OKC Museum Day Trip:
Paper Beats Rock.
Noah and part of the Chihuly installation at OKCMOA.
One of the great things about living in Tulsa is how close it is to so many amazing activities within driving distance. It wouldn’t be summer vacation without a day trip, so last week we headed to Oklahoma City to check out some of the amazing things going on at that city’s museums.
After what can only be described as a chaotic hullabaloo of at the very last minute literally no one under the age of 11 being able to find two matching shoes, we took off approximately 35 minutes behind schedule amidst great moaning and fussing over who gets to sit where in the minivan.
Pinterest tells me that other families who are wise enough to pack books and snacks and other entertainment have dreamy little drives where their children sit quietly and chill. Pinterest tells dirty, beautiful lies. Somewhere between four and 20 minutes into the drive, all three of the children had become bored of their books and/or assorted toys and had taken to hitting, smacking, and “not touching” each other. Thank the heavens for our ancient portable VCR, which entertained them with Godzilla for at least another 15 minutes until the
naughtiest most energetic child fell asleep.
“You’re sure about taking this to museums?” Justin asked, nodding toward the back and gulping back massive swigs of coffee.
“Absolutely,” I lied.
We finally made it to the city, no thanks to Google Maps. As we headed toward our first stop, we passed several pretty cool-looking museums. I held my breath as we drove past the Railway Museum, glancing back at Noah, who was looking the other direction, and whispering a hushed “Sssh” to Justin. Within seconds, a tea kettle squealed from the back seat as Noah realized what we were passing. Promises were quickly made to someday return, promises which may or may not be kept.
Stop 1: Science Museum Oklahoma
This is a good point at which to note that this particular day was the day the thermometer hit 109℉. We scurried through the front door of Science Museum Oklahoma from the eighth circle of Dante’s Inferno. As we shuffled inside, two things struck me.
First, how completely unrecognizable the place was to me. The last time Justin and I visited was in 2002 for the Titanic exhibit. There were recreated staterooms to walk through and artifacts to see, and at the end, you found out by your ticket if you lived or died on your hypothetical Titanic voyage. We were Jack and Rose all the way (although I still say there was room for Jack on that door). Justin was in steerage and went to a watery grave, while I, Mrs. Paul Schabert (Emma) survived to probably never go near a boat again.
Once we left the Titanic exhibit, I remember noticing how dated the museum had felt. Many of the exhibits were not much changed from when we were kids visiting in the 80s. I remember way back then feeling kind of sad at the realization of time’s passing and how dated the place felt.
But last week, as we stood in the museum we both visited as children (then known as the Omniplex) and had so many fond memories of, we were awestruck at how amazing it was. There were so many cool exhibits we couldn’t even begin to see them all. Science Museum Oklahoma is a place you set aside a full day for and let your kids guide you through. It reminds me now of how Star Wars now is so much cooler because George Lucas has the tech to do what he originally wanted to do but only had basically space muppets and model ships for.
And now for the second thought that occurred to me. As I glanced off in the corner at a group of (adorable) elementary school-aged children from a local church in the waiting area, a corner area of steps where groups can sit and wait together, I realized except for some paint and a mural, it was exactly the same as it had been in the 80s. I saw myself there on the steps, playing with my brother and my cousins, and my heart ached with beautiful longing for those days. Those steps are important. They are the connection between childhood to childhood. They are the magic of sharing something wonderful you love with your children.
The Art and Science of Origami
I pulled myself together and hustled my party upstairs to what we were there for, an exhibition called “Into the Fold: The Art and Science of Origami.” I only learned a couple of years ago (thanks, Internet) how many STEM minds have a deep and abiding passion for origami. This was my first time to see and experience what that truly meant, and it was breathtaking. As we explored these beautifully folded forms by 30 artists from Oklahoma and around the globe, for the first time we realized the diversity of paper as an art form. As a person with an amateur passion for textile arts, I found the use of paper absolutely fascinating. Some pieces were pure geometric wizardry, like gazing into the midst of a conversation between Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking. Others were songs, the intangible and beautiful brought to life as masks and animals and abstract forms.
"Great White Shark" by Nguyen Hung Cuong
At one end of the gallery, there is a chance for patrons to try their hand at the art of folding paper by crafting a jumping frog. Tl;dr, we were not great with this.
