Exploring the Boston Museum of Fine Arts with a Toddler!

Addison outside of the MFA in Boston.Today Addison and I spent our morning exploring the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It’s always interesting to go to museums with her, especially ones I have been to before, because her experiences always shift my own perspective.  Usually I seek out particular artwork or styles I want to see. For example, today I wanted to get up to the Italian Renaissance display, as well as head to the exhibits Silver, Salt, and Sunlight: Early Photography in Britain and France, and Seeking Shambhala. However, it was not meant to be. Addie is a very independent spirit, and I let her interests drive our path through the museum.Folk art in the Art of the Americas wing of the Boston MFA

Our first stop was in the new wing featuring the Art of the Americas. We walked through a small room with folk art primarily featuring animals. Addie was enthralled and started naming the animals she could see, and subsequently making their noises. It was cute to watch her point and quack!

Addie continued walking, and we found ourselves looking at 19th century American paintings. She wasn’t interested, but I was especially taken by one painting in particular – Bish-Bash Falls, Massachusetts (1855) by John Frederick Kensett.

Bish-Bash Falls, Massachusetts (1855) by John Frederick Kensett

Bish-Bash Falls, MA (1855) Kensett

It depicts a beautiful, albeit small, waterfall surrounded by huge boulders and trees. As a Massachusetts native, I couldn’t believe I have never heard of this place – it is definitely being added to our list of summer hikes!

At this point, Addie took off on a trot, and I followed her downstairs, through the Shapiro Family Courtyard into the Art of Europe. I got a brief glimpse of the Manet in Black exhibit – there were some impressive pieces I would have liked to spend more time with, but Addie had other plans! Though I coaxed her upstairs toward the Renaissance Art, we only got as far as the 20th century. We sat on a bench and admired Picasso’s Standing Figure (1908), and then Addie was off!

The Sneeze (1949) Harold E. Edgerton

The Sneeze (1949) Harold E. Edgerton

Our next stop was downstairs in the Contemporary wing. This was Addie’s favorite part of the museum. When we first walked into the space, I immediately stopped in my tracks to look at Harold Edgerton’s The Sneeze (1949). I love teaching my students about Edgerton’s work, and it always makes me happy to see his photographs!

Though not itself contemporary art, Edgerton’s photograph was paired with Heide Fasnacht’s Sneeze IV (2001). This particular section of the collection explored the many ways contemporary artists borrow ideas or images from pop culture or other artists. There were several thought-provoking juxtapositions that got me thinking about the nature and practice of integrating pop culture and art within a new piece of art. As Picasso said, “good artists copy but great artists steal” – rather than just perpetuate existing styles, these artists use their creativity to reinvent, reinterpret, and recycle what has come before them.

Our next stop was Josiah McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism (2007) which featured hand blown glass paired with mirrors that created the sense of infinite space. Addie was more drawn to the base of the sculpture, which was constructed of mirrors. She had a great time waving at herself! It seemed to be her favorite piece until she found a beaded doorway. I spent a good fifteen minutes watching her alternate from touching and examining the beads to pushing her way through them.

Addison examining the beads hanging in a doorway at the Boston MFA.

Once she finished with the beaded doorway, she discovered a “sewer” lit by fluorescent lights.

Addison at the Boston MFA.

Addie in the Calderwood Courtyard at the Boston MFA.By this time, we were both ready for a snack, so we headed down to the Garden Cafeteria for pretzels and milk. Recharged, and ready for some outdoor time, we explored the Calderwood Courtyard. We had an unseasonably warm week, so despite being March, there were a lot of flowers blooming and birds singing. Addie kept tilting her head back, trying to see the birds hiding in the ivy climbing the walls. She tried to entice them to come out by singing, “tweet! tweet!” When that didn’t work, she started examining the pebbles on the ground.

I was surprised that for a museum that prides itself on being “kid-friendly,” the grass in the courtyard was off-limits. Given the vast number of families and kids I saw in the museum today, I think it would be warranted to transform the space into a natural play area.

Addison examining rocks in the Calder Courtyard at the Boston MFA.

By the time we finished our outdoor fun, Addison was completely tuckered out. We made a quick pit-stop at the museum shop (because I love museum shops!!!) and Addie picked out a “My First ABC’s” book for herself. I also bought her one called “A Picnic with Monet.” We went outside to wait for Kendra to pick us up, and Addie spent the time sitting on a bench and looking at her new book.

Addie reading her new book outside of the Boston MFA.

It was a great visit, and overall the museum did prove to be very kid-friendly. Like many museums, they allow strollers and smaller baby carriers (such as the Ergo), but prohibit backpack carriers. There are plenty of baby-changing stations, and a nursing room. They also have a lot of family programming, including birthday parties at the museum!

Admission can be pricey – though kids under 6 are free, admission is $10 for ages 7-17 (except non-school hours, during which all kids 17 and under are free). Adults are $22 each. If you’re a local, the best deal is to check out passes from your public library. If you’re visiting from out of state, admission is free on Wednesdays after 4pm.

About Jen

Outdoor adventurer and traveler. Writer, Photographer & Communications Professor. Wife. Mom of twins plus one. Tubbs Snowshoes Ambassador. Blogger at gayfamilytrips.com.

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