Listen – Talk – Learn
Samuel waited patiently as I prepared our back-pack for the trek through Storm King Art Center. As soon as I unstrapped his car seat and made our way to the grassy knoll ahead, he turned around and said, “Mama, run!” I said, “Yes, go!” I pride myself in taking my son to different kinds of museums including fine art museums, but the truth of the matter is I often feel anxious for a myriad of reasons. He might bump into a work of art, cause it to fall and hurt himself by doing so, run and get lost in the crowd, sprawl onto the floor and refuse to move. A recent trip to Storm King Art Center diffused such neurosis and gave us a unique opportunity to explore art peacefully.
Storm King Art Center is an outdoor sculpture park featuring over 100 sculptures and art installations. Nestled between Storm King and the Schunnenmunk Mountains in the Hudson Valley, it is a mere 50 mile drive north from the George Washington Bridge in New York City. The spectacular works of artists such as Mark Di Suvero, Henry Moore, David Smith, Andy Goldsworthy, Maya Lin, Zhang Huan, Alexander Calder to name just few dot the 500 acres of meadows, hills and fields that can be navigated by foot, rental bikes or tram.
The art lover in me wanted to linger for hours to contemplate the grand sculptures that rose from the landscape, but as a mom of a 7 ½ year old with Down syndrome, I wanted to make sure that I honored Samuel’s endurance for walking. He led me through the vast open arena that combined the picturesque emblems of nature and the massive solidity of the human made forms. Rather than spend time worrying about what artwork he could knock over, I enjoyed watching him weave in and out of the behemoth art structures themselves. I was the audience to this dance performance that featured Samuel running amidst the towering eyes of each megalith.
Samuel explored Storm King Art Center with confidence. He trudged uphill towards Mark Di Suvero’s Frog Legs, 2002, made eye contact with me then ran down hill as fast as he could. He did this numerous times, each time ending in laughter as I caught and twirled him around at the bottom of the hill. He navigated his body through the negative spaces of each sculpture that confronted our path. He jumped on the shadows created on the grass as the sun beamed across a sculpture’s steel foundation. He picked up numerous sticks and traced each blade of grass as we marched across different fields. He rested on a boulder and watched me take pictures of the “Three Legged Buddha” by Zhang Huan, 2007 Together, we made notes of what we saw, birds, grass, leaves, sticks, trees, the sky.
Our “artTalk” seemed limited at first. Even when I tried to elicit the shapes casted by the shadows of the gigantic sculptures, Samuel remained silent. Then I realized that our “artTalk” in this case, was comprised of movement. Words have been replaced by a skip, a jump a smile. Sentences have been replaced by running, dashing, and climbing. A deep discussion of the artist’s process was replaced with physical navigation of the structural space itself. It was less important for me that Sam knew the significance of each sculpture or that he knew the numerical values assigned to its cost, date, dimensions or weight. What I valued most from this visit was the level of Samuel’s physical engagement with the space. His understanding of these colossal structures will remain inextricably connected to his “climbing” “running” “marching” through this shared exhibition space between object and viewer. Furthermore, the actual experience of being surrounded by these sculptural megaliths supplied a cognitive and visual awareness that is unmatched by words.
After 1 hour and 15 minutes, Samuel expressed his wish to depart, “Mama, home.” As we made our final trek across the south fields, I asked what he saw across the meadow, pointing to Mark Di Suvero’s “Pyramidian,” 1987/1998. He lifted his head and exclaimed, “Bird!” I smiled and said, “I see a bird too.” Soon thereafter, Samuel had run off with no additional words. I heard only laughter as he headed back up to Di Suvero’s “Frog Legs.” When laughter replaces words, that cannot be a bad thing.
For more information on Storm King Art Center, please visit http://www.stormking.org/
Luella’s Tips for Visiting Storm King Art Center:
Wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing suitable for hikes and consider wearing light-colored long pants to minimize contact with ticks.
Pack a picnic. Although there is a small cafe located near the north parking area, I prefer to park in the south parking area which is more central in its location.
Plan to spend between 1 1/2 to 3 hours during your visit.
Visit during the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not directly overhead. There are few shaded areas.