We explored the museum’s CurioCity exhibit, where we wandered in and out of a physics circus, a cave filled with water play spaces, and a geometric wonderland. The kids went positively bananas in the gadget-treehouse, a two-story play space filled with gadgets and gizmos aplenty. We stopped by the most epic train set we’ve ever seen and wandered into a room filled with small planes.
Arthur and the train.
After a visit through “Decomposition: Discovering the Beauty and Magnificence of Fungi,” an exhibition about fungus and mold that made me rethink my relationship with processed food, we got our hands stamped to return and hopped over for lunch at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Stop 2: The OKC Museum of Art
The MOA cafe was a lovely, upscale little spot, brightly lit and charming. We dined at a round table in the corner, and I am pleased to report that my children managed to remain composed throughout the meal.
Our friendly server brought indecisive Arthur a black cherry Shirley Temple, and he thought he was the fanciest human being on the planet. Justin ordered a French dip sandwich, and I had the grilled Atlantic salmon with forbidden rice and huckleberry beurre blanc on our server’s recommendation. We were struck by the generous portions of the children’s menu and the understated elegance of the meal.
After dining, we hopped over to the museum, where we met museum representative Amanda Harmer. This is a woman who really knows what she is doing and understands all about kids, especially kids who have non-neurotypical sensory interpretation. We introduced ourselves, and she told us the museum has some amazing things in the works for adults and kids on the spectrum. Since it wasn’t quite ready yet, she guided us to a little spot near the elevator and invited the kids to each grab an age-rated bag of museum goodies.
Each bag contained an art pad and art supply collection along with all kinds of wonderful tools for kids to experience art, including a book about art and tinted viewers. For my sensory readers, the museum also offers noise-canceling headphones on request at the front desk.
When the kids were really little, I could list few places that were not socially off-limits to us. I left more places sobbing amid stares and scowls than I can count, including Wal-Mart and my (formerly) favorite thrift store. To be welcomed like that as a family and invited to experience art in a place where beautiful, sacred creations exist to be experienced, to be seen and appreciated as valued guests made me want to cry for happy reasons.
Noah experiencing art.
Amanda walked the kids through the first room and talked to them about the museum’s rules and about different ways to experience art. The kids were captivated. After walking through the room with us, she told us if we need anything to call and left us to our own exploration. We quickly made a beeline for the exhibition we had come to see, “Isabelle de Borchgrave: Fashioning Art from Paper.”
Fashioning Art From Paper
This exhibition was a convergence of two of my favorite things: decadent fashion and history. De Borchgrave is a Belgian artist/sculptor famous for her gorgeous paper trompe-l'œil (put simply, forced perspective--think of the old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he sees a road but it’s really a painted wall) depictions of historical fashions. De Borchgrave does not strive for precise replication of the originals but instead creates her works with the intent of capturing the spirit of the original gowns or frocks.
Several of her gorgeous collections were on display, and I could have stayed all day. "Papiers à la Mode" is a historical walkthrough based on famous paintings. De Borchgrave worked with famous Canadian costume designer Rita Brown to create as close to the original work that would have been worn by the original model in each painting as possible down to the intricate braiding, lace, and patterns.
This is a simply breathtaking exhibition that demands absolute reverence. Even my kids could feel it. These normally boisterous, chaotic three immediately found a corner booth, sat down, and gazed at the first set of gowns in a hush before tagging behind me like so many ducklings through the other rooms.
The first piece, set aside by itself in the exhibition’s entrance, is de Borchgrave’s recreation of the decadent gown worn by Peter Paul Rubens’ Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé (oil on canvas, c. 1610). Directly facing it is the original painting, on loan from the Frick Art and Historical Center in Pittsburgh. Borchgrave’s work was simply spectacular, breathing history to life like incarnate dreams woven from fairy tales.
My heart cartwheeled over Elizabeth I’s famed black 1599 gown--it was like standing before the Virgin Queen as she declared herself the new Mary and swept up England in awe of her. Throughout the course of history, few human beings have understood the power of a solid brand like Liz I or the bold authority commanded by beautifully executed fashion that rocks that brand. This was a woman who began her life under the constant threat of execution and ended it a rebranded saint.
Near Lizzie’s gown was Marie Antoinette’s delicious pearlescent, pink macaron fantasy. Antoinette’s gown would have paired perfectly with nearby Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux’s pale blue-on-white silk gown from her Self-Portrait With a Harp over champagne and shoe shopping had the Austrian celebutante managed to keep her head. A nearby entry titled simply “Evening Dress” (1829-31) was a puffed-sleeve Cinderella confection of pink ribbon laid over a lace-detailed bright white delight reminiscent of frosting.
