A Tour with Trevor

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” With this in mind, we recently toured the de Young with a precocious eight-year-old named Trevor to learn what we could about the experience of the museum and its art from a child’s perspective. Needless to say, we learned a lot.

Trevor is a frequent visitor to the de Young, so when we asked him where he wanted to start, he knew just where to begin: the Native American gallery.

Upon encountering an Eskimo, Yup’ik figure grouping, Trevor rightly observed that the figures were dancing and immediately began to dance right along with them.

Dance scene with figures in model kashim ceremonial house (detail), 1890–1900. United States, Alaska, St. Michael, Eskimo, Yup'ik. Wood, baleen, sea mammal intestine, sealskin, seal fur, feathers, and pigment. Bequest of Thomas G. Fowler. 2007.21.145a-l

According to Trevor, this complex Maya vessel depicts a lion eating a person: “He’s sad—he’s thinking, 'Uh-oh, it’s the end of my life.'”

Vessel with frontal face, A.D. 400–600. Mexico or Guatemala, Central Maya area, Central Maya area (Mexico or Guatemala), Early Classic Maya. Earthenware. Bequest of Leroy C. Cleal. 2002.84.1.28

Trevor was excited for us to take him to the “3D paintings,” so we began to make our way upstairs to the American art wing.

When we passed by Edwin Walter Dickinson’s The ‘Cello Player, Trevor noticed that it was the only “black-and-white painting on the wall.” As we looked closer and Trevor realized that the composition was strewn with musical instruments, he remarked that it looked like the painting’s subject was “shoved up in the attic practicing.”

Edwin Walter Dickinson (American, 1891–1978). The ‘Cello Player, 1924–1926. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase, Roscoe and Margaret Oakes Income Fund. 1988.5

“That’s Beethoven!” Trevor exclaimed as we passed by this painting.

John Singleton Copley (American, 1738–1815). Joshua Henshaw (1703–1777), ca. 1770. Oil on canvas. Mildred Anna Williams Collection. 1943.4

When we finally arrived in the "3D gallery," featuring what we museum professionals call trompe l’oeil, Trevor halted us in our tracks. “Wait, I have to stand back to see the real action. Once you get close to them, you realize they’re really just paintings.”

Of Samuel Marsden Brookes’s Salmon Trout and Smelt, Trevor remarked that when he stood back, “they actually look like a pair of pants. Then I get closer and closer until I realize that they’re fish nailed on a wall!” Who knew?

Samuel Marsden Brookes (American, 1816–1892). Salmon Trout and Smelt, 1873. Oil on canvas. Gift of Collis P. Huntington. 7115

As any parent knows, children of Trevor’s age can stay inside for only so long. So I suggested we head outside to get some fresh air and check out James Turrell’s Three Gems

As we wound our way through the maze-like entrance to the piece, Trevor asked, “What is this? It makes me feel like it’s going to start to move, or start turning.”

We sat in the eye of Three Gems for a while, and then I suggested that Trevor lay down to get the full view of the oculus. “It’s nice and cold, like if you put ice cubes in a swimming pool.”

Here at the Fine Arts Museums, we are always looking for new ways to interpret our collections. Trevor’s refreshing take on some of our more beloved artworks was certainly a breath of fresh air. Next time you visit the museums, be sure to bring along your children—you'll be surprised by what they can teach you!

What’s your child’s favorite work of art at the de Young? Be sure to check out this self-guided tour of works addressing the subject of children and families. Take a look at the calendar to learn about ongoing programs for children and families at both the de Young and the Legion of Honor.

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