Treasure hunting at New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cynthia has lived, studied, worked and parented in more than...
TOKYO, August 11, 2011—A ceramic box Maia made in eighth grade is always on prominent display in all the homes we have had throughout the years. It is one of the many ceramic projects she completed while attending VIS (Vienna International School).
Other projects include the black shoe that looked exactly like the loafers Maia wore to school, the blue dragon coming out of a green egg, and a green and pink teapot with a rose on its lid, definitely inspired by a trip to the Herend porcelain factory in neighboring Hungary.
Maia was never very good at making things with her hands. While all the other children in Ms. Whitelaw’s kindergarten class in UNIS (United Nations International School) indulged in finger painting, all she wanted to do was get the paint off her hands. She could not wait to go to the bathroom to wash her dirty hands. On days they were given glitter, girls and boys alike sprinkled it on themselves. Maia did not want any of it. She was very much bothered by glitter sticking to her fingers even after several trips to the sink.
When ceramic class started at VIS, most students dreamed of making vases, and lamps, and busts…all sorts of complicated objects. Maia wanted to make a box. She was a smart girl. She knew her limitations. What she lacked in technique though, she made up for with imagination.
She made a box. And although it was a triangular box, there was nothing very special about its shape. But it was an unusual box. It had a handle in the shape of a human ear. And it was painted yellow with barely discernible sunflowers and leaves.
And inside the box, there was a name. Vincent. For Vincent Van Gogh, the Dutch painter who could not sell a single painting while he was alive, but whose priceless sunflower paintings are now worshipped and admired everywhere.
The mad artist who cut off his own ear and sent it as an offering of peace to his friend and roommate Paul Gauguin. Vincent Van Gogh has much to do with Maia’s art appreciation.
Maia’s box was the talk of the VIS art department. She was not much of an artist, but she had a passion for art. And it all started in New York City.
The summer that Maia was four, she had daily art lessons at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one of the perks of living in Manhattan. She learned to mix colors, and on the day that she finally perfected grey by mixing black and white, she painted a very pretty elephant. In grey. But the class had moved on to another color. Mauve.
Maia loved art classes at the Metropolitan. At the end of each class, the teacher took the children to see one special painting in the museum. Maia had a favorite painting, and she took me to see it after each class.
The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh.
Maia liked paintings. But Maia was also a four-year-old, and she would rather go to the zoo to look at Gus, the white polar bear. Gus could swim. I was very much impressed with the swimming polar bear, but I would rather look at the paintings of the Metropolitan.
To be in the Metropolitan everyday was a dream come true. It was my compensation for having spent many months within the walls of a compound in faraway Lagos. It was my reward for eating nothing but chicken twice a day during those months.
I turned to look at the four-year-old Maia who was watching Gus swim back and forth intently. I was never one to impose my preferences on others. Besides, her interest in swimming polar bears may one day lead to an exciting career. Expeditions in the Arctic. Zoology. Synchronized swimming. Dolphin trainer.
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