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As we progress through this period of self-isolation to help "flatten the curve," we notice that our ability to concentrate varies tremendously from day-to-day. It can actually be quite challenging to read an entire book. In a recent text thread with each other, we discovered that both of us have instead found ourselves flipping through large volumes of books about art collections that, until recently, have sat collecting dust on our shelves. So today, we each discuss one such book that has captured our imagination since being homebound. Because one of these is out of print (remember the comment about how much dust they had been collecting?!), we added two classic titles for kids that revolve around an art museum, each of which are still available for purchase (ideally from an indie bookstore near you). We have also included links to some virtual museum tours that we hope offer some inspiration and innovation as we all (except those of you who are medical professionals, first responders, grocers - you we THANK) stay home.
French Paintings from the Barnes Foundation by the Barnes Foundation (1993) - Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to have a job that involved working in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. One of the exhibits I was privileged to work with was a collection of around 100 pieces from the Barnes Foundation. This 1993 exhibit was the first time any of the works had appeared outside the Foundation's home in Pennsylvania. Because the Foundation had previously banned color reproductions of their collection, this book was the first time any Barnes images appeared in full color in print. The book discusses the paintings (e.g., works by Manet, Renoir, Monet, Cézanne, van Gogh, Gauguin, Modigliani, Picasso, and Matisse) I saw each day as I worked, and tells the fascinating story of the Barnes Foundation itself. Flipping through its pages has reminded me of my younger self, and of the beauty artists offer us each day. ~ Lisa Christie
The Foundation is currently offering Barnes Takeout, daily virtual tours on YouTube.
Uffizi: Art, History, Collections by Gloria Fossi (2004) - It almost feels as though I briefly visited Italy today. Flipping through this little gem of a book (which sat on my shelf, a souvenir from a trip taken decades ago) was like taking a walk through the resplendent halls of the Uffizi gallery in Florence. Its pages are infused with the tawny and jewel tones of the Renaissance and I was struck by how many treasures reside in this museum. From “Primavera” by Botticelli, to “Annunciation” by Leonardo daVinci, to “Medusa” by Caravaggio, there were so many mythical creatures, madonnas, and magi to visit. A tour of this particular collection of masterpieces reminded me once again how between thirteen and sixteen hundred, painting developed and leapt off of the canvas into three dimensions. Spending time with these magical works and with the artists who brought them to life also inspired me to think, as I have many times during the past month, about the remarkable human spirit and its ability to be creative during turbulent times. (Because this book is out-of-print, we can not link to a bookstore. Those who wish to try to find a copy from your favorite out-of-print source may need the ISBN - 88-09-03676-X.)
This “Uffizi experience” truly felt like a balm for the April 2020 soul. And to think it all started by opening up a book, one which ended up taking me across time to far away and beautiful paintings. As I closed the book and returned it to its spot on the shelf, the image of one of my very favorite pieces “The Birth of Venus” lingered with me. In it, as is now the case for us in the northern hemisphere, it is also springtime. And, as they are for Venus in this picture, the winds are also blowing us towards a new shore. Hopefully we can receive our new season as Botticelli’s Venus does: with our hands resting on open hearts and eyes also open, soft, and full of wonder. ~ Lisa Cadow
Note: After admiring the prints in this gorgeous book, I was moved to explore the art on its pages more deeply. I decided to embark on a free virtual tour of the sunlit corridors of this famous gallery — but first I needed to download the Google app “Arts and Culture” (very easy - you, too, will be able do it). Once it was installed on my iPad, I ‘walked” through the actual halls of the Uffizi, directing my steps with my finger tips. Though, sigh, there were none of the hushed, awed tones of fellow museum goers to keep me company nor the sounds of feet clicking and echoing along the marble hallways, I could almost feel my neck craning to admire the portraits lining the upper edges of the walls and the frescoes on the ceiling. All of this virtual beauty, yet with none of the lines to wait in, no tempting gift shop at the end of the tour where one might be lured into spending Euros on post cards, and no need to find a spot on a crowded bench to rest a weary traveler’s body. Below is the link for your own Italian experience. Enjoy! ~ Lisa Cadow
For those who wish to see more are, we found additional virtual sites for museum "strolling": The Art Institute of Chicago (especially liked the El Greco exhibition), AVA Galleries, Hopkins Center, The Tate Britian, The J Paul Getty Museum, Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and The Louve.
And now, two novels for kids (and kids at heart) with museums at their core. They both would make a great family read-aloud during these days of isolation.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisberg (1967) - Yes, this is probably the first book we all think of when we think of books that take place in museums. And there is a reason for that -- it is FABULOUS. To quickly sum -- Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, to somewhere elegant and chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She also chooses her younger brother, Jamie, and his money to accompany her. They then get caught in the mystery of whether a statue in the museum is actually a work by Michaelangelo (bringing us back to Lisa Cadow's book from the Uffuzi).
It's a great family read-aloud, and honestly there are new 4th graders each year who probably need a copy of their own. Previously recommended by us in a list of great chapter books for kids. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (2014) – This is perfect for kids who loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and are looking for something similar. Again, this would be a great family read-aloud. As we said in a previous Book Jam review - In this novel, Theodora Tenpenny of Manhattan tries to solve the mystery of a painting she uncovers (literally) once her grandfather dies. It includes her eccentric mother who has spent at least fifteen years doing nothing but completing her mathematical dissertation and consuming very expensive tea. It also shows how two amazing, but lonely girls can make great friends. And, along the way it introduces young readers to the world of art and the importance of asking for help when you need it. ~ Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow