A trip to the Barnes

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A Barnes Foundation trip had some ups and downs for a group of senior citizens from the Stiffel Center in South Philadelphia. Many of them had never been to the Barnes, and at least one of them said it was her first trip to this part of the Philadelphia area, a suburb just across the city line.

Most of the women who attended are a part of landscape painter Barbara Rosin’s weekly art class at the Stiffel Center. My mother-in-law, Mary Dubin, is an art-class regular. Rosin also invited Roberta and I to tag along. We gladly accepted the invitation (top image, Roberta, left, and Rosin, right, at the top of the Barnes’ front steps).

Rosin is a great fan of the Barnes, one of those who would prefer that the collection stay in its historic home on what was Dr. Albert C. Barnes’ estate. She said that she was working on an “international campaign to keep the Barnes where it is.”

The Stiffel Center ladies, some of whom walk with the aid of canes and my mother-in-law (in pink) who walks with the aid of a walker, had to get all the way from the parking lot to the museum entrance, up the rain-slick steps, and then had to take the elevator down to check their purses and bags. They struggled valiantly with the cranky little locker keys. Roberta and I had also struggled with them a little earlier, so now we knew the drill and helped a little.

I have no pictures from within the museum since picture taking is forbidden. At first we considered a tour, but my mother-in-law was unable to hear the docent clearly, between all the ambient noise and the echoing space. We set out on our own.

The paintings were a hit, and she, as well as the others from the group whom we met along our route, had no trouble asking the kinds of questions about content and composition that Barnes grads so value. Rosin has taught them a little something about structure, technique and content.

My mother-in-law particularly enjoyed the Renoirs and the furniture in each room. She wondered about the choice of a particularly bawdy pose. “I never saw this pose before,” she said. In front of a particularly corpulent model she said, “A nice solid lady.”

The numerous medieval, mostly anonymous, paintings of saints on parade and Flemish burghers were my own faves on this trip, besides the obvious choices of Cezannes, Van Goghs and Rousseaus. I also liked the reminder that Barnes collected Pippin, too.

My mother-in-law, whose eyes don’t work as well as they used to, was unable to discern some of the background detail in a number of paintings that interested her. Over and over, water was difficult for her to decode because she simply couldn’t see well enough in the dim rooms.

Ultimately, after navigating the first floor, she chose to sit, while Roberta and I dashed through the second floor.

Then the class met with Rosin to look at Matisse’s large, elaborate “Blue Still Life.” Rosin, who said the painting was perfect, led the group through a discussion of the colors and what was going on in the painting. The students made astute observations about the tilted table top, the large shadow, the tablecloth and other choices the artist made in the painting. “Let’s all paint it next time from memory,” Rosin said.

Then the women took the elevator back down to the lockers for their gear. One woman hit the jackpot when she discovered that lots of people forget to retrieve their quarters when they empty their lockers. She started opening the unlocked doors, picking quarters, until a guard chastised her, suggesting she might be meddling with others’ property in those lockers. I suppose he was protecting his own daily bonus. After the gift shop, the group gathered at the top of the front steps. I asked some of them if they enjoyed the museum, and they all said they had.

The weary group descended the wet stairs and set out for the parking lot around the back of the building and then some.

Fortunately the paratransit van arrived and intercepted them, saving them a long walk. An irritated guard tried to get the van to move to the lot, but the crew was already halfway in, and the situation was beyond his control. Here’s a shot of my mother-in-law waving goodbye.

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