From the moment they were born, most kids these days have had their picture taken countless time.
In a snap or a tap, those photographs capture milestones and everyday moments - from that first smile to the one thousandth messy ice cream face (if your digital photo album is anything like mine). Portraits and self-portraits - "selfies" in the parlance of our times - are something kids are altogether familiar with.
And that's exactly what Small Treasures at the N.C. Museum of Art in west Raleigh is all about. The special exhibit, open through Jan. 4, features 66 paintings by 17th-century Dutch and Flemish painters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Anthony van Dyck and others.
The works are so small that they'd fit on less than a standard sized sheet of paper or even the palm of your hand, yet they are amazingly detailed and intricate and tell fascinating stories of the time.
The exhibit certainly doesn't have the interactive components that you'd find at places like Marbles Kids Museum and the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. But my kids - ages 9 and 5 - enjoyed our walk through.
My older daughter explored the exhibit on her own, stopping at the paintings that interested her. I had the benefit of going through the exhibit with Laura McManus, museum educator, before I took my kids. So I had my five-year-old go on a scavenger hunt of sorts, looking for the works with an orange, a dog, a classroom and a funny face. It was a fun morning out.
The key to helping kids enjoy and appreciate an exhibit like this is helping them relate to it in some way, McManus tells me. Look at a picture with them and ask questions, have them think about what they'd look like or hold or do if they were the subject, she said.
Questions like "what can we tell about the person? Where are they going?" McManus said.
In "Portrait of a Young Lady Holding an Orange," by Isaack Luttichuys, ask kids why they think she's holding the orange? What would they hold instead?
In "A Young Lady Playing with a Dog," by Godfried Schalcken, ask what is she doing with the dog? Is she teaching him a trick? Does she have something in her hand?
In "Youth Making a Face," by Adriaen Brouwer, which features a young boy making a silly face, ask your child what kind of crazy face she'd make. My daughter had a great one that involved stretching out her mouth and her eyes with her fingers. The older couple who was looking at the picture with us laughed out loud when they saw her.
A favorite for both of my kids was the collection of individual portraits for a family with five children. It's hard sort out which kids in the pictures are the three girls and the two boys as they are all dressed with ornate collars and dresses. Have your kids pick out who they think the girls and the boys are. (Answer: The boys are the two on the far right).
My younger daughter also enjoyed picking out the fun and serious painters in the section that features several self-portraits of painters. McManus said the pictures were used as business cards and were intended to show the painter's ability and also his personality. They are all very different.
One note for families going to Small Treasures: The pictures are hung at the usual height at about 60 inches from the floor. Because they are so tiny, many kids will have to look up to see them. I carried my five-year-old around so she could get a better view of the works. I had my older daughter move her head around and look at the pictures from different angles to avoid glares coming off the lighting.
If you go, also be sure to check out Making Faces, a collection of self-portraits created by local kids and their adults at various museum programs, classes and camps. These are a lot of fun to look at, especially for kids.
The museum has lined up some family events that focus on Small Treasures and a holiday event. Here's what's scheduled in the next month:
Family Fun Saturday, 10 a.m.., Saturday, features Tiny Portraits. Take a peek at some of the small-format 17-century Dutch and Flemish figure painting and create your own mini portrait of your family. The program is for kids ages 5 to 11 and their families. The cost is $3 for members and $5 for non-members. Register online, by calling 919-715-5923, or in person at the Museum Box Office.
The Pop-Up Art Cart will offer hands-on activities related to Small Treasures. They are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Dec. 10, Dec. 13, Dec. 14, Dec. 16 and Jan. 3 and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday. The activities are free and open to all.
Special Family Tours: Small Treasures will be offered at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., Dec. 13 and Dec. 14, for families with kids or grandkids age 6 to 12. Explore the exhibition Small Treasures during an interactive tour led by Museum family guides. Discover different types of portraits including group and individual portraits, self-portraits, allegorical portraits, and tronies, a Dutch word for faces or character studies. Tours are free. An exhibit ticket is required for entry. Visit the Museum Box Office in East Building on the day you plan to see the exhibition to sign up for tours and to purchase exhibition tickets, or call 919-715-5923. Space is limited.
Holiday Family Fun Friday is 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Dec. 19. It's free. The museum's annual family holiday event, this time with a pirate theme. Enjoy games, art making, treats, music, and entertainment by the Motley Tones before stopping by to say YO HO HO HO to old St. Nick.
And the museum's weekend family-friendly tours are 10:30 a.m., Saturdays and Sundays. The half hour tours are for kids ages 5 to 11 and their adults. The theme this month is Little Dutch Masters. Tours are free and are great.
Small Treasures exhibition tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for kids ages 7 to 18. Kids 6 and under are free. Admission to the rest of the museum is free.