Seattle Museums With Kids – Seattle Art Museum

The second in a series of posts about Seattle Museums with a toddler. Check out the Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium posts for more museums to visit with your little one.

After seeing a Seattle Times article about the new Seattle Art Museum (SAM) exhibit, Figuring History, Julia and I took advantage of one of my half days to go check it out. On weekends, the museum provides discounted parking in the Russell Investment Center garage, and we’ve used the Target parking lot (free parking for about an hour with a $20 purchase) before, but this time we took a bus downtown to make it a bigger adventure.

The museum doesn’t open until 10 a.m., so we started off with a visit to The Crumpet Shop. It was our lucky day because the table right next to the windowed area where they make crumpets freed up minutes after we placed our order. We shared a Vermont crumpet (maple butter, walnuts and cream cheese, which I always replace with ricotta) and an egg/English cheese/ham crumpet while we watched the action.

We wrapped up breakfast just as another hungry family started hovering around our table and walked a block to SAM. It was a really cold day, so we checked our bundle of coats, hats and gloves with the stroller at the complimentary coat check and picked up our member tickets (if you’re a member, don’t forget to pick these up because they need to verify your card). I’ve never had an issue before, but today the security guard objected to the size of our diaper bag. I showed her that it fit within the green rectangle on their sign about bags, and she protested that it was too puffy, but eventually was nice enough to let us in as long as I promised to carry it cross-body instead of just dangling at my side. They do have tiny blue canvas totes you can borrow for essentials, but the whole reason I bring a diaper bag is because toddlers have so many essentials and unpacking/re-packing is a pain. I think we could have schlepped all our stuff if we’d kept the stroller, but the elevator is slow and often full with people who actually need it (wheelchairs and the elderly), so I opted to take what I thought would be an easier route.

I knew we would have limited time with a toddler attention span, and we’ve been to the permanent exhibitions before, so we took the escalator straight to the top floor for the main event. Julia was only marginally interested in looking at the actual art, but did love looking at the beautifully bright colors in many of the paintings. I loved the way the artists re-imagined some classic works (like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait) to make statements about black history. Julia’s not quite 2 yet, but some of the pieces also allowed us to have age-appropriate conversations about race. I’m still learning how to do these, but we talked about the beautiful black women portrayed in Mickalene Thomas’ work, and how it’s okay for a black person and a white person to love each other (there was a painting specifically focusing on interracial relationships), or a man to love another man (not depicted, but seemed appropriate to talk about all love being wonderful).

Julia’s favorite part of the whole exhibition was the living-area-like seating in front of Le déjeuner sur l’herbe: Les trois femmes noires. She wanted to read all the books and sit on all the seats, as did the other 3 kids that filtered through while we sat there. I took the opportunity to set the heavy diaper bag down and read the back covers of the books so I could look them up at the library later.

Our last stop before heading out to catch the bus home was a visit to the children’s play area (the Knudsen Family Room) on the 3rd floor. It’s hidden away in a little corner behind the American Art section (there are restrooms with water fountains and changing tables on the opposite side of the same floor), so no one seems to mind if Julia gets a little noisy with her “Mine!” and “No!” We were lucky to have a couple of other kids there to visit with, and Julia decided to serve all of us tea. We love our visits to the art museum – it has been a great way to spend rainy/cold days and try to insert some culture into Julia’s life.

Serving everyone tea in the Knudsen Family Room

Have you visited art museums with your small children? What kinds of conversations do they spark?