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Wonder Room at Columbus Museum of Art updated with woodland theme

Anne Evans Anne Evans Wonder Room at Columbus Museum of Art updated with woodland themeA large tree designed by anchors the space.
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The large Tree of Wonder, designed by Zepher Potrafka, anchors the space.

The Wonder Room at the Columbus Museum of Art recently underwent a redesign, and has been open to members for a few weeks. The entire redesign took about one and half years, including closing for five weeks for the build-out. Today, the updated room opens to the public, debuting with a woodland theme.

“The inspiration for the woodland theme first came from several paintings in our collection,” says Merilee Mostov, Chief Engagement Officer for the Columbus Museum of Art. “As I reflected on this theme I became more excited about it because of my own fondness for the woods — knowing firsthand how wondrous and magical playing in a forest can be. A dark, somewhat mysterious forest environment made sense as a perfect setting to provoke wonder and awe.”

Who would have lived here? One of the questions visitors are asked in the new Wonder Room at the Columbus Museum of Art.

A card-file re-purposed to hold lots of craft supplies, for visitors to make their own creations.

The museum first opened the Wonder Room in January of 2011.

“It has always been our plan to change out the installations every 2½ – 3 years,” she says. “The exact date for the next Wonder Room change out has not been established, but it will be sometime in 2016.”

More than twenty pieces of art from the museum’s permanent collection have been incorporated into the design of the room. A glass case that borders the room has also been filled with a refreshed collection of art.

When visiting the Wonder Room within the first ten months or so, you will find: a large Dutch landscape painting by Van Der Haagen, many photographs including work by Terry Evans, Lynn Geesaman, and George Tice, several prints such as a large Audubon and an Inuit print of an owl, and sculptures by Janusz Walentynowicz and others. They will be switched out due to their sensitivity to light and fragile nature.

Mostov worked closely with Jeff Sims, Creative Producer for CMA to conceptualize and design every detail of the room.

“Jeff and I created a concept and design for the space including works of art, design, activities, and intended visitor outcomes,” says Mostov. “After we formed a cohesive plan for the space, we selected local artists who work in a particular medium or have a particular style that best aligns with our design and concept.”

One of the dioramas craeted by Sharon Dorsey.

Sharon Dorsey was among the artists selected to work on the project and couldn’t have been more thrilled. She was commissioned to make two dioramas, each in enclosed 15″ cubed spaces, for inclusion in the imaginative wooded house located in the Wonder Room.

“The dioramas are intended to make viewers imagine what sorts of beings lived in there, kind of like rooms of a doll house,” says Dorsey. “I typically make figurative work, so designing the “where” as opposed to the “who” was a challenge. I had to at least address the “who” portion in my brain. I wanted one to be a cave where a barbaric, warlock gnome-like being lived, and I wanted the other to be a Victorian-inspired, slightly steam-punky room where a fancy toad lived. For each I had a LARGE amount of odds and ends scattered around my dining room table to scour through and to then figure out “what the heck could this thing be made into?” It was very much like a big, messy puzzle. All of the furnishings had to be designed then fabricated with materials that fit the theme. Suddenly having a big collection of animal bones didn’t seem like the craziest idea.”

In total, there are five dioramas in the space, the others designed by Susie Underwood and Caitlin Lynch.

The new room is centered on a large Tree of Wonder that was designed and created by Zepher Potrafka. Original works by Dorothy Gill Barnes are also incorporated into the space. There are handmade costumes, gloves, hats, and more made by Heidi Kambitsch of OpenHeartCreatures for imaginative play. A graffiti tree graphic painted by Giovanni Santiago adds to the room’s feel.

Cloaks and gloves and shoes and more, designed by OpenHeartCreatures.

A tree house filled with giant bean bag chairs overlooks the whole room, so if you have a book to read, it is a nice place to spend some time. There’s also a low table that’s home to a unique Storytelling Adventure Game. The game was designed and painted by Brian R. Williams (you can also find several prints of his drawings in the room).

“Merilee and Jeff had the game in mind when they contacted me, but I was given complete creative freedom when it came to the compositions and details of each of the pieces,” says Williams.”Everything -from the look of the landscape, to the monsters and other details- is my own concept.”

Williams spent several months making the game, cutting and sanding poplar into squares, designing the road that crosses each piece, and painting the final design. The blocks are painted with alkyd oil paints, for a unique vibrant look.

The Storytelling Adventure Game, designed by Brian R. Williams.

The game’s objective is to arrange the tiles however you wish and then take turns moving your tall tree piece around the board along the path. Once you land on a block with a symbol, you take a look at the key for a question and imagine different scenarios that may be occurring.

“I love the infinite ways you can arrange the tiles to make paths through the wilderness, and how the landscape changes with each arrangement you make,” says Williams. “It’s like an ever-changing landscape painting that museum visitors can design themselves.”

Visitors' art projects are shown for all on this tree-shaped display.

“The Wonder Room is a unique gallery environment designed for visitors of all ages,” says Mostov. “It is an experiment that challenges what an art museum gallery must look like and how it can be relevant and valuable to a community; it is an experiment that questions how people can engage with art, and how we (the museum) can foster and champion creativity, not just by displaying the work of great artists, but by giving visitors permission, space, and opportunity to be curious, imaginative, and even, playful.”

Visit the Wonder Room inside the Columbus Museum of Art at 480 E Broad St, Columbus, OH 43215. Hours are: Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-5:30pm, Thursday from 10am-8:30pm, closed Mondays. For more information, visit Columbusmuseum.org.

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