In this weekly feature, we will share our ideas for what you can do “off-campus” while the museum is closed. This week’s entry comes from Nicole M. Roylance, Coordinator of Public Education and Information.
Museums are institutions that strive to maintain order. There are clear rules and regulations for every visitor: stand here, look there, walk this way. Imagine if you were no longer subject to these rules and were free to wander through galleries as you wished?
This is the dream realized in the charming book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Written in 1968 by E.L. Konisburg, this young adult novel chronicles the adventures of two children from Connecticutt, Claudia Kincaid and her young brother, Jamie, as they run away from home and take up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They bathe in the fountains, sleep in Marie Antoinette’s bed and explore the museum at night. They become fascinated by a recent acquisition, a sculpture said to be carved by Michelangelo, and eventually travel to the home of the donor, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
When I read this book as a child, I loved the mischief of the story. It was thrilling to think that children could survive in such an adult world. I admired Claudia for taking control and carefully planning everything. And the best part of this book was the magical place the children discovered was real. This was not an impossible Narnia. Instead, this was an actual place that one could go to and see.
On my first visit to the Met, I made a direct path to the room where Claudia and Jamie “slept”. The guard, who watched as I quickly paced through other stunning period rooms, smiled knowingly when I finally stopped at that bed. I am sure other young readers were inspired to make this their first stop as well.
Now, as a museum professional, I love how the first place Claudia thinks to go is the Met. I love to think that a museum field trip could inspire such a connection (not that I encourage any of our young visitors to run away from home). I love how their experience of being in the museum inspires them to learn more and ask more questions. They are young art historians going to the source for more information.
Trolling the internet for images this morning, I found a YouTube clip from a 1974 film version of the book that starred Ingrid Bergman as Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I especially enjoy the glimpse of the Met as the galleries were installed in the 1970s. The walls are so richly painted and you can understand the children’s awe as they wander from object to object.
Since you can sadly not take up residence at our museum (nor would I try it at the Met), I encourage you to live vicariously through Claudia and Jamie Kincaid this weekend by reading From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.