The next exhibition, “The World of Mariano Fortuny,” was a lush Italian fantasy featuring boldly colored Venetian garments designed in collaboration with Fortuny. Think lavish, bold frocks ripped from a Roman fantasy or a Botticelli dream. “Splendor of the Medici” was a trip through the decadence of the Medici court, and “Les Ballets Russes” reminded me of a Twelfth Night masquerade or the film Labyrinth. The exhibition as a whole just reaches into your imagination and inspires your spirit. At the end of the exhibition is a little studio space for children (and adults) to create their own two-dimensional paper kaftans.
Dale Chihuly Permanent Exhibition
Next, we popped over to the Dale Chihuly permanent exhibition, the largest in the world. My first encounter with Chihuly was in Las Vegas when I was pregnant with Arthur. As we strolled through the Bellagio, overhead was a canopy of large, brilliant primary-colored blown glass flowers. I really had no comprehension of how utterly varied Chihuly’s works were until visiting the MOA, but I was extremely excited to check it out.
We wandered through room after room of fantastical glass orbs and swirls like travelers on an alien landscape. At one moment, it felt as if we were exploring a bewitched Zork-esque cavern filled with dazzling geodes, and the next we were floating down the tree to Wonderland. The further into the museum we went, the more captivated my children were with its magic.
Stop 3: Oklahoma Firefighter’s Museum
After we finished touring the MOA, we popped over to the Oklahoma State Firefighter’s Museum so I could relive my childhood. Dad was a firefighter, and every few trips through OKC meant a stop by this old joint. I knew Noah would love looking at all the old engines and ladders, and he did. This is a great place to stop by if you have a family member with a passion for old vehicles or firefighting equipment. As I looked over the older equipment, I reflected on how dangerous firefighting once was in terms of exposure to smoke and chemicals and how much safer it has become even since my dad was on the Tulsa department.
Stop 4: Pops in Arcadia
On the way home, we took a quick detour to Pops in Arcadia. If you don’t know already, Pops is a self-described “soda ranch” with more than 700 kinds of soda. I had always wanted to visit and been low-key jealous of friends with their fancy soda pics on Instagram. What those gorgeous filtered IG pics don’t tell you is that place is a freaking zoo.
I will leave out the part about how trying to pick a soda was like trying to leisurely shop at Best Buy on Black Friday or about how many dozens of times my children asked me for this candy or that snack while I struggled to filter through the sounds around us or about how there was another party with a Lucy that must have said her name fifty times and it really messed with my head. The soda selection was mesmerizing, and I felt compelled to try every flavor.
Here are a few of the more quirky selections::
- Christmas Mint Soda
- Plantation Style Mint Julep Soda
- Sopranos Amaretto Soda
- Chocolate Covered Maple Smoked Bacon Soda
- Cookie Dough Bites Red Velvet Cupcake Soda
Arthur grabbed a bottle of the Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer pop, Noah went for Rowdy Roddy Piper Bubble Gum soda, and Justin predictably grabbed some orange potion with a shockingly high caffeine content.
The Violet Incident
I was dazzled by all the vintage candies, and somehow I got it in my head that I remembered liking Choward’s Violet Mints. Justin was less certain, reminding me that candy is one of the most dramatically improved technologies of the modern age and that until about 40 years ago, most candy sucked.
I arrogantly unwrapped my first purple mint in the car. It smelled suspiciously like Suavitel, but I was committed. I popped that sucker in my mouth, grinning.
My regret was instantaneous. “This must be what it feels like to eat a Tide Pod but with less hospitalization,” I thought, spitting it out in a hurry. In my 21 years with that man, I have seldom seen Justin laugh harder than he did as he watched me scramble to find a place to ditch that mint. After further research, it turns out I don’t remember liking Choward’s. That was a character on Mad Men. Once more, I have mistaken television for real life.
All in all, it was a pretty great day trip. My children only fought for about two-thirds of the ride home, which I definitely categorize as a win.
What are your favorite local day trips? Have you been to any good museums lately? Hit me up with recommendations and comments below, and I will include the info so you can check out these rad museums for yourselves.
Peace in the Nebula!!!
Adults $12, Children $10, 5 and under free
Adults $15.95, Children 3-12 $12.95
Adults $6, Children 6-12 $3. 5 and under free