New exhibit provides endless possibilities for fun

Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine Director of Exhibits Chris Sullivan offers a look at the planning that has gone in to the launch of our new exhibit, “The Playscape,” opening to the public on March 14th, 2014.


Playscape graphics package_poster tempPlanning our next exhibit, we decided early on that we wanted to celebrate the philosophy of open ended play as learning. We don’t want to direct any one particular type of play, but provide an environment that supported a variety of activities.

Our exhibit production model requires months of research before we begin design work. Because of our small staff and limited resources, in order to be successful we need to do extensive on-the-floor prototyping and develop close partnerships with local businesses who can volunteer their expertise to the project.

Last August, we started prototyping with large building blocks to see what types of activities our visitors instinctively did. After observing visitors play with the blocks for a while we started staging pre-built structures made from the blocks and found that this impacted how visitors interacted with the exhibit. From there we started testing permanent structures that visitors could build onto and climb on. The process of incorporating more and more structural components into the space led us to a decision to seek out a partner who could help us build a natural play structure. Our first choice was CedarWorks.

CedarWorks has been a consistent supporter of the Museum and Theatre for years. More importantly, they are a Maine based company who (like us) specialize in play. Their involvement has been a huge help. They have been creating play structures for many years and are intimate with all the accessibility and safety issues that come with a project of this sort. I learned a lot about playground design form working with their designer and manufacturing team.

Playscape is a playground like space for imagination and physical activity. The exhibit features both climbing structures for children ages 2-12 and blue blocks made of biodegradable foam. The climbing structures will be whimsical, natural wooden towers for kids to explore and role-play in. The blocks include a variety of sizable shapes and balls that kids can use to build their own towers. The abstract nature of the towers and blocks gives the exhibit the potential to cover an endless amount of educational topics: gross motor, engineering, tactile exploration, physics, dramatic play, and so on. Most importantly, it will be a fun, safe, and comfortable space to be in.

Many thanks to our sponsors:


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Penguins in Portland: Making a Splash!

Last April, I received a large manila envelope from Skillin Elementary School. Inside I found a stack of handwritten letters from every student in Diana Violette’s second grade classroom asking me to build a live penguin exhibit here at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine. Each letter offered a persuasive argument for the exhibit, and several suggested specific species and even offered tips for overcoming potential challenges. All were accompanied by colorful illustrations and diagrams.

The letters were written as part of an assignment given to the class by Amber Lane, a student teacher from University of New England. They were so convincing that I was compelled to respond to them publicly. While we weren’t to build a penguin habitat, we have opened Penguins in Portland, an exhibition of the students’ letters and illustrations alongside penguin photographs by Brian Sullivan. The exhibit will be on display in our front stairwell gallery through November 12.

On Monday, the students who sent the letters (now third graders) came to see their work on display at the Children’s Museum. While the letters were submitted by just one classroom, the entire third grade came to see the exhibit. It was thrilling to see the kids respond to their work, and to see how happy all the students were for their classmates. It was also exciting to see how much they had learned – and still remembered – from the project. As they ran up and down the stairs searching for their work, they also made very astute observations about the penguin photos!

Reporters from The Current and The Forecaster were there to document the students’ visit and take photos – click through to read their stories:

The Forecaster: South Portland students ask for penguins, get Portland art exhibit by David Harry

The Current: South Portland students inspire museum project by Duke Harrington

New Exhibit: Child Inventor Service

There goes Sandy! She's an unstoppable inventor and the star of our new exhibit.

We’re in the home stretch of exhibit construction for Child Inventor Service, an exhibit that explores engineering through the eyes of Sandy, a young problem-solver, and her clubhouse full of exhibits and inventions. This is our first all-new, permanent exhibit since we opened We Are Maine in 2006, and we couldn’t be more proud! All of our staff – educators, exhibits and operations team members, development, marketing and administration – has been part of making this exhibit happen. The volunteers and philanthropy committee from Fairchild Semiconductor have been enthusiastic partners throughout many months of exhibit development, and they were essential to making the exhibit content accurate, authentic and fun. YOU have been a part of it, too! We’ve learned a lot from your feedback as members and visitors, from observing how you and your family engage with exhibits, and we’ve even prototyped components of this exhibit and brought them out onto the floors to get your input.

Thanks for your patience as that corner of Our Town has been under construction for the past few weeks. The exhibit will open to the public this Friday, June 15. (If you’re a member, you’re invited to attend a special exhibit opening party on Thursday evening, June 14 – email for details.)

For more info about the exhibit, I’ve pasted our press release below. And of course, to really understand what the exhibit’s all about, I hope you’ll come in and see it for yourself!


Portland, MaineThe Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine will open Child Inventor Service, its first all-new, permanent exhibit since 2006. Resembling a child’s fantasy clubhouse crossed with a scientist’s laboratory, the exhibit invites children to use robotics, circuitry and other technology to devise creative solutions to problems in Our Town, the Museum’s child-size city.

