Becoming a Chicagoan with the Help of The Art Institute by Shannan Younger
I moved to Chicago right after completing graduate school in my mid-twenties. A year later, my baby girl was born. I had a few months to play in the city before a rough pregnancy kept me from getting out as much as I would have liked, so was more as if she and I became Chicagoans together.
One site of some of our special Chicago memories is the Art Institute of Chicago. I would occasionally take her as a baby in the stroller. It always felt like gamble, but I’d read that babies liked museums, and I certainly liked it there. Our tentative first trips were a success.
When she was a little older, we enjoyed Mini Masters classes on Saturday mornings and they will always hold a special place in my heart.
The teachers were always amazing and we both learned so much. One class included a visit to Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The teacher asked the three, four and five year-olds what they thought the people in the painting were doing.
My four year old proceeded to lay on the floor, propped up by one arm, like the man in the bottom left of the painting. (That she was imitating the man smoking a pipe is a topic for another blog, I’m afraid.)
I gasped, horrified.
The teacher, however, was a far cooler customer than I was. She didn’t miss a beat and said, “What a great idea! Why don’t we all pick someone in the painting and do what they are doing.”
And suddenly, there were kids recreating this amazing work of art with their bodies. As I write, this I worry that it falls into the category of “you had to be there” and I’m certain my words fail to portray that magic of the moment, of watching my sweet girl interact with a beloved, renowned piece of art like it was commonplace to do so. But that’s the beauty of the Art Institute. That kinds of amazing interaction happens there.
It recently happened for us when we saw the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit there this past summer. We went for a mother-daughter outing. We don’t make it to the Art Institute quite as frequently as we used to, and each trip is special but this one was even more so. As we marveled at the art and the dresses, my girl’s discussion of both felt quite grown up.
The Art Institute has grown and branched out since our first trips there, much like my daughter. It still baffles my mind that she is older than the Modern Wing, and other buildings in the city of her birth.
She has outgrown Mini Masters but still enjoys visiting the Art Institute, and never forgets to pay a visit to her old favorites, including the Degas dancer sculpture and the Thorne rooms.
I am grateful that she’s grown up in a city so rich in culture, with a world-class art museum practically in her back yard. It’s one of the places where I’ve found the Heart of Chicago.
Shannan Younger is a recovering attorney and freelance writer living with her husband and daughter in the suburbs of Chicago. She writes about parenting adventures and weathering the hormonal hurricane that comes with a tween on the ChicagoNow blog Tween Us. She also writes at Chicago Parent and her work has been featured by the BBC, Forbes and the Chicago Tribune. She was honored to have an essay included in the anthology The HerStoriesProject: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship and was a proud member of the Listen to Your Mother Chicago cast in 2013. She is a native of Ohio who received her undergraduate and law degrees from Notre Dame.
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