by William R. Valerio
For those of us who work in museums, our moments of deepest satisfaction come when we see how experiences with art make a concrete difference in people’s lives. For this reason, summer is a special time at Woodmere. Education programs and art classes are robust and filled, and they can break out of the walls of the studio and into nature.
Woodmere was founded in 1898 by Charles Knox Smith, a civic leader and art collector who selected Chestnut Hill as the site of his gracious house museum because he believed that experiences with art immersed in an environment of natural wonder would be dynamic medicine for the souls of his fellow Philadelphians.
We continue to interpret Smith’s vision through art classes and education programs that attract more than 6,000 participants, both adults and children, in the course of a year. Summer art classes in particular offer a range of opportunities to make art in a “green” way. Woodmere’s website provides further information on upcoming classes for adults, teens, and children; why not try your hand at Japanese Craft or make watercolors on the Wissahickon?
Among Woodmere’s many art programs of summer, our Children’s Garden is a community project that brings deeply enriching experiences to approximately 25 children who range in age from 8 to 18. These are young people who identify, or are identified by their teachers, as artists-in-the-making who really love to make art and elect to spend four hours every day for five weeks doing so. Many participants come from local schools, but most are from neighborhoods across Philadelphia. Scholarships are available to many students. To help support the program, the Walter J. Miller Trust has provided a generous grant, for which Woodmere is most grateful.
The program offers opportunities to make one’s own art, but also to collaborate on a group project, the results of which continue to enhance our outdoor landscape throughout the year along the Bells Mill Road side of Woodmere’s estate.
The giant “Beanstalk to the Sky,” made last summer, continues to tower amid the trees, and I’ve noticed that the super-sized mixed-media nest for an imaginary creature has been scavenged by actual birds this spring as they construct their nests.
For two years now, students have been caring for and building a perennial garden with flowers that attract butterflies, and that work continues. This year, the program has a theme, “Fanciful Tales,” and the children in the program will read books like Gulliver’s Travels and Alice in Wonderland and then devise a group project, building a sculpture or construction of some kind that grows from the evocations and poetry of the stories.
There are many young artists who participated last summer and will repeat the program. Friendships are built around a common love for making art and cooperating on color choices and compositional arrangements. Lunch breaks provide time to relax together, play cards, throw a football, discuss movies and music, and search for bugs.
For all the participating children, parents and siblings, the community project provides an understanding of the museum as a place of shared stories, cultures and histories, a place where they are welcome and are active participants in visual art experiences. And, we have been thrilled to see several visitors make the bench in the garden a regular rest stop on their walks. So please come visit and seek out the magical space of the community garden at Woodmere.
Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit woodmereartmuseum.org.
William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at the Woodmere Art Museum