ORLANDO – There were children playing happily in the Sculpture Gardens surrounding the Mennello Museum of American Art on Sunday, taking advantage of a beautifully sunny and warm day to be outdoors.
For their parents, it was also an opportunity to take advantage of something else entirely: the museum’s offer of Free Family Day, which opens the doors of the property at 900 E. Princeton St. at Loch Haven Park to the general public – for free.
“We have the sculpture gardens, and our grounds are also an excellent place for families to wander around,” said Lindy T. Shepherd, public relations manager of the museum, which is owned and operated by the city of Orlando. “The kids just love the 300-year-old oak tree, an old moss-covered oak tree on the grounds.”
The museum is also linked to the Orlando Urban Trail, an effort to make Orlando a more bike- and pedestrian-friendly city. The trail runs from downtown Orlando to the northern city line at Mead Garden in Winter Park – including the cultural corridor at Loch Haven Park.
“We’re also a part of the Orlando Urban trail, and if you stand here you will see bicyclists coming by, and we are seeing families coming here on bicycle,” Shepherd said.
Free Family Day is a regular event at the museum, a way to get more families and local residents interested in the arts, Shepherd said.
“It’s a program that we do on the second Sunday of every month,” she said. “We’ve been doing it now for a number of years. We sort of re-launched it recently, and we started promoting it through social media like Facebook. That reflects our commitment to the community, and we try to make it so it’s not just for children, it’s for children and adults.”
On Free Family Days, the museum set up a crafts station for patrons. On Sunday, that was where Michael Quilty, a volunteer at the museum, helped the little ones color Christmas pictures. Turnout on this fine Sunday afternoon, Quilty said, had been strong.
“It’s really good, quite a nice turnout,” he said.
The museum also uses Free Family Day to offer mini-tours of the galleries, something that retired art teacher and Mennello volunteer Geri Williams was quite happy to do.
Oftentimes the patrons are impressed with the museum’s collection of works by artists who learned their craft simply by doing, and not by studying with professionals, she said.
“This is nothing but self-taught artists in here,” she said. “When a person starts creating art, you don’t have to create a masterpiece. If you just want to get something out of your head, that is a good thing for art. I know a lot of grown ups, and they have not been able to do even the most basic forms of communication.”
Although it’s now the holiday season, there are only a few paintings in the museum that reflect the season – including Ladis W. Sabo’s “Christmas Dinner,” an oil on canvas dated 1949, which depicts eight adults sitting at a table next to a Christmas tree.
Williams said that painting clearly reflects a bygone era.
“They’re all seated at the table and they’re all dressed nicely,” she said. “I have a feeling it’s an Italian family. You have wine on the table. You have a religious painting on the wall, and a Madonna over there – a very religious family. But there are no children at the table, did you notice that? That’s how they did it when I was a little girl, to have the adults eating together and the children ate at a separate table.”
That’s not the only way the museum gets into the holiday spirit, Shepherd said.
“We do some special decorating this time of year,” Shepherd said, adding that the museum also is hosting an upcoming special event on the day after Christmas.
“December 26, the day after Christmas, is our open house, and we are open free to the public,” Shepherd said. “That’s the big day we have to give back to the community, and it’s highly attended.”
Those who come out and discover Mennello, Williams said, are in for a real treat.
“I think that’s the charm of this museum,” Williams said. “The Mennello is so small and intimate.”
To learn more about Mennello, call 407-246-4278 or log on to Mennello Museum.
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