Monday, June 29, 2009

Past Meets Present

Many people don’t know that the Museum’s Coming to Rhode Island galleries tell the real stories of four real immigrants whose families came to Rhode Island from different countries, for different reasons, at different points in time.

Kids travel through the "time tunnel" to discover English colonist Elizabeth Mott's family farm, explore a 19th century textile mill village to learn about the lives of French Canadian mill workers like Louis Goulet, climb aboard Antonio Coelho’s packet ship to join his voyages to and from the Cape Verde islands, and shop and dine at Doña Fefa’s 1960s Latino bodega. Their stories are interpreted with hands-on activities, objects and costumes, letters and journals, recorded voices – and through the eyes of the immigrants’ descendants, all of them children living in Rhode Island today.

The exhibit celebrates our state’s cultural diversity and it’s amazing how often we hear people exclaim, “I know this!” or “This is my story!” But last week, a visitor made connections on a whole new level when he came to the Museum to learn more about his family’s roots. Exhibit/Program Developer Carly Loeper shared this incredible story:

Lindsay greeted a man at the Admissions Desk who introduced himself as John Mott and explained, "I came here from California to research my family genealogy, and I think I might be related to Elizabeth Mott." Lindsay took him upstairs to show him Coming to Rhode Island. John's records matched up, and we discovered Elizabeth's father, Adam, was John's great-great-great-great-great- great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Adam Mott and his wife and children settled in Portsmouth, RI in 1640.

John came to Rhode Island armed only with a 1973 article written about the excavation of the Adam Mott farm site in Portsmouth and a record from the National Registry of Historic Places. He discovered that there may be a connection to the Children's Museum when his family "googled" Adam Mott's children's names, including Eliza
beth's. "I came out here not knowing if I'd find anything but the farm site, and then I saw this real live exhibit about my family; it just blew my mind!"

I invited John back to the Museum to sort through the files of research about the Motts, done in preparation for the exhibit. We compared maps, family trees, articles, historical document
s and community contacts that revealed more and more of the Mott story. It was like a historical treasure hunt!

After his visit, John followed up with this email: “You are doing a great job of interpreting the Elizabeth Mott story. I know she would be happy with what you are doing. I learned a great deal and … am enjoying sharing everything with the other West Coast Motts...”

John & Elizabeth Mott and Carly Loeper

Friday, June 19, 2009

Play Power

Check out Play Power, an article just published by East Bay newspapers. The author, Jim McGaw, attended the recent screening of "Where Do the Children Play?" at Audubon, which in part inspired him to take a look at the importance of children's unstructured play – with a local twist!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Creature Feature!

If you’ve visited the Museum recently, you’ve probably noticed the newest additions to Play Power: the final two of three colorful “creature columns” that flank the exhibit’s entrance. Children and adults alike are enchanted as they rotate cubes featuring different creatures to form a – wolf-owl-aroo? sea-maid-icorn? – and other never-before-seen critters.
We are incredibly fortunate to have had Jamestown artist Jillian Barber design 12 imaginative animals – a mix of real and mythical – to add rich texture and beauty to our newest exhibit. Jillian’s whimsical work expresses her love of nature and often includes animal imagery. She traditionally works in ceramics and sculpted tiles for these columns from modeling clay, which were recast in a lightweight, durable material by exhibit designer Chris Sancomb.

(Photos by Claude Verdier)

The process was lengthy – it took hundreds of hours to create the original artwork, make rubber molds, recast the creature parts, painstakingly paint each animal, treat the tiles so they can be touched by thousands of hands, and install the completed columns. Below, see a selection of photos taken throughout the process. (Thanks to Chris and Jillian for their vision and determination to see this project through – and to Jillian, graphic designer Valerie Haggerty-Silva, “paint master” Margaret Middleton, and RISD work-study student Hillel O’Leary for their painting prowess & persistence!)

