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Stanford's Cantor Arts Center offers tours for tots

Cantor's new Family Sundays feature sketching in the galleries, art projects in the studio, and pint-sized tour groups

When art speaks to them, kids don't hold back.

In the middle of a museum tour, a little girl looks up at a painting and shrieks, "Pretty!" When the tour moves to a display of Venetian glass vessels, other kids shout: "I like the red one!" and "That one looks like a coffee pot!"

Docent Rosalyn Voget remains calm. In this situation, being interrupted is hardly a bad thing. These kids are engaged and enthusiastic. There are also a lot of them.

The new Family Sunday programs at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center are only in their second weekend, and already the groups of attendees are so large that some of them need to be split in two. Family tours have been filling the main lobby, and young artists have been packing the drop-in art activities down in the Moorman Studio. Upstairs in the galleries, kids are drawing away with the colored pencils they've been given to sketch the art around them.

On the first Family Sunday, which happened to be Super Bowl Sunday, 80-some people showed up for the tours, and more than 100 lined up at the art studio. Museum director Connie Wolf, who is spearheading the new initiative, was "overwhelmed" and pleased.

"It indicates that there is a huge hunger for (families) to find meaningful things to do together that provide new ways of thinking and educational, but are not classroom-based," Wolf said. "There's a time to put all that technology aside and just be in the moment."

Last Sunday, Feb. 10, more than 35 people were on hand for the 12:30 tour, with more showing up for later tours. Voget chose two display cases and a painting -- Astley David Middleton Cooper's circa-1898 oil "Mrs. Stanford's Jewel Collection" -- to show her young charges. The first case was filled with ornate Venetian glass vessels; the second, with colorful Chinese snuff bottles of glass, porcelain, crystal, silver. The common theme? Beautiful objects that you give people you love, often on Valentine's Day.

The kids seemed fascinated. With wide eyes, they peered at the bottles, chose their favorites and speculated what might have been kept in them. Mint. Lavender. "Spells," one suggested.

Family Sunday tours tie into the drop-in art activities held in the studio from 1 to 3 p.m. On this day artist Stephanie Crowell also centered the project on glass bottles. Small bottles had been glued to heavy paper, with children encouraged to be creative about what their bottles could hold -- or what could be spilling out onto the paper. A crowd of kids and parents filled the room, the young artists descending on the crayons, construction paper, glue, red lacy hearts and "glitter station."

Crowell, an art teacher at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, supervised a table where kids squeezed colors out of droppers, getting to see what happened when primary hues met secondary ones.

Four-year-old Charlie was the picture of concentration as he carefully snipped away at a bit of blue construction paper.

"Whatever ends up as the final product is the mystery," his father, Aidan Yeaw, said with a laugh.

This was the first time Charlie and his family had visited the Cantor, which is exactly what museum officials are hoping for: new art-lovers, big and small. Or, as Wolf puts it, "the future of culture for our community."

Nearly all the new family programs are free: the family tours and drop-in art activities on Sunday afternoons, and the materials for gallery sketching and self-guided family tours, which are always available when the museum is open. (There will be a cost for the week-long summer art classes for kids.) Museum admission is also free, as is parking after 4 p.m. and on weekends.

The museum has had family programs in the past, but this new endeavor is more widespread, Wolf said. "I want to make sure that any time a family comes into the museum ... there is something you can pick up to do with children."

Wolf and her staff have done very little outreach on the program so far, wanting to see what kind of turnout they would get. They plan to expand outreach, including disseminating program brochures at several East Palo Alto locations.

As part of the new program, Wolf hired a new staff member last fall. Lauren Hahn brings an education background to her role as family-programs coordinator. A mother and self-described "museum junkie," she has a goal, she says, "to allow families respite in their busy lives."

Wolf also arranged more training for Cantor staff as a whole. When you expand family programs, there are a lot of things to think about: how museum guards should handle little hands touching the art, for example, or where strollers can go.

All seems to be running smoothly on this Sunday, especially upstairs, where families are sketching in the Sigall Gallery of early-20th-century works. In one corner, a girl and mom sit on the carpet while dad lies on his stomach, the family cozily drawing together in the company of Theodore Roszak's sunny-yellow abstract 1943 sculpture "Lighter than Air." It's all quiet, and it's all about the art.

What: New Family Sunday art activities at Stanford's Cantor Arts Center

Where and when: Family half-hour tours start in the main lobby at 12:30, 1 and 1:30 p.m. Sundays, with drop-in art activities from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Moorman Studio. Families can sign out art supplies for focused drawing activities in the gallery from 1 to 3 p.m.

On all days the Cantor is open (Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m and Thursdays until 8 p.m.), museum patrons can pick up family guides for self-guided tours and sign out colored pencils and paper for drawing in the galleries.

Cost: Free

Info: museum.stanford.edu or 650-723-4177.

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