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Go Ask Mom

Destination: 'The Worlds of M.C. Escher' at the N.C. Museum of Art

Posted December 23, 2015

I first took my kids to the M.C. Escher exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Art over Thanksgiving. My dad was in town and it seemed like the perfect family activity before settling in for a giant feast the next day.

My six-year-old popped between some of the pieces. My 10-year-old was completely engrossed, spending close to two hours walking the exhibit on her own and taking in every piece. When we returned to meet up with Laura McManus, the museum's coordinator of youth and family programs, she was at it again - fascinated by the woodcuts, lithographs, wood engravings and mezzotints of this wildly popular artist.

"The Worlds of M.C. Escher" throws a spotlight on the Dutch artist's explorations of nature, mathematics, science and his imagination. Back in my day, it seemed to be the unspoken rule that every college dorm room have a copy of his "Drawing Hands" or "Hand with Reflecting Sphere" taped to the concrete block walls. (Both works are included in the exhibit).

But Escher also is known for his portraits, nature studies and Italian landscapes. This is the most comprehensive Escher exhibit ever presented in the United States. It's open through Jan. 17.

"His works are fantastical and magical and contain a lot of fun surprises," McManus said.

My 10-year-old took off as we walked in, so I spent most of my first visit with my six-year-old. I know it can be tricky to shuttle a young child through an exhibit like this, but I fell into some of my regular routines that I've picked up over the years from experience and talking with McManus, who knows what kids love and is so knowledgable.

I walked through the exhibit with my daughter, highlighting things that she might find interesting - bugs, people, landscapes. Escher spent a lot of time refining his techniques and ideas before creating the final piece. I pointed out Escher's sketches to her to show that even famous artists need to practice. The exhibit includes actual pages from Escher's sketchbook.

Escher also is famous for his tessellations, geometric shapes that can go on forever with no gaps or overlaps (think of a complicated tile floor or any number of Escher's pieces such as the "Metamorphosis" series). At several of these works, I walked my daughter through the piece, asking her what kinds of shapes and figures she saw. In "Metamorphosis II," for instance, you see birds turn into fish turn into a coastline and eventually a chess game.

These all are great pieces to just stare at and wonder - especially for kids who might enjoy trying to figure out the riddle of them all (which is what my 10-year-old enjoyed). Escher was all about creating scenes that are possible at first glance, but impossible at further inspection.

In "Relativity," there's the impossible staircases.

"In some cases, the figures are walking up staircases and walking down," McManus said. "Each set of figures has its own world. The three worlds could not exist simultaneously."

"Belvedere" is an example of Escher's impossible architecture. Here, the exhibit offers a 3D model with a spy glass which shows why Escher's creation couldn't exist in real life.

Escher combines multiple worlds in "Hand with Reflecting Sphere." At the end of the exhibit, visitors can take selfies in reflected surfaces as if they were Escher.

Another fun spot for kids: The exhibit includes two stations where visitors can watch a variety of videos about Escher on an iPad. (Both of my kids enjoyed these).

The museum just began offering a fantastic family guide, best for ages 5 and up, to the exhibit. It's available for free at the entrance to the exhibit. The guide highlights some of the pieces and offers activities.

The museum in west Raleigh also has been offering special family activities tied to the exhibit. Here's what is scheduled:

Special Family Tours of The Worlds of M. C. Escher (30-minute tour)
For families with kids (or grandkids), ages 6 to 12; free tour (with paid exhibition ticket)
Saturday, January 9, 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm
Sunday, January 10, 1:30 pm and 2:30 pm

Pop-up Art
Noon to 3 p.m., Jan. 17
All ages; children must be accompanied by an adult
Free family-friendly art-making activities in the Museum galleries and Museum Park.
        
Family Fun Saturday: Specimen Lab
A gallery tour plus studio workshop for families. These workshops fill up so get your tickets early.
Saturday, January 16, 10 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
East Building, Education Studios
Families with children ages 5–11
$5 Members, $8 Nonmembers

The art museum's website has more information about the exhibit and programs. Tickets are $12 to $18. Kids 6 and under are free.

Go Ask Mom usually features activities for kids every Friday, but we're switching up the schedule because of Christmas. For more ideas, check our posts on parks and playgrounds and Triangle family destinations.

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