11 to 5 Wednesday through Friday, 5 to 9 the first Thursday of each month and 11 to 6 Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and full-time students, free for museum members and ages 18 and under. Admission is free for all visitors every Thursday. Children may find the museum's restaurant, Gertrude's, a tad elegant. Visit the front desk for a free list of several places to eat within walking distance, including ultra-funky, kid-pleasing Papermoon Diner. "Faces of Impressionism: Portraits From American Collections" runs through Jan. 30, 2000. "Joyce J. Scott: Kicking It With the Old Masters" runs Jan. 23 through May 21.
Family-oriented events listed below are free with admission, suitable for all ages and drop-in unless otherwise indicated. Call in December for a brochure that describes family programs planned for January through May.
Activities planned in conjunction with "Faces of Impressionism":
Dec. 2 -- As part of the First Thursday Freestyle program, a hands-on "Portraits and Paris" workshop, 6 to 8 p.m., features printmaking using watercolors and waxed paper. Other Freestyle activities, running from 5 to 9 p.m., include a gallery tour by a French-speaking guide, French music from the Impressionist period and French films.
Jan. 6 -- Participants in the "About Face!" Freestyle workshop, 6 to 8 p.m., use a mixture of chalk and starch to create a topographic map of a human face. Additional activities, such as tours and live music, take place from 5 to 9 p.m.
Jan. 8 -- Youngsters "Mix It Up!" with tempera paint and paper to experiment with light and color in the manner of Impressionist painters. The workshop runs from 2 to 4.
Additional family programs:
Dec. 11 -- A Tour for Tots, for ages 3 to 5 accompanied by adults, includes gallery activities to help introduce preschoolers to art. The tour runs from 1 to 2 p.m.
Dec. 12 -- Participants in "(Not Your Usual) Stick Figures," a hands-on workshop, use materials such as wire, twigs and bamboo skewers to create sculptures inspired by Giacometti's bronze sculpture "Man Pointing. The event takes place from 2 to 4 p.m.
Dec. 26 -- The museum's Kwanzaa Family Celebration, the largest such event in the city, features hands-on art projects, food tasting, live music and dancing from 2 to 5 p.m.
Dec. 29 -- A drop-in holiday workshop from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. features Tin Sparklers, punched tin ornaments, to celebrate festivals of light.
Dec. 30 -- A drop-in "Cut Paper Capers" workshop from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. uses colorful papers to create decorations inspired by Chinese, Mexican and Polish designs.
Dec. 31 -- Participants in the "Out With the Old!" workshop from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. greet the new millennium by creating banners bearing their visions of the future.