It’s a shame the American Visionary Art Museum doesn’t allow photography inside, because one look at some of the brilliant, quirky, beautiful, inspiring works of art housed there is all it would take to immediately understand why kids and adults are wild about the museum. Though I think the images I was able to capture outside may do the trick just as well.
We visited last week while Owen was still on winter break (Sasha was already back in school) when some friends invited us to join them there. We knew about the museum — friends had recommended it and No Monsters in My Bed has a nice review as well — but just hadn’t made it there yet, since jaunts up to Baltimore usually take us to the well known attractions that cater to kids. In fact, Owen had assumed this museum was also full of science-related exhibits, play spaces, and interactive fun. When he realized on the drive there that it was actually an art museum, he was somewhat disappointed.
That was until we pulled into a parking space behind the museum and he did a complete 180. Just across the street was the awesome Giant WhirliGig, plus the mosaic mirrored facade and school bus topped with plastic swans and bunnies in the entrance courtyard. That elicited a “Whoa! That is so cool!” And that sentiment was expressed many a time as we toured the rest of the exhibits.
When you walk in to the museum, be sure to look down. The welcome mat is made entirely of toothbrushes, the graying bristles spelling out “Smile” across it. And that’s just the tiny tip of a huge iceberg. That building, just one of three, is full of remarkable art that is fun, unique, enchanting, captivating. Really, I could exhaust all my adjectives describing the many wonderful works to see.
More mirrored mosaics line walls around the stairwell. Owen loved the model of the Lusitania made out of 193,000 toothpics and five gallons of glue. All of the kids spent a good while peering into a case full of Pez depensers and looking at their reflections in warped mirrors. They also loved the fairy houses constructed entirely of plant materials — we all agreed it reminded us of the Season’s Greening exhibit at the Botanic Garden. A bed with Alfred E. Neuman tiled on the headboard made me chuckle.
There’s some more serious art in the main building, too. A series of beautiful large, embroidered illustrations tell one woman’s story of surviving the Holocaust. Another exhibit presents works by Gretchen Feldman, both lovely scenes that reflect her idyllic life and bold pieces that depict the cancer cells that ended it.
After touring the main building for about an hour, we made our way to the next one, which houses just one work. In the middle of the floor is a lifesize chess board, its chessmen made made of metal and about as tall as Owen, that you can actually play.
From there we headed out to the sculpture garden where the kids romped in the play structure made of thick tree branches. In the courtyard leading to the third building we stopped to gawk at the large mirrored egg, a very tall guitar bird, and giant nest attached to one wall before heading inside.
The third building was probably the kids’ favorite — and I thought it was pretty fabulous, too. Not only did we walk in to a spectacular sight of big, whimsical sculptures, all previous entrants in the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, showcased throughout, we were also directed by staff to the smaller kinetic sculptures, which offered some hands-on amusement. Enclosed in glass all along one wall of the downstairs, these intricate little wooden sculptures move at the push of a button. We watched a dragon fly, sailors sitting down for a meal, a man eating spaghetti in a bathtub, a cat drinking milk, and many more adorable and wacky moving scenes. As for the bigger works, there are elephants, giant pink poodles, a jeweled car, and more — all just incredible to view.
One member of the staff was very informative and gave us background on the building. We learned that one wall on the third floor is made completely from barrel staves leftover from the brewery that was previously housed in the building. He also let us know that we could go out on the balcony to stand in the nest we’d seen from outside. How often does one get to stand in a nest?
All in all, a fantastically wonderful outing. I already can’t wait to return, next time with Sasha along, too. Those giant pink poodles have her name written all over ‘em.
The American Visionary Art Museum is located in Baltimore near the Inner Harbor. It’s open daily 10am – 6pm Tuesday – Sunday. Admission is $15.95/adults, $13.95/seniors, $9.95/students & children 7 and up, free for ages 6 and under. *It’s also open on Monday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with free admission & special programming for all!
If you go:
- There is plenty of metered parking right behind the museum on Covington Street and on Key Highway. You can use a credit card on Covington, but bring change for Key.
- A cafe, Mr. Rain’s Fun House, is located in the main building. (We didn’t eat there, but I hear they have great bloody marys.)
- Elevators are conveniently located, and make the museum stroller friendly.
- Be sure to check out the gift shop. Even if you don’t buy anything, there are tons of fun items to browse.
- Membership is available – $100 for a 4-person household, and you can add additional family members that are 17 and under.
- Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen, just minutes away, is a tasty lunch option.