Children clustered around a painting at the Yellowstone Art Museum on a Saturday morning in mid-January.
“If you stand up close, can you see anything?” asked Linda Ewert, the museum’s education director.
The children called out answers.
Then she urged them to stand farther back. In a modern take on pointillism, the artist’s dots form a pattern. The images of horses’ heads emerged from the painting, done by M. Scott Miller for the museum’s annual Art Auction 44.
Once a month, children congregate in the museum’s classroom studio space for the Docent 2nd Saturday Art for Kids. The program, for children 5 to 12, includes a gallery tour and art project.
As Ewert led them through the gallery, she seemed one part art teacher and two parts Pied Piper. She pulled them along by asking thought-provoking questions on a kid-captivating level.
With no hesitation, Cooper Brush, 7, picked out his favorite piece from the gallery.
“It’s just a lot of wings,” Brush said, describing the wall-mounted sculpture by artist Tracy Linder of Molt.
“I liked how there was the shadow in it,” he said.
Usually, the Saturday art projects are museum-driven, focused on gallery displays. But January’s project was designed in collaboration with the Alberta Bair Theater to showcase Ensemble Galilei’s “Universe of Dreams,” a multimedia concert at the ABT that evoked the mystery of the universe.
After touring the gallery, the 25 children sat at long tables, painting papier-mache planets to hang in the ABT’s lobby during the concert, or painting their visions of the solar system.
Ewert and the museum’s volunteer docents try to come up with fairly simple projects that can also hold the attention of older students.
“We have to have a project that can translate to a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old,” Ewert said. “That’s a long stretch of ages. Some of the older ones have been coming to the classes for a long time and are pretty sophisticated.”
The two-hour session ends with children talking about the art they’ve created.
Sam DiGiacomo, 7, is a regular at the monthly sessions, where he has worked with clay, painted on clear plastic and worked with wire sculptures.
“He says he wants to be an artist,” said his mother, Suzanne DiGiacomo. Since he began doing the Saturday art projects, she has noticed him packing more complex ideas into his artwork. Together, they also go to the monthly Friday Family Fun Night, where parents and children create art together.
Lily Kennedy, 5, seemed hesitant on the gallery tour, but very focused on her own art project. Her mother, Johanna Kennedy, who claims no background or training in art, began homeschooling Lily this fall. She intends to bring Lily to at least a few more Saturday sessions during the school year.
“It’s just a great opportunity in an area where I am weak,” she said.
Kristin Hammler got a museum membership after finding out how much their three children liked the Saturday sessions.
“It’s not just sitting at home and using watercolors or markers,” Hammler said.
A fish sculpture that her 6-year-old daughter made out of beads and wire still hangs in her daughter’s bedroom. Last fall, they lamented missing a couple of Saturday art sessions for soccer games.
The Hammlers have also liked the Friday Family Fun Night sessions at the museum. Since the Friday sessions involve parents and a wide age-range of siblings, the sessions are a bit less structured than the Saturday classes.
“It’s cheaper than going to the movies and it’s really quality time,” Hammler said.
The 2nd Saturday programs are named for the volunteer docents, since the museum would never have the staffing to put on the children’s programs without them.
Those 2nd Saturday programs are about more than just making art, Ewert said.
“It’s about children beginning to develop a visual literacy.”