The exhibit opening is the culmination of a fifteen-month collaboration with a team of volunteers (many engineers) from Fairchild Semiconductor, the exhibit sponsor and a key advisor. Fairchild is committed to supporting STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) literacy among Maine’s K-12 students. The Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine creates hands-on exhibits that inspire discovery and imagination through exploration and play. This unique partnership, in which the sponsor provided financial support and staff expertise, proved vital to determining the exhibit’s direction and purpose.

“The engineers told us that they have trouble explaining their jobs to their own children,” says Suzanne Olson, the Museum & Theatre’s Executive Director. “That inspired us. We got excited about combining our expertise with theirs to create a place where engineering is not only comprehensible, but fun.”

The Museum & Theatre and Fairchild want the exhibit to inspire a lifelong interest in science and technology, making a long-term impact on Maine’s students, and ultimately, its workforce.

“I think the kids of today are picking up technology really fast,” says Jim Siulinksi, an Applications and Systems Engineer and member of the exhibit development committee. “If we can help them learn how these technologies work, they’ll want to learn more. This is key to developing the next generation of engineers and technology workers. It will give them the power to shape their own futures.”

The exhibit stars Sandy, a child inventor who uses technology to solve problems for her Our Town neighbors. A private opening for Museum members and Fairchild staff and their families will be held on the evening of Thursday, June 14. The exhibit opens to the public during regular Museum hours on Friday, June 15.

Meet the Artist: Nathan Walker

Nathan WalkerNathan Walker is one of the artists whose work is currently showing in our stair tower gallery. The paintings on display are from his work as an illustrator and include works that were featured in Highlights Magazine and the new children’s book Floaty Feet. I wanted to interview Nate to learn the difference between an artist and an illustrator (and stumbled upon a story about a missing mustache!).

Chris: What is the difference between an Illustrator and an artist?

Nathan: Well, an illustrator is an artist. And an artist can be an illustrator. They are often both, one and the same. The main difference between an artist and an illustrator is that an illustrator works with a client, somebody who has hired them to make a specific piece of art. For example, an illustrator will be hired by a greeting card company to make a funny picture of a frog eating birthday cake to use on a birthday card. Being an illustrator means you have to work with certain limitations and requirements on your artwork, while an artist can make whatever they choose.

Chris: What is your medium?

Nathan: My medium tends to be paint. I like to work with acrylic paint every chance I get. However, sometimes I use the computer to color my images, especially if I need to make my illustrations really quickly. But I always start with a pencil drawing first.

Chris: What inspired you to create your own children’s book?

Nathan: I have always loved reading picture books, even as an adult. So I thought it would be a lot of fun and very rewarding to make my own book so other people could enjoy it.

Chris: What interested you about working at the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine?

Nathan: I love the Children’s Museum! It’s such a fun place to visit – there are so many cool things to see and do, and I wanted to be part of that!chameleon illustration by nathan walker

Chris: What motivates you to keep making art?

Nathan: I have always loved to make art, and I’m sure I always will. It’s something that I never get tired of doing. But I often get motivation to make new artwork when I see other people making art. When I go to a museum, or a gallery, or even when I see an animated movie or someone’s artwork online, it’s really exciting to me and it makes me want to make something for myself!

Chris: Do you, by any chance, have a curly mustache?

Nathan: It’s funny you should ask…I used to have a curly mustache. In fact I had the curliest mustache in all fifty states. I actually won many contests and prestigious awards for not only the amount of curls in my mustache, but also for the size of the curls! It was so curly that people would travel from all around the world just to catch a glimpse of it! They would tell stories of my mustache back in their own countries about the man from New Hampshire with the curliest mustache. In fact, I’ve even heard that astronauts in space once caught a glimpse of my mustache when they were outside washing their space shuttle. Unfortunately, one day I decided that I wanted to go surfing way up in Alaska. So I took off my mustache and laid it down on the beach, just to keep it dry – you can imagine how long it takes to blow dry a giant curly mustache. Well, when I got done surfing, I came back to shore and discovered my mustache was missing. I looked for it for several years, but I was never able to discern its location. And to this very day, I still have no idea where it ended up. Although, I did recently hear from a fisherman who said that he had spotted a big blue whale swimming off the coast of New Zealand with a rather large and bushy set of eyebrows!

Nathan’s artwork will be on display in our stairwell gallery through April 3, 2012; her work appears alongside the illustrations of Rebecca Q Yankes in the exhibition Drawn Together.

Meet the Artist: Rebecca Q Yankes

meet Rebecca Q YankesRebecca Q Yankes is a freelance illustrator and artist who currently has work up in our stair tower gallery. The work she is exhibiting highlights her interest in natural science. Recently I asked her about her process and what inspires her, and learned that the creative process is as much analytical as it is aesthetic.

