Unexpected Connections

April 8, 2011 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

As a Grant Writer, I’m always looking ahead – raising money for next season’s exhibitions or school programs. Right now my focus is on the Museum’s work to help keep kids healthy.

 Did you know that more than one-third of U.S. children are considered overweight or obese? Or that, on average, children gain six, unhealthy pounds each year?

 Statistics like these have galvanized the Museum into action. Through its upcoming fall exhibition – Generation Fit: Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Obesity – children and families will learn the science behind weight gain as interactive activities and compelling animation teach them how to eat better and exercise more.

 And this is only the beginning. Over the next two years, the Museum will work with partners across Newark and New Jersey to host community walks and runs, coordinate a weight loss contest, run programs for schools and teachers, organize outdoor learning experiences to get families hiking, and more.

 I’ve already benefitted. Just reading and writing about the science behind this exhibit has inspired me to eat healthier and exercise more.

 Yet, as I worked on this project, a walk through the Museum’s galleries

Charles Willson Peale, "Colonel Elihu Hall, 1773," Oil on canvas, Purchase 1963, The Members Fund, 63.127

reminded me that our concerns about health and appearance and nutrition, and all that they symbolize, aren’t all that new.

I can’t help but wonder what Colonel Elihu Hall, whose portrait hangs in the Museum’s American galleries, would make of Generation Fit: Breaking the Cycle of Childhood Obesity. Painted in 1773 by Charles Willson Peale, he was a member of the growing merchant class in the American colonies who commissioned portraits to flaunt their prosperity and social position. How best to indicate that he was a man of means? Pretend to be overweight! Experts say Colonel Hall may have padded his stomach for the portrait because fat was associated with wealth and health.

Robert Henri, Portrait of Willie Gee, 1904, Oil on canvas, Anonymous gift 1925 25.111

 The striking Portrait of Willie Gee, painted in 1904 by Robert Henri, gives a different view of health and wealth. I learned that the apple the young newspaper boy holds is more than just a piece of fruit. Because it served as an inexpensive source of nutrition for a wide swath of the population, it also served as a symbol of democracy.

 It’s one of the things I love most about the Newark Museum – the unexpected connections and surprises I find every time I walk through the galleries and what makes working here so compelling.

For more information about the Newark Museum, visit newarkmuseum.org.

Anu Malhotra is a Grants Writer at the Newark Museum.

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