When my friend Jan Yauch moved to North Arlington in 1980, she brought with her an idea from her daughters’ previous elementary school, Lions Park in Mount Prospect, Illinois. There, trained volunteers had led monthly discussions about art, using poster-sized reproductions. Jan persuaded the Taylor Elementary PTA to budget $200 for buying and mounting an art print for each grade level. Gradually, the budget increased, allowing her to assemble a representative portfolio of prints for each grade–landscape, still life, portrait, abstract, primitive, modern–relatively simple ones for the Kindergarteners, more complex works for older kids. Nancy Rankin, a grandmother who was a National Gallery docent, trained parent volunteers to engage children in discussing each picture.
Each Picture Lady (including one father, Sheldon Boruchow, who prized this label) researched the artist and the circumstances of the painting, led a short discussion, and left the poster print in the classroom for a month. Sometimes the classroom teacher or the art teacher planned related activities. In the spring the classes took field trips to the National Gallery and amazed the staff there with their enthusiasm and familiarity.
I loved being a Picture Lady. The only picture I remember from my Phillips TX elementary school was Franz Marc’s “The Red Deer,” which hung in the hallway. When a kindly adult pointed out how the arcs conveyed movement, I was hooked. For my twelfth birthday my mother ordered me monthly portfolios from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York–Cezanne, Utrillo, Van Gogh, Picasso’s Blue Period, Picasso’s Rose Period, Renoir, Degas, Manet, Monet. They included background information on the artists and their pictures. They were like warm rain on parched earth. I still have them all. A course in Art History at Rice made me love paintings even more, as did visiting the nearby Houston Museum of Fine Arts. When Lilli was a baby staying with Judith, I headed for the National Gallery to take tape-recorded tours with Director Carter Brown. But more than all these experiences, it was being a Picture Lady that impels me to visit museums and galleries wherever I go.
Jan and her husband Michael moved to Houston in the 1992, but in 2005 they bought a summer place on Lake Chautauqua in New York, where we are now, visiting our friends Jack and Peg. Just as we see Peg and Jack in both Florida and New York, we get to see the Jan and Michael in both Texas and New York. This week the Yauchs have their granddaughter Maddie visiting. We met at the Hurlbut Church, where the Yauchs help serve lunch. It’s a block from Jack’s place. It was such fun to get them together with Lilli and Violet. Lilli and Maddie’s mother Kirsten were friends all through Arlington schools and at Cherrydale UMC. Maddie had never heard about her Grandmother’s Picture Lady program until we started talking about it this week. Taylor PTA still encourages art activities. “Picture Lady” has been renamed “Artworks” and adjusted to fit current goals.
Kids who experienced the Picture Lady program are now passing on their love of art. Just yesterday Shelby took Stephen to the Dallas Museum of Art, where he had a chance to replicate a painting in felt. Stephen, who painted that canvas? More triangles or more rectangles? How many colors in all? When you visit us next month, I’ll show you Children’s Book of Art by Rosie Dickins. Usborne, the publisher, has a related website for children’s art activities. Check it out.
On the same day, Violet reminded me of Le Gourmet by Picasso.
On September 13, the New York Times published this essay on falling in love with a painting: A Monet of One’s Own