Chris: What is your medium?

Rebecca: I work in a lot of mediums. When I was a kid, I was all about colored pencils and acrylic paints, which I still use a lot of now. When I was in art school, I did a lot with pencils and gouache (a sort of obscure paint that can act like both acrylics and watercolors). Currently I do a lot of digital art, acrylic paintings, and ballpoint pen drawings.  I try to experiment with all sorts of mediums and see how they each allow me to make different types of art. There’s definitely a lot of play in my work!

Tiger illustrationChris: What are the themes in your art?

Rebecca: When it comes to my digital art, I really focus on animals. I’ve always been an animal person, and I’m really fascinated by the natural world. When I was little, I’d always slow my family down when we were out taking walks, because I was curious about every little rock and leaf I found on the sidewalk! I still feel that way when I’m outside. There are just so many great animals to keep learning about. Every time I see a new type of animal that I hadn’t seen before, I think about making it into a piece of art. You should see me at the zoo…I take lots of pictures, make sketches, write down every name of every creature, then go home or to the library and do tons of research to find out more about every animal!

Chris: When did you start making art?

Rebecca: I’ve been making art for my whole life. It started with drawings–lots of drawings! My parents have kept every sketchbook I filled when I was a kid. The oldest sketchbooks are full of drawings of my family, our pets, my imaginary monster friends, and things around the home. When I was around ten, I started to make paintings and draw things that I found outside. And the rest is history! I still draw every day. I don’t think I’ll ever stop drawing. Even though I paint a lot, my paintings always start out as drawings.

Chris: What is your favorite color?

Rebecca: On its own? Bright orange, like an orange bell pepper. But there are lots of colors and combinations that I’m also in love with…Chinese lacquer red, grey and daffodil yellow, kingfisher teal, eggplant purple and sky blue…there is just so much color out there to love! Color makes life beautiful.

Chris: What are the great influences on your art?

Rebecca: My digital animals are really heavily influenced by a lot of traditional arts I’ve seen from other cultures around the world. I spent some time studying in Japan, and you can really see the Asian influence in a lot of the smooth, calligraphic lines that I use (especially in the Tiger, Crane, and Dragon). I’m also really inspired by the incredible sculptures of Western Africa, the masks of the Yupik and Inuit Eskimos, and the decorative art of the Pacific Northwestern native Americans. The digital animals rely on my realist training, but they are absolutely inspired by other cultures’ interpretations of animal life. I never made animals like the ones in “Drawn Together” until one of my teachers introduced me to traditional arts from around the world.

Chris: What interests you about working with the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine?

Rebecca visits the Drawn Together exhibitionRebecca: The Children’s Museum has a really incredible atmosphere. It places an enormous emphasis on learning through play, which is important to me, because I feel that studying can be a form of play for the rest of your life as long as you get into it early. That’s how I always got good grades! The museum also encourages kids to get out there and express themselves through theater, which is a really valuable experience. Knowing how to present yourself, how to speak up, and how to be confident in front of a crowd is the type of skill set that stays with you for your whole life. The people who run the museum also really like to introduce kids to art and the many forms it can take, and I’m honored to be one of the artists who could ultimately have a positive impact on a young person through the museum.

Chris: What motivates you to keep making art?

Rebecca: There are lots of things that motivate me to make art. Making art allows me to deeply investigate and understand things that captivate me. In turn, after the art is finished, I have something to show to others and get them interested too. I have a big interest in communicating and sharing with others through art. I love the opportunity to teach and to learn. Then there’s the art community as a whole. Seeing art by other people is so inspiring! I had a teacher once who said that good art makes its viewers see the world in a new way…I think that’s true. Every artist has a different style and a different interpretation of what he or she sees. Looking at the way one artist draws a hand or paints a flower can change the way you look at hands and flowers. I love that. It’s so fascinating. The art community keeps me inspired and motivated!

Rebecca’s artwork will be on display in our stairwell gallery through April 3, 2012; her work appears alongside the illustrations of Nathan Walker in the exhibition Drawn Together.

Electricity to Sound to Art

The latest addition to Galen Richmond’s evolving sound sculpture was installed this month. Coming to visual art from a background in music, his work frequently involves sound sculptures built from discarded electronic parts.  This work is an interactive experiment in the transformation of electricity to sound and a look at how different electronic components shape and augment what sound is produced.

A young visitor helps Galen put the finishing touches on his new SmartArt component.

The science: the work is that it functions as a large model of a primitive circuit board synthesizer complete with oversized replicas of resistors, diodes, and switches. Inside, the work’s low voltage power is continuously running through an incomplete circuit board to a speaker (transistor) underneath the unit. Visitors can then add jumpers and electronic components to complete the circuit and create or change the sound. The sound produced is the result of the sum and order of the electronic components. This makes the work very open-ended and visitors can turn switches or change and remove parts to experiment and create a variety of different sounds.

