WANT TO BEAT the heat? At the National Museum of Women in the Arts in downtown Washington, families can chill out with two summer exhibits and a festival of books on Sunday afternoon, where kids can hear stories and write and illustrate their own.
Through Sept. 12, "Nordic Cool: Hot Women Designers" beckons visitors into a Scandinavian world of rich color and wanna-touch texture. Mounted against the white walls of seven spacious galleries, the exhibit invites the eye to sweep across its space as if contemplating beautiful things in a quiet, snowy landscape. Kristina Riska's seven ceramic towers rise here like mottled tree trunks in a wintry forest. Liv Gjernes' work recalls ancient Viking dwellings with the house-shaped design of a wooden chest.
Especially intriguing are pieces that use everyday objects in new ways. Beige, brown and red pantyhose become a whimsical wall hanging. Shredded office documents make up a clever "paper fur" jacket. Clothespins, carefully arranged, create an homage to a hardworking mother. Like many kids who turn the stuff of home into playthings or craft projects, my 5-year-old daughter loved those details that transformed the humdrum into the extraordinary: cutlery with handles made from reindeer antlers, hot-pink kids' boots with monster eyes. She gave a big thumbs up to a glowing optical-fiber dress, cosmically titled "Jupiter's Bride," that recalls the northern lights of the artist's native Finland. The exhibit can leave kids chock-full of ideas for future projects and also offers some on-site artmaking experiences. Via computer, visitors can create animated butterfly murals or design their own "Cybercouture" dress.
In a small companion exhibit, also ending Sept. 12, youngsters can peek at books enjoyed by their Scandinavian counterparts in "Green Tales for Nordic Kids" at the museum's Library and Research Center. Glass cases display Nordic children's classics open to scenes of young people at play in the natural world. Pippi Longstocking, that pigtailed free spirit, totes her horse across a colorful double-page spread. Created in 1941 by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, Pippi continues to charm young readers around the world with her quirky personality, amazing adventures and pet monkey. Other beloved characters include the gentle, pudgy Moomins from books by Finland's Tove Jansson and stream-paddling pixies in "Children of the Forest" by Swedish author and illustrator Elsa Beskow. Young visitors curious about the displayed titles can read the English versions in a large bin close by.
The celebration of Nordic arts continues Sunday when children's book author Gudrun Helgadottir of Iceland hosts a free festival of books for ages 4 to 12 (accompanied by an adult). The afternoon brims with storytelling and writing and arts activities led by Helgadottir and several local authors and illustrators. From penning haiku to creating collages, the program promises to be a refreshing experience.
"NORDIC COOL: HOT WOMEN DESIGNERS" and "GREEN TALES FOR NORDIC KIDS" -- Through Sept. 12 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW (Metro: Metro Center). 202-783-5000. www.nmwa.org. Open Monday through Saturday 10 to 5; Sundays noon to 5. During run of "Nordic Cool," admission is $8 adults, $6 college students and those over 60, and free to museum members and youths 18 and under. Free community days are the first Sunday and Wednesday of each month.
Sunday from 12:30 to 4 -- A free festival of books offers storytelling, writing and arts activities for ages 4 to 12 (accompanied by an adult). Book sale and signing by featured Nordic author Gudrun Helgadottir and four local authors and illustrators -- Alice McGill, Mary Quattlebaum, Marcy Dunn Ramsey and Susan Roth -- associated with the Children's Book Guild of Washington.