Tag: wonder room

Artists Invoke Wonder at CMA


Eight Columbus artists contributed their talents, skills, and imagination to help us inspire awe and promote a spirit of play in the new Wonder Room.

We are proud and delighted that these artists took a risk along with us, that they shared our passion for the peculiar and the uncanny; that they embraced our vision for this quirky gallery that merges surprise and mystery, play and great art.

It feels really good to be part of this community of artists who are working on this special project. To be valued by the Museum as an artist, is great!” - Susie Underwood, Columbus artist, pictured above                                                     

Early in the planning my colleague and collaborator Jeff Sims and I made a decision to partner with local artists for this project. Why? Because we value the way artists think, imagine possibilities, and take risks.  And we value the depth of creative talent right here in Columbus. We believed that with local artists we could orchestrate just the right mix of eccentricity, wonder, and play.

These talented artists did not disappoint. Their diverse creations are critical to the unique Wonder Room experience. When you visit the space, you will discover:

  • a life-size, mixed-media Tree of Wonder by Zepher Potrafka
  • five meticulous, miniature installations created by Susie Underwood,Caitlin Lynch, and Sharon Dorsey
  • many phantasmagoric costumes designed and handmade by Heidi Kambitsch of Openheartcreatures
  • a captivating graffiti wall painted by Giovanni Santiago
  • an inventive Storytelling Adventure Game designed and hand-painted by Brian R. Williams
  • the most wondrous Spalted Maple Looking Glass and Marked By installations by Dorothy Gill Barnes
Artist by Brian R. Williams

Storytelling Adventure Game by Artist Brian R. Williams

Some of these creations are designed to be touched, manipulated, and played with.  Others – more fragile works of art – are placed strategically in places where visitors will discover them, unexpectedly. Their magic is experienced by peeking and looking and marveling.

Miniature Installation by Artist Dorothy Gill Barnes

Artist Dorothy Gill Barnes

Since the Wonder Room re-opened in December, I have been observing, conversing, and playing with many visitors in the space. I witnessed two adult woman engrossed for more than an hour with the Storytelling Adventure Game.  I gather countless visitor drawings of the Tree of Wonder.  And most recently, I watched as a very young boy bounced from one miniature installation to another with glee –pointing, remarking, and then very purposefully, photographing them.

Wonder Room installation at Columbus Museum of Art

Young boy photographs installation by Susie Underwood

If you haven’t had a chance to visit the newly designed Wonder Room, I encourage you to make time to check it out. Discover for yourself the awe-inspiring creativity hatched right here in Columbus.

The New Wonder Room: Icing on the Cake


“Hi, what are you doing?” I whispered as I crouched, on hands and knees, under the treehouse.

“We’re imagining there’s a troll living up there in the treehouse,” Marina shared.  “We’re the elves.”

“Elves are nice,” added Pilar.

I smiled and joined in the creative play with Lorena and her two daughters Marina and Pilar.  Together we wondered about the ambiguous glass sculpture.  Is it a girl or boy?  Is it human or elfin?  We pretended to be mermaids climbing rocks; we stacked up piles of bamboo stones. And then, Lorena and the girls crawled away to spy on the “mean troll” living in the tree house.

The Wonder Room is back in business.

After five hectic weeks of demolition and transformation, the Wonder Room is open again. Chock-full of birds and bats, trees and mysterious creatures, this experimental gallery now flaunts a woodland theme with all new hands-on activities and an eclectic selection of art.  Curious visitors of all ages braved cold and ice to come out and play with us last month during the Wonder Room preview weeks.

Lorena and her two daughters played for hours.


Daniel, Susan, and Shirley also came to check it out.  When I met this trio, they were huddled around the tree stumps, contemplating their progress.  Their goal:  to build an arched branch — one that would span both tree stumps — using the large cardboard pieces.  Susan played the role of a human support beam while Daniel experimented with different pieces to make the structure sturdy.  Shirley offered advice from the sidelines.

As always, I relished chatting and collaborating with these and other CMA families.  As always, I observed and documented some of their conversations and actions.  As always, I looked for evidence of collaboration and creativity in action.

Situated in the very heart of the Center for Creativity, the Wonder Room is intentionally designed to foster and provoke creativity.  But creativity, we know, is like a gargantuan, multi-tiered cake; we don’t expect to take in the entire confection at one sitting.  Instead we pick away at the layers at different times in different ways.  The Wonder Room takes a big bite out of the tiers of curiosity, imagination, experimentation, and storytelling. 

To set the stage for these creative experiences, we made countless intentional design decisions to promote creative play – play inspired by unexpected discovery and exploration, play that allows for experimentation and mess-making, and play that is prompted by sharing stories, make-believe, and imaginings.

What I first noticed about Lorena and Daniel’s families is their intuitive and urgent drive to play – to invent, to explore, to experiment, to pretend.  From across the room I first watched as Lorena and her family crawled into the dark crevices under the treehouse, discovered the sleeping sculpture, and took off on their adventure.  From afar I watched Daniel, his mother and girlfriend, make bird nests, draw trees, and then, set out to build the marvelous arched tree.

For good reason, there are very few signs in the gallery currently.  I’ve learned that people don’t seem to notice signs in museums, so I spent the first few weeks watching and listening to determine what kind of signs visitors of all ages would need to encourage their creative play — to give them permission to play.

I admit that even I am surprised at how much imagining, experimenting, and storytelling has erupted spontaneously here already.  And for me, that is the icing on the cake.