The finished product! The signs help visitors understand how to turn electricity into sound!

The art: the music being produced is the metaphor that comes out of the explorative process that Galen provides the visitor. The art works by completing a circuit through experimental connections. This act of bridging or making parallel connections to create a new experience functions as a tangible metaphor for the modern artist. This relates back to the exhibition as a whole and the bridges that all of the featured artists are making between science and art.


Galen is our SmartArtist-in-Residence, and will be spending time weekly at the Museum prototyping and testing out ideas for a series of works that he will install in SmartArt, our current science/art exhibit. The SmartArtist-in-Residence program was established as a way to provide the Museum & Theatre’s young visitors with an ongoing collaborative art experience that connects them with a local science-based artist and enhances our SmartArt exhibit. The program will run throughout the SmartArt exhibition and Galen will be on site creating work and hosting workshops at select times through December 2010. Click here for upcoming SmartArt programs.

Meet Galen Richmond: SmartArtist-in-Residence!

Galen is our artist in residence, and will be spending time weekly at the Museum prototyping and testing out ideas for

Galen performed for our members at the opening of the SmartArt exhibit.

 a series of works that he will be installing in SmartArt, our current science exhibit. He’ll install the first piece today at 4:00.  As an artist in residence, he’ll be spending a lot of time at the Museum working on art with our visitors – click here for dates and times.

To get to know Galen and to better understand his work, I asked him a few questions – read on to learn more about this Smart Artist!

PS. If you enjoy live music, you may have seen Galen before – he performs music under the name Computer at Sea. He’s been featured on 207 and has performed at many venues and music festivals!

Chris: What is your medium? Galen: The work that I do generally deals with electronics and sound, which can mean a lot of different things.  For some pieces I construct circuits from scratch, and for others I modify existing electronic hardware.  I have a particular focus on repurposing 80’s era videogame equipment and musical toys.

 Chris: What are the themes in your art?

Galen: A sense of play underscores much of what I do.  I’m interested the intersection of the varying definitions of play- playing a game, playing a musical instrument, seeing a theatrical play.  I aim to produce work that inhabits the boundaries of these different definitions.  

Chris: When did you start making art?

Galen: Though I’ve been involved with music and writing for most of my life, I’ve only been creating visual art since early in 2007.   I came to it accidentally, through researching handmade electronic instruments.  One of the first circuits that I built was a low wattage amplifier, and once I wired it up I realized that I didn’t have anything to house the circuit in.  I had that day picked up a vintage Bobsey Twins book at a thrift store, for no other reason than because it was an especially handsome old book.  I hollowed the book out, carved a speaker grill in the front of it, and installed the circuit.  That book inspired a larger installation piece where I constructed a small library of electronic books.  Since then, I’ve been creating more complex circuits and more ambitious installations. 

Continue reading “Meet Galen Richmond: SmartArtist-in-Residence!”

Exchange: our Camera Obscura visits Maine College of Art (without leaving the building!)

Several months ago, an artist named David K. Ross approached me to ask about connecting the Camera Obscura on our third floor – the optical device that projects a 360-degree view of Portland into aroom with no windows – to the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Mr. Ross had been invited to take part in a new exhibition at the ICA called “Exchange,” which would feature artists exploring  the theme of collaboration. We agreed to let Mr. Ross (and a team from MECA’s technical support department) come in and install a video recorder in our Camera Obscura. The result: “Alhazen’s Problem,” a 24-hour live image projected in a gallery at MECA, several blocks east of us on Congress Street. The view our visitors see during a camera show is projected simultaneously onto a gallery wall in the ICA!

Camera Obscura and "Alhazen's Problem"

I see budding artists every day at the Museum & Theatre, so I wanted to ask David K. Ross a few questions about how he became an artist. He’ll be answering more questions during his artist talk on Thursday, February 18th at Maine College of Art’s Osher Hall. The talk is free – click here for more information about Exchange!

Chris Sullivan (Director of Exhibits and Operations): What is your favorite color?

David K. Ross (artist): I have never really had one favorite color in particular, but if push came to shove, I would go with the kind of blue you find on the inside of lots of old churches in Florence, Italy.

CS: At what age did you first get interested in art?

DKR: I have a scrapbook album that my grandmother gave me when I was five year old which is filled with school projects from Kindergarten to Grade 8. On every page there is a place to write the answer to the following question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Starting at Grade One, I always wrote “Artist.”

CS: Do you wear a beret?

DKR: Never. Although I do wear a bike helmet when I bike.
Continue reading “Exchange: our Camera Obscura visits Maine College of Art (without leaving the building!)”