The animals came marching two by two to the Beach Museum of Art.
“Two by Two: Animal Pairs” features sets of animals portrayed in different styles and media. Inspired by the American Library Association’s summer reading program theme “Tales and Tails” at Manhattan Public Library, the pairs on display can teach kids to compare and contrast both the art itself, but also how different cultures view the animals.
“It’s kind of a Noah’s Ark,” said Kathrine Schlageck, associate curator of education and curator of the exhibit.
The museum is now open by appointment with plans to fully reopen on Aug. 24. “Two by Two” consists of 13 pairs of art depicting animals in the physical exhibit. Additional pairs can be viewed on the Beach Museum website.
In order to complement the summer reading program curriculum, Schlageck said she wanted to select pieces that were very different because it gave students the opportunity to examine each item closely and notice similarities and differences.
“Looking at art is such a great way to develop observational skills,” she said. “It’s a good critical thinking activity.”
Some pieces are more realistic, such as a lithograph of an elephant created by Kansas native and K-State graduate Caroline Thorington. The drawing is paired with one by Kansas artist John Steuart Curry, who traveled for a time with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Others are more abstract and try to communicate something about culture or traditions, such as a drawing by Osage printmaker and University of Kansas professor Norman Akers. It depicts a turtle and the creation story that the Earth was created on its back.
“You can ask, is this more of a scientific drawing or is this something that has additional meanings?” Schlageck said.
Schlageck also wanted to incorporate pieces from a wide variety of cultures. Artists included have their origins in Kansas, New Mexico, India, Mali and more.
“Art is such a great way to learn about different cultures and how different cultures think,” she said. “It’s an accessible way to learn about something that’s different. That can be scary, but learning about it through pieces of art can be a friendly way.”
It also can demonstrate how cultures might be similar. A headpiece from Mali in West Africa was used in agricultural ceremonies. It is related to a story of the Bamana people and a half-antelope, half-human figure who taught agriculture to humans. Schlageck connected its importance in agriculture to the importance of agriculture in Kansas.
“If you go through other cultures, you see the same types of stories,” she said.
One pair, a favorite of Schlageck’s, demonstrates this phenomenon especially well: A set of owls, one by Midwestern artist Maurice Bebb and another by printmaker Jyoti Bhatt from India. Bebb’s piece is a detailed ornithological drawing of a screech owl. Bhatt’s piece is a more spiritual one using the owl as a messenger from the gods. While the two use completely different styles and approaches, Schlageck said visiting children were able to still find similarities.
“They are completely different but both owls have yellow eyes,” she said.
These interactions during the museum’s gradual reopening have been a relief, Schlageck said. The museum will celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall, and she said they are grateful they will be able to celebrate with people in the galleries. She said the in-person educational opportunities are exciting for both employees and patrons.
“Families are excited to be back,” she said. “I think they’ve really felt it too.”
‘TWO BY TWO’