This is the first in a three-part series on ways to keep kids busy and happy this summer.
Houston is full of art. From the sophisticated (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) to the trendy (galleries at 4411 Montrose) to the quirky (Beer Can House), from life-sized cows dotting lawns to modern sculpture on downtown corners.
Kids are natural artists – they’re curious and generally not too worried about how the end product measures up (unless you have one like mine, who meticulously starts every project over until it’s perfect in her mind).
Phyllis Selber keeps an art nook at her house to inspire granddaughters Holly, 6, and Whitney, 3. When the girls visit, they’ve got their own spot filled with paper, colors, glue and sparkles. Famous for her eye to organization, Phyllis has a place for everything, making it easy for the girls to create on the spot.
Katherine and Henry Granberry, 10 and 8, love catching sight of sculptures and art cars during otherwise mundane car trips. They take the ideas home and gather empty containers and scraps to create their own sculptures and dioramas.
Mom Mary Clark Granberry keeps materials on hand to encourage spontaneous projects. She also offers a more formal exposure to art.
“We love to bring our kids to museums when we travel,” she says. “We talk a lot about how art can mean something different to each person, and that’s the beauty of it.”
Sometimes that open-mindedness isn’t totally natural. Years ago, my sister-in-law, Dana Frankfort, now an acclaimed artist, showed her work at a Glassell Core Program Exhibition. Her colleague had set up giant cardboard boxes in the middle of the room, something akin to the Granberry kids’ creations but on a more sophisticated plane that took, I’m sure, many hours to perfect. We, Dana’s proud and ever-helpful family, walked in early and immediately started moving the boxes out of the way. Oops.
Jennifer Barrash Touchet feels lucky to count several Houston artists as friends. She and her kids like to talk about artists not just in terms of their work, but as individuals, and they read biographies about artists. When Pigasso Met Mootise by Nina Laden is one introduction for young readers to the art, friendship and rivalry of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
Fashion can be art as well. Samantha Sorkin, 8, just completed a fashion class at the Glassell Junior School, which is the only museum facility in the country dedicated to art classes for children. She sewed clothes from her own designs and presented them at a fashion show.
Lucky for us, Houston is home to world-class art museums. Even teenagers who would rather be elsewhere are bound to engage with the Carlos Cruz-Diez: Color in Space and Time exhibit at the MFAH. On display through July 4, Cruz-Diez’s work with color, light and movement is dramatic enough to capture the imagination of even the most reticent viewers.
As a docent at the MFAH, I loved introducing kids of all ages, from 6 year olds to high schoolers, to Paul Signac’s pointillist The Bonaventure Pine. They’d stand back from the tree concocted of tiny dots and tell me what colors they saw – usually green, brown and blue for the sky. Then they’d walk closer and see purples and pinks and yellows, just like magic.
Patricia Rorschach, a Junior League storytime docent at the MFAH, brought her own small children to test her tour. She loved reading The Dot, by Peter Reynolds, in front of pointillist works. Showing the children how tiny dots can come together to make something big – whether in size or thought or both – was exciting.
“Children’s books really help bring the art to the kids’ level,” she says. “The characters in the story come alive, and the colors in the book pop when they’re surrounded by works of art.”
Art Activities for Children
• Save containers – rectangular shoe boxes, round oatmeal containers, medicine bottles – and build a city.
• Make string art. Hammer nails into wood, gather some multicolored string, and loop strands around nails to create designs.
• Shave crayons onto wax paper (using a vegetable peeler), place another sheet of wax paper on top, and iron, melting the shavings and making “stained glass.”
• Go outside and let the kids get crazy, Jackson Pollock-style, flinging paint with paintbrushes on canvas or big rolls of paper (even better done after a trip to the MFAH to see Pollock’s work).
Local Resources for an Art-Filled Summer
• Art Mix offers weeklong summer sessions where kids explore new media inspired by artists and cultures from around the world. www.artmixlearning.com; 713-552-9028
• Gerry and Greta’s Art Camp’s weeklong summer camps focus on new themes each week, including Ancient Egypt, Kids’ Movies and All About Me. www.artcampadventures.com; 713-817-0177
• Raising the Bar Creative Concepts offers classes like Duct Tape Creations, Go Go Graphics: Photoshop Fun and E-Z Jewelry
• Making for older kids and teens. www.raisingthebarcc.com; 832-661-5407
• Marla’s Art Studio, operated by the art teacher at Herod Elementary School, offers small, creative and homey camps for all ages; www.marlasartstudio.com
• The Summer Book is an annual guide to Houston-area camps, including art camps, organized by age, location and category. See www.thesummerbook.com or find at local bookstores.
Places to visit
• The Orange Show Monument is a funky field trip to take. The Orange Show, producer of the Art Car Parade and keeper of the Beer Can House, promotes the extraordinary artistic expressions of ordinary people. www.orangeshow.org
• The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, makes visiting with children easy. Programs like Creation Station, Sketching in the Galleries and Sunday Storytime bring the art to life with hands-on, interactive opportunities. Stop for lunch at Café Express after a trip through James Turrell’s “The Light Inside,” a color-changing, kid-delighting tunnel that connects the two buildings of the MFAH. www.mfah.org
• The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston always satisfies. Installations are fun for kids and parents to take in and analyze, and if all else fails, they have a fantastic gift shop with tons of those little toys that no kid (or grown-up) can pass up. www.camh.org
• For supplies, there’s nothing better than making an outing out of a trip to Texas Art Supply. Everything you need but you didn’t know existed is here. www.texasart.com
A few books
• Crafting with Kids, by Catherine Woram; Tie-dye t-shirts, painted rocks and paper flowers are some of the easy projects for school-aged children in this book.
• The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas, by Fiona Watt; I found this at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. It’s the best art book for kids I’ve seen. By introducing new techniques, step-by-step, the book serves as a coach for making sophisticated-looking but easy art. Elementary through high school.
• D.I.Y.: Kids, by Ellen and Julia Lupton; Make a kite, plan a “fluffy” party, and design your own hand-drawn computer icons. Ages 9 – 12.