It didn't hurt that the artist's great-grandfather was slightly more famous than him.
In the picture above, in case you couldn't tell, it's the tall guy with the beret that's the artist. He is the great-grandson of Renoir. Alexandre has been studied art and painted since a very young age, and he brought a giant collection of his own work to display in the museum, in addition to some lithographs of his great-grandfather's. One of his which, he later pointed out to us, was a drawing of his grandpa.
I cannot imagine growing up in the giant shadow of Renoir, but this guy is about the most friendly and down-to-earth person you'd ever hope to meet. We were at the museum for a children's art workshop, where he was "teaching" kids to paint in the impressionist style. Open to all ages - so of course, I dragged Helen straight away for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Did I mention it was free? Yeah, at no cost whatsoever.
Now, anyone who has read this blog for a few days realizes Helen couldn't possibly be shy. She's loud, proud and ready to go to the head of the class at every opportunity. Even when we go somewhere new, she gets into the zone after a few minutes. So when I told her on Friday night that we were going somewhere special to paint the next day, she was standing at my bedside at 5:45 the next morning. "Mommy," she whispered, "are we going to paint today?"
I made it a special time for us. We stopped to get a donut for breakfast, and then we rode the bus downtown. There's a big music festival in town this weekend, and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of parking downtown. The bus dropped us off right in front of the museum, so it couldn't have been easier.
They gave every kid a paint can lid. Alexandre had sketched a flower, and signed his name on the back. The kids were instructed to paint the flowers with the acrylic paint at the tables, and they could do anything they wanted. Alexandre's plan was to walk around and visit with everyone, offer any tips they might need, and just comment in general.
We happened to be standing at the end of a long table, near the front of the room. So once the workshop started, Helen was the first kid he came over to talk to. This guy is extremely tall, and wearing a hat she'd never seen before, and even though I tried to tell her on the bus what to expect, as soon as he came over to our table and talked to her, she buried her head in my thigh. At the one moment I would have loved to have my chatty, friendly toddler in the room, Helen was completely shy. I couldn't get her to even look at the man, let alone speak to him. He picked up her paint can lid and asked what color she wanted to use, but it was a no-go from the get-go. Eventually he took some green paint and put a few strokes on the stems. She didn't budge. I couldn't grab my camera to get the moment, either.
But as soon as he moved on to another child, she went to town on the lid. Painting various colors everywhere, she was ready to be the impressionist artist. Heck, she could have been Jackson Pollock if I let her. And later, when she piled a frosting-thick coating of pink paint onto a plain white sheet of paper, I realized she really loved this stuff.
At the end of the workshop, many of the parents were getting pictures of Alexandre with their children and the lids. I decided to try it as well. Maybe after 30 minutes of painting, she'd loosen up, righ? As soon as I approached him, he was friendly and smiling. He complimented Helen on her painting, while Helen proceeded to bury her face in my neck. Then he shared with me that seeing Helen made him miss his own young son. He pulled out his cell phone to show me a little blonde boy with startling blue eyes. I told him that those eyes were gorgeous, and he said as soon as he saw Helen, those eyes reminded him of his son.
A museum photographer came up to get a picture of the 3 of us. I gave him my camera as well and we got another shot. This is the closest we could get to having Helen look up in his presence.
On the way home, I thought of a million questions to ask him. Of course, it was too late by then! But I was so thrilled to have had the chance to be there, and to see some beautiful art. Clearly he's inherited some talent, and his love for the children was evident in that workshop. I don't know how many artists of his great-grandfather's era would have been tempted to do the same thing, but it was truly a great experience for all those kids.