Thursday, October 16, 2014


Nerdy Dad Strikes Again!

I try not to subject the kids to too many of my pet obsessions.  Last weekend, though, I just couldn’t resist.

How often do you get to see the Magna Carta?

We took the kids to the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, to see the “Radical Words” exhibit.  It’s there for a few more weeks, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  

The exhibit includes the Magna Carta, a working draft (“sloppy copy”) of the Constitution with handwritten notes by George Mason, an early copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Declaration of the Rights of the Women of the United States, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  (TG: “Universal?  Were other planets involved?”)  The sequence gave me a great excuse to orate in the car about the spread of citizenship rights, and just how recently many of them came to pass.  The kids indulged me, and had the good grace not to note the irony of being a captive audience on a lecture about freedom.

It was political-philosophy-nerd heaven.    

The kids were remarkably good sports about the whole thing.  We met up with Rebecca Townsend and her family and made a day of it.  Rebecca got the “line of the day” award for noting that it was nice to see people lining up for something other than a superhero movie.

I had forgotten how impressive the regular collection of the Clark is.  It started as one family’s private collection, so it reflects a particular time and taste, but it does what it does well.  TG was taken by the Monets and the way that they come into focus as you get farther from them.  (“How did he DO that?”) TB preferred the Winslow Homers, and even caused some excitement when he noticed a seemingly anachronistic heart on the t-shirt of one of the men in the “Two Guides” painting.  It looked, for all the world, like someone had penciled it in later.  We had something of an art history emergency.  (Subsequent Googling suggested that Homer actually put it there; it was the symbol of a fire company.)  

The Clark has grown since I last saw it; now it has a beautiful outdoor series of pools and waterfalls, along with some walking trails out back.  The trails featured plenty of tree-climbing opportunities, which came in handy when the kids had had enough of their inside manners.  And this time of year, the colors on the trees are a show in their own right.

Kids of academic parents have certain burdens, but this one felt light and right.  I wanted them both to get a sense that Big Historical Documents They’ve Actually Heard Of are real, and are important only because of their effects on actual people.  Even better, I want them to have a sense that they’re entitled to have opinions about art, and politics, and all sorts of intimidating things.  And that there’s no contradiction between expressing opinions about art and politics, on the one hand, and climbing a tree on the other.  

The day ended, as such days must, with burgers, root beer, and general silliness.  There’s no shame in that.  

Soon the Magna Carta will be off on its way, and the leaves will be gone.  In a few years, the kids won’t let me orate in the car, even out of a sense of bemused superiority.  They may not remember the day, or very many specifics of it.  But if they retain some sense that they’re part of a much larger story, and that they’re fully entitled to take part in it, I’ll call it good.  Superheroes are fine, but I’d much rather they see themselves as contributing authors in a much larger story.  Even if that involves indulging an occasionally overenthusiastic narrator in the car.

They'll remember more than you expect, but they might not tell you. They'll tell your future grandkids.
I've seen the Magna Carta. Only thing I've seen that was more memorable was a set of original fragments of the Dead Sea scrolls and a display in the National Archives.

The latter showed side by side: The signed ruling in Marbury -vs- Madison and President Nixon's resignation letter (on memo paper). I'll bet you could talk to you kids all day about that pairing!

To answer TG: Monet was a really creative artist, but the explanation is not complicated. Ever notice how a car's headlights or tail lights look like a single light when far away? Same thing, and also explains why you don't notice brush strokes in other painting styles. Google "diffraction limited resolution". Also applies to cameras in spy satellites.
Lovely post, thank you. There's great hope in Professor O.'s comment.
Love those documents that mark the development of great political ideas too. For another great day trip, try the Mark Twain House and Museum, and Harriet Beecher Stowe House (right next door to each other) in Hartford. Farther afield: Abraham Lincoln House and related buildings in Springfield, IL; Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners area.
Just quickly want to mention that the "Radical Words" exhibit will be at the Clark until 11/2. Also, free admission for adults on October Sundays from 2-5...but only if you are accompanied by a child. The Clark defines child as anyone under 18, which is pretty generous. Enjoy!
Just got back from a vacation to Charlottesville, VA. Subjected my 10 month old to Monticello. I think he appreciated the hike through the trees to get up the mountain. I know he appreciated the lemon cookie from the gift shop. One day I'll take him back and he can appreciate everything else there.

Note to others, don't try and push a stroller up the trail to Monticello. Take the shuttle. The way back is all down hill. The way an outdoor crossfit class.
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