Wishing for Wonder

the first wonder room at columbus museum of art

The first generation of the Wonder Room closed last Sunday.  On Monday we removed the Calder mobile and the giant Balkenhol Head.  We boxed up the dowel rods, dishes, and animal parts.  We tore down the Fort.  In a few weeks the space will re-open with an entirely new look – new art, new activities, new furnishings.

It’s hard to believe that the Wonder Room has been open for nearly 3 years.  It’s also hard not to be nostalgic as we pack up.

I have often said that the Wonder Room is a testament to the maxim “watch what you wish for.” Five years ago, we dared to wish for a different kind of gallery in our new Center for Creativity.   We wished for a space that provokes visitors of all ages to be curious, to imagine, to play.  We wished for a place where families with children could engage together. We wished for a gallery that was not business-as-usual – a slightly quirky and unpredictable space that breaks the rules about how an art museum should look.

Some people were skeptical.  Some said that we would not attract families.  Some could not imagine the promise of great art mixed with a quirky dark room, funky floors, and recycled kitchen utensils.

To be honest, we knew that we were taking a big risk.  We knew all along that this new experiment could fail.

But it didn’t.

When we opened the doors to the Wonder Room on January 1, 2011, we never anticipated its success and popularity. But since that day, the Wonder Room pulsed with activity.  Families lingered for hours.  Teenagers gathered.  Engineers attending a workshop spent their lunch hour building with wood dowels and rubber bands.  On more than one occasion, I witnessed a parent escorting a frenzied child screaming, “But I don’t want to leave the art museum!”

What I have learned along the way is that although we can’t ever assume or dictate what visitors do here, we can set the stage to foster certain types of experiences.  We can make intentional decisions to invite curiosity and exploration.  We can make design decisions that coax visitors of all ages to imagine and create. Although we did not design the Wonder Room specifically for young children, it was 2 year-old Mason, pictured here, who recently taught me the most about wonder and discovery.

Five years ago, we wished for a special gallery that promotes imagination and play. And here is what I have learned:   Watch what you wish for, because if you dream, plan, and take risks, it just may happen.

Visitors Stories and Conversations is a biweekly blog series highlighting the stories behind many of our delightful visitors.

[Please note: The Wonder Room is closed for reimagining while we transform it into a magical forest with woodland creatures. It will be back January 2 (but CMA members can enjoy sneak-preview visits from December 14 until the public reopening). Join now and see it first at a special member preview on December 14.]

Help us Reimagine the Wonder Room

Columbus Museum of Art’s beloved Wonder Room is being transformed into a mysterious and playful forest filled with great art and one-of-a-kind hands-on activities designed by local artists and crafts people. The Wonder Room is our unique and dynamic gallery environment in the Center for Creativity, where visitors of all ages discover great works of art AND make, imagine, and play together. But what is a forest without woodland creatures?

We’ve commissioned Heidi Kambitsch of Openheartcreatures to design and create new costumes for Wonder Room visitors to use in its new woodland environment. Visitors will be able to discover, imagine and play with masks, capes, headgear, footwear, claws, paws, wings and things inspired by trolls and bats and trees and birds.

Read more on the project, and how you help us transform the Wonder Room into a magical forest! All donors to the Wonder Room project  will receive an invitation to a special opening event for the new Wonder Room at CMA on December 14. Give here through through the new Power2Give initiative. Thanks to the generosity of Chase Bank, donations will be matched.

Please note: the Wonder Room will be closed starting November 4 while we reimagine the space. Be sure to visit us to see all the exciting changes.

Paid to Play

If you spend time in the Wonder Room, chances are you will meet Alvin. Alvin White has a very important job at CMA.  He gets paid to play.

It may seem odd that we pay someone to play.  But many adults, and even some children, are not sure how to play at an art museum. Alvin shows them how.

He shows young couples how to make a silly face with common household objects.
He leads a family in a pirate adventure through the Fort.
He brings multiple families together to create a story out of clay.

What is his greatest challenge? To engage adults in this hands-on, family gallery. When an adult professes a lack of creativity, Alvin steps in to demonstrate the simple joy of making a newfangled animal or manipulating clay.

“It’s always interesting to see kids and adults think with their hands.” Alvin told me recently.  “When they get a chance to make something, or do something with their hands, it seems to get their brain working too.”

Alvin takes his playful job seriously. He has a special knack for leading visitors of all ages on a personal journey of looking, thinking, wondering, imagining, experimenting and playing.  An artist himself, Alvin encourages visitors to look closely at the great works of art throughout the gallery.

Although he enjoys spending time with visitors in the space, his biggest concern is what they take away from their experience. “I hope that families leave the Wonder Room with an expanded idea of what creativity is….and what art can be.  I show them that artists try to push the definition of what creativity is.  But it isn’t just about art.  Even if a visitor is an engineer, I want them to think, ‘oh a computer doesn’t have to be this…it can be that.’”

Alvin began working on the Wonder Room project as a volunteer, assisting artist Sean Foley with the fabrication and installation of Fort. Since then he has spent countless hours helping to make this unique gallery a success. He makes repairs, cleans up, and cares for hands-on activities throughout the museum. Although it may appear easy, his job would challenge most of us.  Playing is hard work, after all.

I asked Alvin how he would describe his role in the Wonder Room.  “The space is a vehicle for creativity.” he said, “I am just the person putting the pedal on the gas.”

Over the past 18 months, in preparation for opening CMA’s new Center for Creativity (on Jan. 1, 2011), the entire education staff immersed ourselves in research on creativity, particularly what is necessary to cultivate creativity.  Musings from the Center for Creativity is an opportunity for us to share our thoughts on this topic.  Please share your views and resources with us, as well.

Art Speaks. Join the Conversation.

Merilee Mostov, Manager for Creative Initiatives