The 2012 straw maze at Woodmere (Photo by Nick Feldman)

by William R. Valerio

The Straw Maze, now in its fourth year, has become a much-loved tradition at Woodmere, bringing families from across the region to Chestnut Hill to participate in this unique activity for kids on the museum’s grounds.

The opening of the maze takes place on Friday, Sept. 20. The maze will be free that evening, and I will be greeting families from the porch (likely with a few bottles of wine in hand to share with parents). As in previous years, the maze is open through Halloween – and even longer, weather permitting. (Visit Woodmere’s website,, to watch the time-lapse video that shows how the maze was assembled.)

We think of the maze as a work of art, and the artists and architects who have designed it over the years – Diane Burko, Richard Ryan and now Peter Brown – think of it as interactive sculpture. It is a large-scale form made of 80 3-by-4-foot blocks of straw, arranged in patterns that create interior and exterior spaces.

The openings and barriers invite crawling, jumping, running and good times. From above, as from Google Earth, it looks like a drawing on the Woodmere’s lawn. This year it takes the shape of the symbol of the Deathly Hallows – a triangle that encloses a circle – inspired by “Harry Potter.”

The circle motif is repeated in the big red ball, which is coming back, together now with inner tubes and hula-hoops! Don’t forget to mark your calendars for the Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill, Friday to Saturday, Oct. 18 to 19.

Woodmere encourages families at the maze to visit our galleries, as well. We always offer self-guided family tours of our exhibitions and our Helen Millard Gallery, which is dedicated year-round to art made by children in the schools with which we collaborate. There is no bigger thrill than seeing childrens’ faces light up when they see their own art on the walls of the museum.

Currently, “The Dream at 50” is on view, and it includes prize-winning art by children from across the region who interpreted the meaning of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, 50 years after his famous speech.

I’ve been asked how the idea of the maze came to me: It was August of 2010, and I had just agreed to take the job as Woodmere’s director. I was standing on the porch (there were no chairs back then), and it was a sunny day. The lawn was green, the trees were majestic and I started watching visitors walking in and out of the museum.

As soon as one family exited, the kids took off, running across the lawn. This was clearly a joyous release because kids have to behave with their best grown-up manners inside the museum.

It was that moment that made me realize that Woodmere needed some kind of fabulous, art-based outdoor activity specially designed for kids. Knowing that it would be fall before anything could be done, the idea of the straw maze took shape.

Please come join us and bring your young friends!

Woodmere Art Museum is located at 9201 Germantown Ave. For more information, call 215-247-0476 or visit

William R. Valerio, Ph.D., is the Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO, Woodmere Art Museum.

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