Last Child in the Art Gallery

 “Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
― Richard LouvLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

 “Nothing is more important than family and art. I’m raising future art patrons. You might be tortured with the exposure but art appreciation doesn’t just happen.”
― Emily Ellis, Artist and mother of five.

            “Is there going to be food there?” Silas asks. “No, it’s an art exhibit, not an opening.” I answer. “Awww” the seven-year-old disappointedly exhales. He had carefully picked out his outfit, a light blue dress shirt and khakis, dressy casual, a safe uniform for the regular art functions we attend. “Sorry buddy, but you will still see lots of cool painting,” I try to assure him as I navigate the tight parallel parking downtown.  My five children spill from the car, a few from the doors, and two out the back hatch from the rear of the vehicle.  They rush ahead of me on Belleville Street towards the Steamship Terminal along Victoria’s Inner Harbour. My twelve-year-old daughter, Helena, plucks a tri-fold brochure off a sidewalk sign outside our destination’s entrance, the caption reads, “Experience the magic of nature through his eyes: The definitive collection of Bateman’s work.” This invitation amuses me as the children shuffle through the double glass doors.  My seven year old, Silas, and Helena fight to push the illuminated elevator button. Chase, sixteen and the oldest, annoyingly pushes his sister and lets Silas, summon the ride. Mila, is ten and quietly steps in the elevator clutching her sketching pad and tin of coloured pencil crayons. Chase already asserted that we WILL only be here for half an hour. Family outings are not high on his list of priorities; he reaches his hands deeper in his pocket, shuffles his feet and looks for ways to be annoyed by Helena, his arch rival.  We ascend and the doors slide open to the second floor. Nadya, fourteen, follows Silas dutifully; she is his well trained second mother and is naturally helpful.  I wish she would have been born first.

The dark warm walls of the entrance are inviting, it’s small nooks that display art echo the sense of discovery Bateman felt in his subjects. Even Chase is letting himself get pulled in, this reluctant young man who is now taller than I. What happened to the boy who as an enthusiastic five-year-old once stared at a string installation and very exactly explained to me what it was to be used for; a fishing net? I so want that contemplative awe to appear in him again as I study his observatory viewing.

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Chase Ellis, Robert Bateman Centre, June 2014

            I don’t keep a tight rein on the children. They have been exposed to art since infancy and know gallery etiquette. This museum like atmosphere is more formal than the downtown art spaces they are accustomed to and the traditional display of thoughtfully framed paintings contrast the contemporary art pieces of ephemeral materials they often see. I gave Chase “the eye” as he hovered over one of Bateman’s more textured paintings, the momentary temptation to touch it almost become too great. “Is this all?” Helena whines, “I thought it was going to be bigger!” It took her sixty seconds to scour the 8 (mini) galleries; the subject matter unable to sustain her ADHD attention span. She keeps looking out the windows, the animated waterfront outside winning her gaze over the frozen Backyard Birds in the Freybe Family Gallery.

Bateman-original-Cloud & Golden Eagle

Bateman, Robert, Golden Cloud and Eagle, 2003

I’m contemplating Cloud and Golden Eagle an illuminating ethereal cloud that reminds me of the many backgrounds of Rene Magritte’s paintings when I notice the distinct call of birds: lots of calls, different ones, one after another, obviously recorded and more obviously played on demand. I also notice that I am suddenly alone. I venture to the next space over and only then figure out why the galleries are called “multi-media interactive.” My children have discovered that in the Kathryn Iredale Galllery there are motion sensors on each painting’s title card that when activated plays the call of the bird rendered. Now it has become a quest to trigger as many simultaneously as they can.

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Silas and Helena Gallery Play, Robert Bateman Centre, June 2014

I quickly discourage the behavior and they’re not so interested in the exhibit anymore. The whole gallery experience nearly lasted twenty minutes and I’m hoping the cumulative effort of my desire for future art patrons will produce dividends.

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Silas Ellis, Robert Bateman Centre, June 2014

Now where is Mila? I find her, comfortably situated with her knees tucked beneath herself, drawing pencil gripped in her hand and eyes divided between a small landscape on the wall and the artist pad in front of her. My motherly intention of instilling artistic talent, appreciation and patronage is encouraged by the scene. I’ll take one out of five.  The gallery’s invitation to “Experience the magic of nature through his eyes,” allowed this mother to experience something infinitely more important through hers.


Mila Ellis, Robert Bateman Centre, June 2014


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