Tag Archives: American Art Museum

Art in the Heart of Penn Quarter: The American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery

Horse sculpture - looks like driftwood, but made of metal

Horse sculpture – looks like driftwood, but made of metal

The off-the-Mall location of the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery is both a good and bad thing. Good because it’s not as prominent on the tourist radar as, say, the Natural History Museum and National Gallery, thus keeping the crowds at bay. But bad (or, perhaps, “not as good” is a better way of putting it), because they are wonderful museums that are often overlooked by both visitors and locals, since they’re not right on the beaten path.

Indeed, they are worth the detour from the more popular attractions. Not only are they filled with compelling art, including works that even little ones may find appealing, they offer programs especially for kids that engage and encourage them to look at art in new ways.

Studying "Portrait of Mnonja"

Studying “Portrait of Mnonja”

Nam June Paik's "Electronic Superhighway"

Nam June Paik’s “Electronic Superhighway”

If I’m in the area with the kids, we almost always pop in to stroll around, usually heading to the third floor of American Art, where interesting sculptures, provocative installations, and brilliant colors tend to capture their interest. The special exhibits are often great, too — we loved The Art of Video Games, and there is currently a fascinating exhibition of works by Nam June Paik, who created the video map that’s part of the permanent collection, that focuses on media in culture.

Wandering the halls

Wandering the halls

Portrait Gallery or bust

Portrait Gallery or bust

On a recent visit to the museums, we took advantage of some of their family programs for the first time. (Yes, I almost hate to admit that even though I recommend the programs regularly, we had never actually participated in one.) Portrait Story Days, offered by the National Portrait Gallery every weekend, welcomes guests to drop in to hear a story about a famous American whose portrait is hanging in the museum, then do a craft inspired by the person. Keith Haring was the week’s honoree, so after the reading, we used stencils and a bit of freehand to create our own Haring-esque drawings.

Making Keith Haring-inspired art

Making Keith Haring-inspired art

Guess which is mine?  Hmmm...

Guess which is mine? Hmmm…

The project didn’t last long, so we picked up a Portrait Discovery Kit, which are available from the Education Center and recommended for kids ages 5 and up. The kit included seek-and-find cards that prompted a little scavenger hunt to locate “sitters” in various paintings, a drawing pad to do some of our own sketching, and worksheets that encouraged kids to write down the emotions they observed in a portrait. Owen was engrossed in the hunt for famous mugs, which led us throughout the gallery to find them. He also enjoyed describing the emotions of subjects in the Hall of Champions, the walls lined with portraits of well-known athletes.

On a hunt to find famous faces

On a hunt to find famous faces

The King and O!

The King and O!

Both Portrait Story Days and Portrait Discovery Kits are offered just about every weekend, usually both Saturday and Sunday. But it’s always a good idea to check the schedule to confirm.

The American Art Museum also offers Art a la Cart almost every Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Four carts throughout the museum provide hands-on activities for kids to explore different kinds of art and spark their creativity. It’s recommended for ages 7-12.

The kids are always mesmerized by this sculpture

The kids are always mesmerized by this sculpture

Along with the regular programs, both occasionally present special Family Days that usually correspond with a current event or new exhibit — you can find out about them on the museums’ calendars here and here. Of course, I’ll keep you posted as well.

Splashing in the Kogod Courtyard

Splashing in the Kogod Courtyard

The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum are located at 8th & F Streets NW. They are connected by the lovely Kogod Courtyard, a must-stop on any visit to the venue, where you can enjoy lunch from the cafe on premises or bring food from another eatery nearby, and kids can stomp in the one-inch deep water scrims. Note that hours at these museums are 11:30am – 7pm. Both are open daily, except for Christmas Day, and admission is free.


Filed under All ages, Art, DC, Exhibit, Free, Museums, Ongoing, Weekdays, Weekend

This Weekend: Fairs, Museums, and the Great Outdoors

Friday evenings at The Yards Park are fun for all ages

While I hate to sum up this weekend’s recommendations for family activities with just three general ideas, county fairs, museum programs, and outdoor fun really are the main special events happening over the next few days.  If those sound good to you, read on for specifics on all of them.  If not, then scroll down for links to some always-useful ideas.  Happy Weekend!

All’s FairCarnival rides and games, farm animals, live entertainment, pony rides, the junk food gamut, pig races.  Yes, it’s county fair season.  Four of them are happening right now; two have already started, two more kick off today.  This post from a couple of days ago has the scoop on all of the county fun.