The Museum has always prioritized the quality and beauty of our learning environments and we’ve regularly worked with local artists to fill our building with vibrant and detailed artwork. What’s great about these new columns is that they give kids a uniquely hands-on experience with art. Look for the columns next time you visit and see what creatures you can concoct!

The RISD-trained crew of artists (Jillian, Chris, Valerie, Hillel and Margaret) celebrate the finished columns.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A community conversation about the need for play

We had yet another fascinating conversation following our third screening of “Where Do the Children Play?” last Thursday at Audubon’s Environmental Education Center – perhaps the liveliest yet! We drew a diverse crowd who approached the issue of children’s play from many different angles. Here’s a recap of some interesting points. Bear with me, people had A LOT to say!

  • Museum director Janice O’Donnell talked about the need for public places like the Museum, Audubon and schools to encourage the important conversation about children’s play.
  • Panelist Scott Wolf, director of Grow Smart RI approached the film from the framework of his concern about our pattern of growth and development and suburban sprawl. He shared that RI is the 2nd most densely populated and 2nd most urbanized state, yet the 15th most forested – “we have an incredible urban/rural balance.” Grow Smart promotes patterns of development that are good for the environment and for human beings; if we design communities differently – denser, mixed use, more walkable, more access to transit – we can open them up to more unstructured activity.
  • Panelist Kristen Swanberg of Audubon spoke about the organization’s desire to provide opportunities for people to get outside and engage with nature and talked about the No Child Left Inside initiative to encourage environmental curriculum in classrooms and provide training for teachers about how to get their kids outside.
  • A mother shared that her family moved from a rural area to the east side of Providence and says her son is now able to walk to school and has more desire to be outside. “Play and being outdoors are important, it’s in the research - but that’s not what’s happening in schools.”
  • Parents talked about reduced recess – only 15 minutes at many schools and no recess at others – and the desire to build better playgrounds.
  • The grandmother of an 11 month old said that we just need a little green space and a spoon, to get away from plastic, and “to not be afraid to let them crawl on the grass and dig in the dirt.”
  • Dr. Bill Strader of the New England Symposium on Play talked about how there’s no room for play in current school curriculum and mentioned some important resources: Playing for Keeps; a recent article that advocates for including recess as one of the “4 Rs”; and the International Association Promoting the Child’s Right to Play.
  • A Bristol resident lives just a few blocks from her son’s school but there are no crosswalks, so he rides the bus for 5 minutes. In response, Scott Wolf mentioned a call for proposals this fall for grant money to be used by schools & communities for improved infrastructure and consciousness-raising.
  • Janice said, “be vocal!” and directed the audience to the many resources available through the Alliance for Childhood’s website.
  • A Parks and Recreation director pleaded for more money to go to recreation, that they’re a better vehicle than schools for unstructured play, that it can happen after the school day more easily than during.
  • A daycare owner talked about getting their young children outside every day, that their teachers’ only responsibility is to interact with kids - not direct them - and encouraged everyone to “take 10 minutes to watch kids” to see what they’re interested in.
  • A college professor talked about the consequences of the reduction of unstructured play: “Students are not independent thinkers, not creative – and it gets worse every year.” She also shared, “We have to get over the fact that we don’t trust anyone else to watch our kids. There are two issues here - unstructured and outdoor activities. We need more unstructured activities and we need to talk to one another as a community, to trust one another.”
  • Janice responded that not only do we need trust, we need to “collectively share responsibility for our children. We need a different consciousness in our community.”
Stay tuned for information about joining the conversation. In the meantime, leave us a comment with your thoughts and ideas!

Bubbling Over

Check out Bubbling Over, an article about the magic of bubbles written by Exhibit/Program Developer Carly Loeper.
Join us for Bubble Blowout on June 27 from 1:00 - 3:00 PM. Blow, stretch and paint with bubbles using a variety of wacky tools! And explore the possibilities of bubble making at home by picking up a “Bubble Play” kit in the Museum’s Gift Shop, packed with even more fun-filled ideas compiled by the Museum play specialists.