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Help kids understand new Rembrandt exhibit with these tips

If a visit with the kids to Rembrandt in America is on your agenda this season, check out these tips from N.C. Museum of Art staffers.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Rembrandt in America opened at the N.C. Museum of Art late last month. And it's a good bet that a visit to this ground breaking exhibit will be on some of your agendas during this holiday season.

The exhibit is the largest collection of Rembrandt paintings ever presented in an American exhibition and the first major exhibition to explore in depth the collecting history of Rembrandt paintings in America. The exhibit is open through Jan. 22.

I spoke with two museum staffers - Natalie Braswell and Kristin Smith - about how to make the exhibit just as accessible and interesting to kids as it is to adults.

Rembrandt's work, with its mostly dark colors and portraits, probably isn't as obviously kid friendly as the art of Norman Rockwell, whose paintings of American life were the focus of a major museum exhibit last year.

But Braswell and Smith tell me there is still plenty for parents and kids to talk about during a visit to the exhibit. And it's an opportunity to expose kids to a painter that they'll likely hear about again in history and art classes.

"Do not miss an opportunity to expose your kids to a master," Smith tells me.

Here's what they recommend when you're at the exhibit with your children:

  • Most of the paintings are portraits and most younger children enjoy drawing self portraits or pictures of their friends and family. When you're at the exhibit, talk about the portraits and what the subjects are holding or wearing. If he's holding a book, for instance, ask your child why she thinks he's holding it. Does he love to read, for instance? Then talk with your child about what she might want included in a portrait of herself - maybe a favorite book or stuffed animal, for instance.
  • Go on a scavenger hunt to find Rembrandt's three self portraits. He did them at ages 23, 29 and 53. Talk about how he changed over time.
  • Many Dutch artists, such as Rembrandt, tried to incorporate the five senses in their paintings. Rembrandt's "The Operation" and "The Three Singers" are good examples of this. Find the paintings and talk about what senses are represented.
  • On a recent tour with tweens, Smith said that the kids were very interested in the paintings' frames. Some are very elaborate. Others are much simpler. 

Smith offers some general tips if you're taking your kids to see this exhibit or to just spend some time at an art museum. It's always a good idea to pick a time to see an exhibit when you're not rushed, she says. Make sure the kids have had a snack and come prepared. Talk with your kids about the museum and a little bit about what you'll see when you get there.

A good starting point for the Rembrandt exhibit might be WRAL.com's Rembrandt in America page with a timeline and other information about the artist and his life. And in December and January, the museum will offer free family tours at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday featuring the museum's Dutch collection. This would be a great tour to go on before heading over to the exhibit. The tours are designed for kids ages 5 to 12 and their families.
And at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., this Saturday (Nov. 12), the museum's children's series will feature Stories in Art: Dutch Folktales with Jukebox Radio. Tickets are $5. That also could be a good launching point before heading over to the exhibit. Click here for details.

Finally, stay as long as your child remains engaged and excited about it. Once they're tired or worn out, it's probably time to get going.

"The experience should be very open and not forced," Braswell tells me.

My own six-year-old was taken with the faces in the paintings. And while she didn't want to talk too much about them while we were there, she's thumbed through the exhibit catalog more than a few times since our visit.

Rembrandt in America is open through Jan. 22. Tickets are $18 for adults; $15 for seniors ages 65 and up, and military; $12 for kids ages 7 to 12; and free for kids 6 and under.

The Rembrandt Cafe next to the exhibit serves up family-friendly fare, including a kid's PB&J with fruit salad, whole fresh fruit, soup of the day and as the menu calls it, a "very large double chocolate brownie," which I am told is, indeed, "very large."

The museum on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends; and closed Mondays. Rembrandt in America will be open Monday, Dec. 26 and Monday,  Jan. 16.



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