Friday, March 27, 2009

Of Snow, Naked Women, and the Definition of Art

Our Spring Break is nearing its close, and I'd have to say it's been a memorable one not because of any unusual events or magic moments, but because of its remarkable calm.

We began the week with a short trek to Denver. If you have children of a wide age range, you know how difficult it is to find activities they'll all enjoy. Max is 16; Bella just turned 8. Tuck and Tavia fall somewhere in the middle. Inevitably, someone complains or doesn't want to participate in any organized activity.

This wasn't the case for us this time. We began our adventure with a (free) tour of Hammond's candy factory. Watching how candy canes and ribbon candy were made was fun. What I didn't expect was the kids to notice that every factory worker we saw was some ethnicity other than white. That opened up a discussion on wages, hiring practices, and workplace conditions. Who knew a free tour to a candy factory could be an educational experience? I'm thinking maybe the younger kids were expecting Oompa Loompas, but the reality was a far cry from Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Don't misunderstand--I have no idea what Hammond's pays their employees, and the factory seemed in fine shape. But I was totally loving that my kids' minds were thinking past what they were seeing to what it meant.

Next stop was the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, where we attended a free interactive exhibition: Nature Unleashed. It featured four types of natural disasters: earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornadoes. Windsor was included in that last segment, so we had a vested interest in what was being presented. And it was fabulous. Bella kept excitedly sharing with me new information and facts she was learning along the way, and she was mightily impressed with what she was finding out. For Tavi, knowledge is power. And after living through the tornado last May, she's struggled along the way to get past her newfound fear of any weather other than sunshine. This exhibition helped a great deal. Again--entertainment proved highly educational, and we talked about history (the volcano that leveled Pompeii, the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906) and devastation (Hurricane Katrina, our own F3 tornado) all the way to the hotel.

We spent our second day at the Denver Art Museum. It features a new exhibition called "The Psychedelic Experience," which chronicles the hand-designed venue and rock concert posters from Haight Ashbury (San Francisco) from 1965 to 1971. Think Ken Kesey's acid tests, Beat poetry, the early days of Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, and other history-making musicians. This exhibition was admittedly less interesting to Tavi and Bella than it was to the rest of us; they have scant knowledge of that era and no understanding whatsoever of the drug/psychedelic culture. Bella was curious as to why there were so many "naked ladies" in the posters and artwork. I asked if she was uncomfortable, and she said no, she just wanted to know why there were 17 women in various states of undress adorning the walls. So I explained the history of that era using age-appropriate language and descriptions, and she was quite satisfied with what she learned. And she left that temporary exhibition with the knowledge that many folks consider the naked human body a work of art, something to celebrate and honor. In that spirit, she informed me she'd found two more.

All in all, we spent 4 1/2 hours in the art museum. As we visited various floors, we took in art from around the world. Some of it was fantastic; some not so much. Max and I got into a great debate on the definition of art. Specifically, he asked if something is functional, is it art (he says it isn't, I say most certainly can be). The younger kids were amazed that some art pieces were created centuries ago, and they gained a solid understanding that art can be an enlightening representation of a culture. We discussed the purpose of art, what it's "supposed" to do, why it's valuable or not. I was thrilled that each of the kids was able to appreciate what s/he was seeing on an individual level. Mostly, I like that even Bella can now go beyond saying "I like that" to explaining what it is about something that moves her.

The hotel we stayed at--a Sleep Inn on 120th Ave--was a nightmare. Exposed electrical boxes in the pool room, a hot tub guard rail that wobbled and came out of the ground, peeling paint (lead, anyone?), crumbled wall tiles, a plastic chair with a broken leg that someone propped back up and which Max quickly discovered was not stable, a headboard that pulled out of the wall if you so much as leaned against it to watch TV, bathroom doors that refused to lock or even close all the way...the list is endless. But we got a lot of laughs out of it anyway and felt like we were livin' on the edge, wondering what would fall apart next.

And then yesterday, we enjoyed a major snowstorm. The entire family spent the day inside, watching Indiana Jones movies and playing the game Life. We made a huge breakfast and ate too much junk food as we hung out. Wes had a roaring fire going all day, and throughout it all, snow continued to steadily fall and blow with a beauty only nature can pull off. It was just perfect.

Too often, there's conflict of one kind or another when you put a large family together and try to please everyone. This Spring Break has been a gift to me and my family. We all deserve that once in a while.

1 comment:

Mary A. Shafer said...

What a wonderful journal of a great time with your family! Wish there were more such things available for us to share. Thanks. :)