We have lived in Summit for more than 20 years and since we are not originally from NJ, it took us a while to find out what wonderful opportunities existed in the local area. As such, when our daughter showed incredible fine motor skills for a 3-year old, we thought we should let her explore this further; hence, we discovered an extraordinary organization within walking distance of our home— the Visual Arts Center of NJ in Summit. She has been taking 2–3 art classes per year for almost a decade … I think we missed only one year due to Hurricane Sandy. In the beginning, she was joined by her twin brother … exploring various mediums like charcoal, chalk, finger painting, papier-mâché, clay, cartoon sketches, clothing design, etc. They both looked forward to their weekly classes and loved every instructor regardless of whoever it was; each instructor took a personal interest and was able to do so due to the limited class sizes. To our surprise, our son loved working with clay so much he took additional classes that specialized in working with the pottery wheel as well as modeling with his hands. He was so proud of his accomplishments that he created useful gifts (little bowls & pencil holders). Now in high school, and even during Covid-19, our daughter has continued her passion of charcoal drawing and expanded into acrylic painting with in-person classes. The Art Center is a safe and wonderful place for anyone, especially children. Kids can explore creatively whatever they can imagine.
The ever-changing artwork on display has often been a conversation starter to bring forth my kids’ own thoughts as to why and how something was created or what something appears to be or what is the meaning of what is presented. The discussions we’ve had after each class have been insightful into what each child observes, understands, and how they relate to each activity. This is truly, as a parent, one of the best lingering memories of each course they children have attended.
We come from a family that admires, participates, in and supports the arts … whether it be drawing, painting, sculpture, musicality, theatrics, or voice. The Ware Collection of Blaschka Glass Models of Plants was my personal introduction into the world of art. I sensed that we needed to engage our children in a physical way, not just admiring from some distance. When the children were pre-school age, we often took them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC (initially to get exercise during the long winter months) and took tours offered by docents. They were mesmerized by the stories regaled about the various pieces. Additionally, the children visited the Louvre, Monet’s home, L’Orangie, Deutsche Kunst, Greek National Archaeological Museum, etc. The children have not forgotten what they saw, and periodically draw upon their experiences when discussing other more recent events. Every vacation includes one or two trips to a museum; a wonderful inclement weather alternative. We could not have been more fortunate to have the Art Center located in our hometown. The physical building, professional teaching artists, and programs are a treasure to be enjoyed and supported.
A Pro’s Tip for Parents: In the beginning, parents needed to drop off and pick up their children in the actual classrooms. But as the children get older and become familiar with the building, they are able to enter, walk around, observe the art w/o parental influence and attend their classes. The Art Center provides a way for children to independently explore and further their insights into a creative world in a safe environment. My children have walked to/from the Art Center and have often remarked on what they observed … whether it be a single piece or an entire collection, which has led to many conversations that have strayed far from the initial comment—we cherish this aspect!