The Norton Simon Museum is a small but exquisite treasure tucked away in Old Town Pasadena. Built around the legendary collection of one of the 20th Century’s most successful art collectors (and one of LA’s early scions), the museum contains a pristine selection of Asian, Impressionist and Modern art rarities. Here is more about Norton Simon himself.
Taking a few moments to explore some of the history behind the items in the exhibits is a good way to get kids invested in what they’re looking at, and the pieces at this museum have excellent stories – whether you share your love of Van Gogh with them, or learn together about the mythologies contained in many of the Asian sculptures. The sculpture at the museum’s entrance and in the Garden is very easy for kids to appreciate, so save some time to explore the grounds, as well.
1. Asian Art Collection: Start your tour by heading down a spiral staircase and into the fascinating world of Indian and South East Asian art. The museum provides great tools to teach kids about the Buddha and Shiva Nataraja legends. And if they know about Frank Lloyd Wright, they can look at Japanese wood cuts that were key to his aesthetic.
2. Impressionist art collection: The Norton Simon’s galleries of impressionist art are world class, and the main focus of the first floor galleries. Degas’ iconic sculptures and paintings of ballerinas are a must-see, and can be found by heading back upstairs and in to the European and American Art 19th-20th centuries exhibit, located just to the left of the main entrance. (If your kids are feeling particularly graceful, have them copy the dancer’s poses. We guarantee it will make for a great photo opp!). On another wall of this gallery is Van Gogh’s Mulberry Tree, painted in the recognizably bright, swirling strokes the artist so often used. If you take a look at the placard next to the painting, you’ll notice that the piece was actually inspired by the landscape surrounding the asylum where Van Gogh painted this tree. Undoubtedly, you’ll be able to plumb your own art history knowledge about this period, and we’ve found that sharing personal feelings and memories about art makes an indelible impression on kids.
3. Sculpture Garden: When you decide it’s time to get some fresh air, enter the Sculpture Garden by either walking straight through the main lobby, or using the small side door in the European Art 17th-18th century exhibit. Take a stroll around the pond that dominates the center of the garden, and enjoy a landscape dotted with sculpture. The Garden was built fifteen years ago, so look for events to be planned around this anniversary in 2014.
4. Garden Café: Tucked comfortably into a corner of the Sculpture Garden lies the perfect spot to grab lunch. The café offers a yummy selection of sandwiches, salads, and sweet treats. If you’re planning a trip with a big group, the café can also provide you with boxed lunches (for 20 people or more).
5. The Basel Murals: Although located at the back of the the modern and contemporary art section of the museum, Sam Francis’ massive oil on canvas piece will draw your attention at first glance. The story of this painting is interesting, so invite the the kids to read the nearby placard. You’ll find that the murals went through quite a few hardships before arriving in their final destinations.
6. Edward Ruscha’s Annie, Poured from Maple Syrup: Unfortunately for hungry museumgoers, Ruscha’s version of maple syrup is not on top of pancakes. However, his piece will certainly delight a least one of your senses. Also located in the museum’s modern and contemporary art collection, Annie is the artist’s way of putting a comical twist on recognizable text.
7. Stories in the Afternoon: Taking your kids along for Stories in the Afternoon is a great way of providing them with more in-depth information about the art housed at the Norton Simon. Topics always follow art currently on view, and provide a positive age-appropriate environment for learning how to look at art.
8. Family Day & Family Art Night Programming: The museum’s Family Day and Family Art Night programs are dedicated to adding an interactive aspect to learning about art and take place periodically throughout the year. Topics range from how various sculptors use various mediums and three-dimensional designs to push traditional boundaries to watercolor paintings and their relationship to raga paintings from India and Nepal. Check out the museum’s website to see what Family activities your kids will be the most interested in.
9. Summer Time at the Norton Simon: Thursday Summer Fun and Concert Series: On selected Thursdays in June and July, the museum holds Thursday Summer Fun events for kids, combining learning and doing in relation to a specific subject on view. On select Friday evenings in the summer, the Norton Simon invites musicians such as the California String Quartet and Polli Chambers-Salazar to perform at a Summer Concert Series. Performances may be held in the galleries or in the theatre depending on the date, and are free with admission.
10. Museum Store: Located just to the right of the main entrance, the Museum Store offers a fun selection of posters, books, postcards, and figurines. We recommend a replica of one of Degas’ dancers if you have a ballerina in the family, or something like “The Interactive Art Book” for a child who is interested in hands-on activities.
Past articles about the Norton Simon
Things To Do with Kids in LA: Pasadena
Significant Objects: The Spell of Still Life at the Norton Simon Museum