You can’t go see the art at the Springville Museum of Art right now. So the museum encouraged people to be the art, instead.
The museum put its collection online, encouraged people to find a piece they liked and copy it. Not with brushes and paint, but with a camera and whatever they could find around their homes — clothes, building blocks, kids, spouses and more.
“Since the museum is closed right now [because of the coronavirus pandemic], we are working hard to keep our audience engaged and have a chance to still experience the museum virtually,” said Jenessa Van Buren, the associate director of the Springville Museum of Art. “This activity has popped up on social media over the last few weeks at other, larger museums, and we wanted to join in!”
Katy Larson saw the museum’s See the Art, Be the Art announcement on Instagram and mentioned it to her 11-year-old daughter, Lucy. “I was, like, ‘Heck yeah, I’ll do it,’” Lucy Larson said. “Then we found the painting that I liked and we re-created it the same day.”
She chose “Sometimes Less Is More … But Not Today,” by Utah artist Stephanie Deer — a painting of a woman with brightly colored hair piled high on her head who’s staring at a plate filled with french fries and fry sauce.
“I was hoping to find one that was kinda crazy-ish,” Lucy Larson said, “and when I saw all that red hair up top I knew it was the one.”
They mimicked the beehive — “definitely the most challenging aspect to re-create,” according to Katy Larson — with a hot pink beach towel wrapped around the fifth grader’s head, and found materials around the house that resembled the rest of the picture.
“It was a really fun part of the challenge to look around our house and see everyday items in a different way,” said Katy Larson. “We were thinking out of the box for sure!”
Including using pieces of wood for the fries, red building blocks for the fry sauce, and a blue, plastic container lid for the plate. “We just found the things that looked most like the things in the picture,” Lucy Larson said.
The Larsons’ re-creation was one of three chosen as winners, after about three dozen people joined in.
The challenges appear to have started with a Dutch Instagram account, Tussen Kunst & Quarantaine (or Between Art and Quarantine), PBS NewsHour recently reported. Then museums around the world, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, launched their own.
Annelisa Stephan, assistant director of digital content at the Getty, told PBS NewsHour she expected around 30 people to participate in #GettyMuseumChallenge — and instead, 30,000 or more images were created. “This kind of sadness of where we are today,” she said, “can coexist with the joy of being creative and seeing other people be creative in a very lovely way.”
In the Springville Museum of Art’s competition, a second winning entry came from Emily Bourne, who said she and her daughters go to the museum “as often as we can, so I knew exactly which painting we would do. My girls have always loved ‘Curious Onlookers.’”
But that Aleksei Vasilevich Trotsenko painting depicts five girls sitting in a window and Bourne only has three daughters — so she improvised.
“The photo is actually three images composited together,” she said. “Two of [the girls] are in the photo twice.”
Those would be 10-year-old Gwen and 7-year-old Ela, who were “more than happy to pose for me. But my youngest [4-year-old Lucy] is strong-willed and hates to be told what to do. She wanted to be in the picture, but didn’t want to be told where to sit or anything. It took half an hour to get her in the right place and looking at the camera,” Bourne said. “I resorted to bribery with chocolate.”
And they “had to get creative” to come up with some of the outfits to match the painting — the yellow skirt is really a yellow dress tied to look like a skirt.
The third winner, Rachael Bryant, recruited her husband, Kyle, and 4-year-old son, Seth, to recreate “Fisherman and His Sick Son,” also by Andrei Andreevich Tutunov. “It’s always a bit hectic working with a 4-year-old, though he’s generally willing to cooperate for a few minutes,” she said. “And we had to edit out my 2-year-old who was running around.”
They used her toddler’s crib for the bed in the painting, raising it up and removing one side. “We had to be creative with some of the details,” Bryant said. “Instead of onions in the original picture, we had to make do with a bag of lemons. And we don’t have any yellow mugs, so we used a cup of orange juice instead.”
And Bryant used her editing skills to digitally remove the other side of the crib, and change the colors of the quilt and her husband’s shirt.
“We didn’t have any way to hang the quilt easily, so we took a separate picture of my husband holding it up above the crib and I added it after,” she said. “It’s still not perfect — my husband should have his left leg in there — but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out overall.”
The photo shoots involved plenty of trial and error. Bourne said she took about 20 shots as her daughters changed clothes and moved to different positions. Katy Larson said she has “about a hundred of these photos on my camera roll. … Lucy really got into it, and put up with a lot of my ‘Do you mind if we take just ONE more?’ again and again.”
The three winners, who are all from Springville, each received gift cards to local restaurants. “And we sent them in the mail,” Van Buren emphasized — a reference to recent calls to support the U.S. Postal Service as it struggles financially during the coronavirus crisis.
And Lucy Larson got an additional reward. Deer, the artist, reached out to her, inviting her to meet once in-person meetings are allowed again. Deer posted Lucy’s picture on Instagram, and wrote, “My joy is complete. … My heart is overflowing. She’s a dream!!!!”
But maybe the best part of participating was just that it was something to do during the pandemic.
“It was something to give us a brief bit of purpose during these crazy times and long weeks at home,” Bryant said.
“I am really glad that the Springville Art Museum did this so that people can have something to do while all of this is happening,” Lucy Larson said. “And I was glad I got to spend time with my mom.”