Museum safari

Sometimes when the weather is cold or you live too far from a zoo anyway, it is fun to meet some animals another way. Take your parents on a trip to an art museum. As you know, there are lots of kinds of museums. In art museums beautiful and interesting objects, sometimes thousands of years old, can inspire you and make you think. Since so many new sights greet you in an art museum, have a plan. Look for wild animals or likely pets, and you will remember more of what you see.

A first look in the Asian art rooms is fun with this kind of project. Artists in Asia have long been very alive to the charm and individuality of animals. Sometimes these little creatures are made of porcelain (like some dinner dishes) or of a rougher, more brightly painted clay.

You might find a little blue-and-white turtle, which looks like a pet and has stretched out its neck so all the layers of its ``turtleneck'' show outside its pretty shell. Then you might spy a big clay horse, with brilliant splashes of orange and green over its coat.

The colors of these animals are not what you would see if you visited the turtle or horse department in a zoo. But doesn't the blue turtle make you think of its life in the water? and the orange and green horse of its free and wild life on the plains?

These art animals are sculpture. You can often walk all the way around them. Sometimes one side definitely looks the best; other times the artist has arranged an animal so you can enjoy several different views.

After exploring the Asian rooms, why not search for animals in the ancient Egyptian rooms? The Egyptians were fond of tall, sleek cats with small, elegant heads. Their sculptors carved them out of very hard rock.

All these handsome animals have their homes in museums because people admired and took good care of them, and eventually gave them to the museum. Now thousands of other people can enjoy them, too.

Can you imagine just what people did with these animals before they were arranged so neatly in the museum? Who might have had them made? Where do you suppose they were kept? Little signs beside the animals will answer some questions for you. You might also like to find your own answers later at the library.

If you had a choice, would you rather be an ancient Asian potter-sculptor or an ancient Egyptian rock-cutting sculptor? If you chose the first, you would start with pieces of clay and mold the shapes with your fingers. If you chose the second, you would begin with a block of stone and carve away pieces with sharp tools.

In both types of sculpture, as an artist you would patiently learn the skills you needed, then add a few new ideas of your own. Be sure to notice which sculptors add their own ideas most often.

For example, long ago the Asian potters found just the right clays for making delicate porcelain. They shared their secret with other Asian potters, who made many different animals in clay. The ancient Egyptian sculptors developed great skill in carving hard stone into the most beautiful stone statues, but each one is more similar to the next than in the Asian works.

Now you are ready with a plan. Why not add your own list of specific animals to find? You may ask the guards for directions and help when you get to the museum.

Have a wonderful time exploring. Roaming from room to room, you are passing through centuries of time and across thousands of miles of space. As a 20th-century child, you have a rare and amazing heritage.

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