Stepping Out

Adventures in Art

Bringing creativity to the forefront at Long Island Children's Museum

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The legacy of Willem de Kooning, who pioneered the gestural, abstract style of painting that became the staple of New York Abstract Expressionism, has found its way to Long Island Children’s Museum.

The museum’s unique multi-year partnership with the Willem de Kooning Foundation — it’s the only children’s museum that the Foundation works with — involves children and families in discovering abstract art and artists, focusing on de Kooning’s many contributions to art and culture.

Through workshops and community outreach programs, childrens’ understanding of what art “should” look like is expanded, to include concepts of expressionism and abstract art.

“It’s a way to bring abstract art to families that is accessible,” says Jeanmarie Walsh Mansfield, the museum’s associate director of education. “This type of art is often harder to access for students, so it’s done less frequently in schools. This is a chance to open up a new art world for kids.”

With support from the foundation, the museum has developed enhanced programming — both museum-based and throughout Nassau County — to promote art education and inspire young artists.

“Our goal is to get them to think like artists,” says Mansfield. “It’s an opportunity to let go and explore themselves as artists. They learn there is no right way or wrong way to approach art.”

To that end, the museum has collaborated with the Willem de Kooning Foundation on a variety of year-round programs for all ages. These include workshops that focus specifically on de Kooning’s techniques, along with others that delve into other aspects of abstract art.

“It’s not all just de Kooning,” Mansfield says. “Our Abstract Artist Series enables us to look at other aspects of expressionism and further explore the process with different approaches and techniques.”

This weekend, the museum offers “Still Life with Stuart,” a component of that series, which explores Stuart Davis’ funky still lifes, on Saturday, Jan. 20, 1 and 3 p.m. Participants will create an abstract “masterpiece” using a mixture of colorful materials, while listening to jazz music.

Throughout 2017-2018, LICM will conduct 33 workshops in all — including those in libraries, schools and community centers. As Mansfield puts it, “We just pick our paint and brushes and hit the road.”

The current schedule includes sessions at Henry Waldinger Memorial Library in Valley Stream, on Jan. 24; Glen Cove Public Library, in February; West Hempstead Public Library, in March, Franklin Square Public Library, in April; and Baldwin Public Library, in May; along with visits to area high schools.

There are also workshops during the upcoming school break weeks at the museum.

It all culminates in museum exhibition in June in a de Kooning-inspired art gallery.

Some 500-600 paintings will be exhibited. “It’s a celebration of all the work that the kids did this year,” says Mansfield.

The exhibit will display the works that the budding artists have created both at museum workshops and throughout their communities — including all ages, not just the elementary school-age families that are LICM’s core audience.

“This is an opportunity for us to reach out to middle school and high school students,” Mansfield explains. “It’s a great concept for teenagers.”

The focus of these sessions, “Reimaging the Figure,” using de Kooning’s techniques as a starting point (based on his Woman series), is for participants to abstract and manipulate their compositions to create unique representations of the human form.

“Willem de Kooning was a master at finding ways to get himself out of a corner and to overcome obstacles,” says William de Kooning Foundation’s Executive Director Amy Schichtel. “Abstract thought is a key component of a creative, progressive individual and society. These programs use abstraction in art to break down the barriers of inhibition and self-consciousness that can thwart personal expression. Our goal is to lead children to push against limitations and move to a place of exploring what is possible just as de Kooning did in his art.”

Adds Mansfield: “I like to say we are developing Willem de Kooning groupies. Year after year kids come back and tell us about him. We are seeing a lasting impact that is happening as a result of this programming. It’s been fantastic for everyone involved.”

For more information on upcoming workshops, contact the museum at (516) 224-5800 or visit www.licm.org.