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Child's play in Hofstra museum art exhibit

Jessie Willcox Smith,

Jessie Willcox Smith, "A Broken Head and Heart," 1906, charcoal and watercolor. One of the works from the "Children's Pleasures: American Celebrations of Childhood" exhibit at Hofstra University. Photo Credit: American Illustrators Gallery Photo

When curator Donna Barnes asked museum and gallery directors or private collectors to loan art to the Hofstra University Museum's "Children's Pleasures: American Celebrations of Childhood" exhibit, their response was a smile. "Everyone has memories of childhood," Barnes says, "so they were all enthusiastic about lending a painting, a toy - whatever we needed."

A professor in foundations, leadership and policy studies at Hofstra's School of Education, Health and Human Services, Barnes came about this all-American survey of "Children's Pleasures" by a circuitous route. Pieter Bruegel the Elder, known for macabre depictions of mayhem, inspired Barnes with his mid-16th century Flemish painting "Children's Games," which she saw 40 years ago in Vienna. Ever since that encounter, "I've been fascinated with images of children at play," she says. That fascination led to a 2004 Hofstra exhibit of Dutch drawings and prints of children.

The Dutch-Flemish inspiration, together with her academic work on play and learning, led Barnes to propose to Hofstra museum executive director Beth Levinthal an exhibit of children in American art. "It seemed such a natural," recalls Levinthal.

"What I hope," says Barnes, "is that adults will recognize a toy or a painting that recalls their own childhood, and they'll share that with their children or grandchildren."

The art ranges from Asher Durand's 1836 oil on wood panel "Blind Man's Bluff" to Philemona Williamson's 2008 oil on linen "Boundary Crossing" - two girls and a boy in an idle moment of gender indifference.

The exhibit is organized by theme. Here's a sampler:

 

FAMILY AND FRIENDS

Huntington's Stan Brodsky contributed this painting. "Noah and Adam," a 1971 oil on linen, shows the artist's son, Adam, at about age 4, playing in a sandbox with a friend. A harmonious scene. 

DOLLS

From 1906, this charcoal and watercolor hardly needs a title. Jessie Willcox Smith captured a tragedy: A small girl, tears glistening, with a doll's head smashed on the sidewalk. "A Broken Head and Heart."

CELEBRATIONS

Lily Harmon's 1947 painting brings to vivid recollection "The Donkey Game" as a blindfolded kid in short pants tries to pin the tail on a crude animal likeness while playmates mock his futility.

In other childhood subsets, you'll find collages by Romare Bearden, portrayals of make-believe by Norman Rockwell, a girl noticing her beauty by William Merritt Chase and hockey failing to break out in an outdoor melee rendered by Louisa Armbrust.

WHAT: "Children's Pleasures: American Celebrations of Childhood" art and toy exhibition

WHEN | WHERE: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and Tuesdays-Thursdays; 1-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through April 18, at the Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead, 516-463-5672, hofstra.edu/community/museum

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