Music Al Fresco – Get the weekend started with free music in the fresh air at one of many outdoor concerts. Jazz vibraphonist Chuck Redd will entertain at Jazz in the Garden at 5:30pm, the soul band Quiet Fire will take the boardwalk stage at The Yards Park at 6pm, and the United States Air Force Band will perform Disney and Pixar favorites at the Air Force Memorial at 8pm.  (My personal pick would be for The Yards, where there’s plenty of room to spread out, you can buy or bring food for a picnic dinner, and the kids can enjoy fountain play on a beautiful summer evening.)

Take Me to the RiverCelebrate the Shenandoah at Riverfest, a family event designed to connect the community with the river.  The festival will feature canoe rides along the South Fork off the Shenandoah River; live bluegrass music; fly fishing demos, environmental displays, and more.  A kids’ area will have wild animals displays, gem/arrowheads, and face painting. Admission and activities are free.  There will also be a silent auction and food for sale. The event runs from 10am – 3pm on Saturday.

Art-Stronomy Family DayReach for the stars at the American Art Musuem! See how American inventiveness, as depicted in The Great American Hall of Wonders exhibition, led to the great leaps of science and technology behind space travel and flight. Guests can try their hand at experiments and art activities, join a scavenger hunt through the galleries, and meet an astronaut from NASA. The free event runs from 11:30am – 3pm.

Bonsai! – It’s been awhile since I’ve suggested a visit to the U.S. National Arboretum (one of my favorite places to hang with the kids), mainly because it’s been so hot.  But this weekend is supposed to see a dip in temps, so it should be a nice time to tour the collections, play among the old Capitol columns, and see the “Becoming a Bonsai” exhibit, which is only on display for a couple more weeks.

Oceanic ArtHead to the National Museum of Natural History for its Second Saturday Arts & Sciences program. Ocean animals and their environments will be this months’ theme. Guests can learn about the underwater world, while decorating a reusable cloth lunch bag with stamps and drawings of sea creatures. Just in time for back-to-school.  The free event runs from 1-3pm.

Super Science Saturday: EnergyThe Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Dulles annex of the Air & Space Museum, hosts its own special program on the second Saturday of every month. This weekend it’ll be all about energy. Visitos can enjoy hands-on demos and activities related to the subject. The permanent exhibits – the hangar full of air and space craft – are worth a trip out there themselves.  The event runs from 10am – 3pm.  Admission is free, but parking is $15.

Ahhh….SHARKS!Today and tomorrow, the National Children’s Museum is celebrating all things sharks.  Head to the Launch Zone at the National Harbor to join in all kinds of fun activities: Hunt for shark teeth at their “beach,” see and touch real shark jaws and other artifacts, and make a shark craft.  The free event runs from 11am – 4pm on Friday, and 11am – 6pm on Saturday.

Facing History: Alexander CalderThis regular series at the National Portrait Gallery is designed for children with their families to explore portraiture in depth. Participants take a brief guided tour of the exhibition, this week focusing on Alexander Calder’s wire self-portrait; listen to a children’s story or short gallery talk; and create a piece of art using some of the same materials or concepts. The event is free, but space is limited , so registration is required. The class run from 2-4pm on Saturday.

Portrait Story Days: Wilma RudolphDrop in at the National Portrait Gallery on Sunday from 2-5pm to listen to a story about a person who has influenced American history and culture and to create a special piece of art. This weekend, learn about American athlete Wilma Rudolph.

For even more ideas for fun with the kids, check out these popular KFDC posts:

Joys of Summer

The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids

Rainy Day Recreation (ie, Indoor Fun)

Stay Entertained Through Summer

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Filed under All ages, Animals, Annual, Art, DC, Educational, Festival, Free, Live Entertainment, Maryland, Music, Outdoor, Seasonal, Summer, Virginia, Weekend

Root for the Nationals at the… Museum?

That Nats are playing at home against the Arizona Diamondbacks this weekend, but if you and the kids can’t make it to the game (or even if you can), you can get your baseball fix this Saturday, August 14, when the National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum present Nationals Baseball Family Day.  From 11:30am – 2pm, there will be storytelling, crafts, games, and more fun all centered around America’s favorite pastime.  And the best part:  some of the Nationals players will be there for a meet and greet and photo ops.  Kids (and adults, too) are encouraged to dress in their best Nationals gear for maximum fanfare.

This FREE event will take place in the National Portrait Gallery’s Kogod Courtyard.  The museum is located at Eighth and F Streets, NW.

And if all of this gets you psyched to see a game, you can still get tickets for the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday games here. Some inside scoop:  The first 10,000 fans to arrive at Sunday’s game will receive a Kids Back-to-School Supply Kit.  Plus, it’s a Family Fun Day.  Oh, and Strasburg is pitching.

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Filed under All ages, Annual, Art, DC, Live Entertainment, Museums, Outdoor, Seasonal, Sports, Weekend