I’m standing in front of a huge painting of a nude woman floating in a sky so blue I want to inhale it like fresh air as her red cape billows behind her like the wing power it clearly is. She is faceless, with a nondescript, non-detailed form, womanly but not bawdy. She feels maternal in a way I can’t quite put my finger on.
But the girl standing next to me can.
Seeing oneself in art
“I think she’s Supermom,” she says to me. “She’s like my mom.” The girls is about 8 and the young woman standing next to her – I’m guessing a sitter or her sister – appears none-to-pleased that she is talking to a stranger (me), so I don’t ask what makes her mom so super. But I don’t need to. I can see what she means by the smile on her face.
And she’s right, Portland artist Katherine Bradford’s 1999 oil on drop cloth painting Woman Flying does indeed look like what I think of when I put the words superhero and mom together. She’s solid rather than skinny, she’s bold, she’s colorful and strong and she’s downright fun to look at, as are all the brightly colored Branford canvases handing through May 14 in the main galleries of the Frye Art Museum. As a mom of now adult, independent kids, I want to see the superwoman-supermom in me in the piece.
On Slow Art Day – April 15 – Frye Art Museum is offering an extended “looking tour” focused on pieces in the Bradford exhibit. The first come, first served tour is open to all ages and will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The last Frye Drop-in Drawing event of this season is April 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Space is limited and available first come, first served.
Bradford is an artist to be embraced by all ages, and this particular exhibit is one more reason to put this 71-year-old museum on your spring must-do list.
But there are a lot of other reasons to visit and keep revisiting the Frye with kids.
Why the Frye?
There’s the museum’s commitment to showcasing local and global artists alike, shows that are largely kid-friendly and include art that can inspire family dialogue and conversation. The Frye’s permanent collection is rotated through its galleries and offers kids a glimpse at life in late 19th century and early 20th century Europe.
There’s the Small Frye program, which celebrated its 10th year in 2023. On the first Wednesday of each month during the school year, youngsters aged 2-5 are invited to do a deep dive into artworks from Frye’s permanent collection, engage in interactive storytelling with Seattle Children’s Theatre, and try some hands-on artmaking. The last Small Frye event before the program’s summer hiatus will be held on May 3 but is already sold out.
Then there are the museum’s “Community Days,” when families come to participate in museum-wide activities, tours, and art-making projects. Check the museum’s events calendar for upcoming programs. Not to mention Frye Drop-in Drawing sessions, a great way for the whole family to practice drafting and drawing skills together in the museum’s galleries. All drawing materials are provided (no personal drawing materials allowed). The last drop-in event of this season is April 23 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Space is limited and available first come, first served.
Can’t get to an in-person art-making event? Frye Art Museum’s online Frye Families art projects provide all the directions you need to make great art at home.
The Big One
I would be remiss, of course, not to mention the Big One. The all-inclusive, non-elitist reason to visit: Frye Art Museum is and always has been FREE.
Taking a closer look
This week, there’s yet another pull to the Frye. Slow Art Day.
The Frye is one of the dozens of museums around the world – and only two in Seattle – participating in this annual global celebration of art. Slow Art Day is April 15 and encourages people young and old to look more deeply at a few chosen works of art. Why look “slowly?” According to international event organizers, when people take a good long look at a piece of art they make discoveries, not just in the work itself, but within themselves while experiencing the art.
This year on Slow Art Day – April 15 – the Frye is offering an extended “looking tour” focused on pieces in the Bradford exhibit. The first come, first served tour is open to all ages and will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
5 tips for visiting the Frye with kids
We asked Kelsey Donahue, Frye manager of school and family engagement, to share top tips for visiting the museum with kids. Here’s that list:
- Pack light and dress comfortably. Good shoes are essential because you’ll be on your feet! For littles who may be new to walking or not quite there, we recommend bringing them in a front carrier – it’ll be easier for them to see the art than in strollers. There are free lockers to store diaper bags or backpacks while in the galleries (to protect the art, oversized bags aren’t allowed). And, as a bonus – the lockers are located near the bathrooms, all of which have changing tables!
- Bring some snacks. While you can’t eat in the galleries, there are a few spots around the museum that can keep hangry kids at bay. If it’s nice, there’s an outdoor courtyard with tables and chairs. Inside, there are benches near the entrance and by the auditorium. Drinks are not allowed, but drinking fountains are located throughout.
- Set expectations ahead of time. Museums tend to have a lot of rules, but focusing on what children can do in the museum is helpful. You can use indoor voices, walking feet, and move about and stick together. You can’t touch the art, but you can look closely and even take pictures (just make sure the flash is off)! And for some objects that you can touch, check out our interactive exhibition, In Your Eyes in the Education Wing gallery.
- Get curious! Follow your child’s lead and look closely at art that they’re interested in. What drew them to this artwork? Spend some time with the art, and prompt your child with questions like, “What’s going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that?” to spur conversations. If you have a wiggly friend, go on a scavenger hunt! You can count the number of artworks featuring birds, find the most colorful artwork and name all the colors in it, seek out the smallest and biggest paintings…Or, camp out in the middle of a gallery and play I Spy.
- Make your own art! Get inspired by the artists in the galleries and bring a small sketchbook and colored pencils to draw. You can request folding stools at the front desk to sit and draw anywhere in the galleries. Forgot a sketchbook? There are activity sheets for families outside the exhibitions that include guiding questions, bits of trivia, and drawing prompts.
One last reason, soon to re-open
i go to a lot of museums. Most do not have a cafe, a place to rest and refuel so that you can take your time moving through exhibits. The Frye’s Café Frieda is temporarily closed, but museum officials hope the doors will re-open by summer, just in time for the big inflow of young visitors off for the summer.