What if you could become the person you saw in a painting at a museum?

Some fourth- and fifth-graders came awfully close to doing just that recently. They wielded the sword of Simon Bolivar, the George Washington of South America, and wore the traditional Mexican clothes of Elisa Saldivar de Gutierrez Roldan.

The students at Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences in Falls Church participated in a program called Portraits in Motion. The program used costumes inspired by paintings in the exhibit "Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits" at the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley Center.

"Retratos," which means portraits in Spanish, features more than 100 paintings (including ones of Bolivar and Gutierrez Roldan) and sculptures from 15 Latin American countries.

The exhibit had special meaning for the students. Many of them are in the school's Spanish immersion program, and about half of the school's students are Hispanic.

"This is a great program, especially for us, because the whole school understands the Hispanic culture," Principal Jean Frey said.

The mixture of art, history, culture and playing dress-up really appealed to the kids.

Bethany Brittain, 10, especially loved the portrait of Gutierrez Roldan, the wife of an art collector, painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera in 1946. "I have seen her in a lot of pictures so that I want to know more about her. I got to try on her clothes," the fourth-grader said. Who cares if they didn't fit quite right?

Silvia Cordova Roca, 9, learned that her home country was named after Bolivar. "Oh, I'm from Bolivia [and] I didn't know that."

When Donis Torres, 10, put on Bolivar's costume, a blue jacket with gold roping, he couldn't believe how heavy it was. "It would be so cool to live when Bolivar lived," he said, lifting the sword just as Bolivar would have done as he fought for the independence of several Latin American countries.

-- Luz Lazo

Students at Bailey's Elementary School for the Arts and Sciences dress up like the subjects of paintings. Katherine Valdovinos, right, poses as "Mulher de Bahia" while Sam Lebryk, far right, dresses as Simon Bolivar.