by Cheryl Crosby
We had the opportunity to speak to the lead curator Meghan Melvin, the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Curator of Design, to discuss what makes this latest exhibition a must for families.
How do you decide on special exhibitions at the MFA, specifically this one that celebrates the work of Robert McCloskey?
It’s a varied multi-step process, depending on the exhibition. In this case, the Eric Carle Museum, the organizing institution, approached me with a proposal. The Museum decided quickly that the exhibition would be a great fit for our visitors of all ages.
What goes into planning an exhibition like this from concept to completion?
We are presenting a smaller version of the Eric Carle Museum’s exhibition, so once the exhibition space was selected, I decided to focus on the publications where McCloskey was both author and illustrator. I then worked closely with our exhibition design team to find a solution to display the works to their best advantage, all the while staying in close touch with the original organizers at the Eric Carle.
How do you cater to different learning styles, such as visual, audio or tactile? And how do you make the experience both fun and educational?
First, knowing that we will have lots of younger visitors in this show, we are going to hang all the pictures lower than we normally would to its easier for kids to enjoy the exhibition.
Second, in addition to our typical museum labels and text panels, we are also including some labels with interactive questions for our youngest visitors.
Third, there will be two versions of a Family Guide (a tri-fold pamphlet with questions, fun facts and art-making activity suggestions) – one specific to the exhibition, and one general guide – available in the gallery.
What will families find as they explore the new exhibition?
I think that it will be like seeing a beloved old friend and getting to know him better. They will see the many different ways an artist prepares to create a picture book. For instance, they will find Robert McCloskey’s sketchbook filled with drawings of bears in Central Park Zoo. They will get to know other great books by McCloskey that they may not be familiar with, like Blueberries for Sal and Time of Wonder. They will get to marvel at Nancy’s Schön’s miniature preparatory sculpture for her work in the Public Garden.
How much time should families allot for exploring Make Way for Ducklings: The Art of Robert McCloskey? And when they are finished, what should they check out afterwards at the MFA?
Every family is different, but I would count on spending at least an hour in the Museum, if not more. You can discover many great things in the galleries adjacent to the McCloskey show, as well! Don’t miss the Ship Model Gallery (two galleries down), especially the drawers that you can pull out to see additional treasures. The Native American Gallery next to the McCloskey exhibition is another must-see. Look for a miniature Mi’kmaq cradle and a sculpture of a walrus by the Canadian artist Nuna Parr. Other favorites on this floor are the 17th-century portraits of children by the Freake-Gibbs painter.
If you are looking for ideas about ways to spend your time at the Museum, make sure you stop by the Sharf Visitor Center to pick up some themed scavenger hunt cards, or borrow an art bag from the info desk.
When is the best time to visit the MFA for children who prefer a less crowded experience?
This might come as a surprise, but Thursdays in the late afternoon and evening. I know that might not be convenient for some, so penciling in an MFA visit on weekend mornings also provide for a quieter experience.