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I am currently studying History of Art at University College London. This summer, I volunteered in the Education Department at the Fitzwilliam Museum, working within the families programme.
The main summer family event at the Fitzwilliam is Family Art Week, part of the Summer at the Museums programme. Three busy days, full of fantastic activities inspired by the museum’s permanent collection, the exciting new loan of Henry Moore’s Hill Arches, and of course the exhibition of the moment- COLOUR. I was delighted to be part of this and share my experience.
A drizzly and grey Tuesday did not hold much promise for the day ahead. However, when the event opened at 11am a long queue of excited families snaked out of the door onto the lawn. The activity began in the studio, but due to such high demand we decided to brave the weather and spread outside under a gazebo. Lo and behold the sun came out just in time.
Children collected an A5 piece of paper with an initial on. They were then asked to explore the COLOUR exhibition as well as the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, where they would find illuminated manuscripts. On the pages of the manuscripts there are letters nestled amongst floral motifs some even have mythical beasts circling around and climbing up them. The children could be inspired by these odd scenes to decorate and create narratives to adorn their own letter using gouache paints as well as gold and silver. The finished pieces were full of character and the joy that went into their creation was very much apparent.
Today, saw even more mucky hands; this time covered in clay, making sculptures inspired by Henry Moore’s Hill Arches. We wanted the kids to really immerse themselves in the piece and to look at it from different angles. The sculpture sited on the front lawn encourages tactile interaction. Kids were quite happy to wriggle around on the ground and to watch the clouds pass through the bronze arches that shielded the suns glow. The four interlocking pieces formed a maze… or a castle with windows to peer inside. Some friends decided to play happy families inside it and a hole in the sphere became a beloved kitchen oven.
On that glorious sunny day the families spilt out of the tent onto the grass. It was a simple activity for all ages that seemed as much about the sensation of moulding the substance than what was actually made. I also noticed some very creative uses of the brown slip upon the grey clay as a kind of patina to get the same effect as the drip stains on the Moore. The worksheet created by the Education department encouraged the kids to think about the title of the piece and how it related to the form. The manner in which words can alter and literally shape our interpretations of what we see before us even if the shape is static. This activity presented an accessible idea without pretension that could really get the kids and their parents thinking.
On the last day we created shadow puppets again using the COLOUR exhibition as a starting point. All sorts of strange animals roam the manuscript margins. The children were given three pieces of card- one for a head, one for a body, and one for a tail- so they could make their own bizarre mythical beast. Once they had joined their creatures together they performed scenes behind a screen. It was lovely to watch them marvel at how something made from card that they had only minutes ago been sticking together could magically come to life.
With around 1,100 visitors over the 3 days it was the busiest Art Week the Fitzwilliam has ever seen. Many families returned for subsequent days and one girl came to celebrate her 6th birthday!
The three days reconfirmed my belief that the imaginations of children and families are something to be nurtured and celebrated. They also highlighted the passion of the staff and their understanding that making art accessible is essential for broadening young minds.
The seeds that are planted at such a young age really do matter. Although the team hope to have encouraged kids who already have a passion for art to keep creating, they also hope that children with little interest in art, or knowledge of their capabilities who saw something in the museum to inspire them. It is because of that extremely personal moment in the development of that child’s sense of self and understanding of the world around them that shows how important events like this are.
I am proud to have had the opportunity to volunteer at the event and to have helped in opening up opportunities for other young people.
Isabelle Bucklow, Volunteer, The Fitzwilliam Museum
Find out how you can volunteer with the University of Cambridge Museums on our website.