Cincinnati Family Magazine

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May 29, 2023

Art & More at Dayton Art Institute

Sculptures outside, sculptures inside! Hands-on activities, works of art and more await your exploration at the Dayton Art Institute.

“I see it! I see it!” Boys and girls jumped, raised their hands, and pointed at the painting. They’d spied the deer in Albert Bierstadt’s Scene in Yosemite Valley. Next, one child spotted the fox that lurks in the valley as well. The docent congratulated his “good eye,” told a bit more about the masterpiece, and the group checked off two animals on their scavenger hunt through the Dayton Art Institute.

When my daughter and I visited, we arrived a bit before the institute’s 11 a.m. opening, and so we took a stroll through the outdoor sculptures that included an intriguing collection of orange cylinders (pictured), a reflective ribbon reaching skyward, and a lion named Leo. We also walked around to the former front entrance, a stately façade with grand arches and pillars atop a dual staircase that led from a hillside above the Great Miami River.

The current entrance is almost as pretty, and much more convenient — right by the parking lot. Once inside the institute, we got our tickets and map, and made The Lange Family Expericenter our first stop. The shadow puppets, with figures of landscapes and animals, as well as people, proved irresistible. We played ourselves, and soon found a father behind the screen who quickly got his kids giggling and calling out “My turn. My turn!” Our attention next turned to sculptures of life-sized people made of jellybeans, posed before a wall of butterflies that scared us when they started fluttering. While kids made crafts in an adjacent room, we played with felt shapes, a light table and deciphered walls of optical illusions.

Nearby, in the Special Exhibition Gallery, we used a second admission ticket to enjoy propaganda posters of WWI and WWII. (The exhibit continues on display through October 4, 2015.) As the attendant took our ticket, she advised us to “Look at each one, and try to decide whether it was aimed at men, women, or children, and think about how effective it is.” We took her advice, and enjoyed doing this for poster after poster, mostly instantly inferring the audience and message, but sometimes baffled.  We admired the stylized female figures of the early 1900s, the patriotic spirit, and the familiar, yet stirring, four freedoms by Norman Rockwell. Still, while we understood its purpose, the overt racism against the Japanese disturbed us, as did the images of German “huns.”

More pleasant images greeted us upstairs. We marveled at tapestries that covered the wall (Could you make that in a lifetime? Was there a pattern? How did they do that?), and then took in the mammoth paintings, mostly of Biblical stories.  Seeing “The Immaculate Conception” by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo startled me. Throughout my life, I’ve seen the picture reproduced in books, in churches, and on holy cards, but never even imagined actually seeing the original. Our journey continued through galleries of lovely landscapes, café Parisians and recognizable works by Edward Hopper and Andy Warhol, and then ended with modern works that left us with questions and a great topic for the ride home.

Dayton Art Institute
456 Belmonte Park North, Dayton, Ohio 45405
937-223-4ART (4278) |

11 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tue/Wed/Fri/Sat, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Thu, 12 – 5 p.m. Sun, closed Mon

Standard admission:
Adults $8; Seniors (60+), Active Military and Groups $5; College Students (18+ with ID), children 17 and younger, and members are free

Things to Know:
Super Saturday Family Days ($15 for a family of four, $2 each additional child)
August 8 Dayton Print Day
August 22 African Art Adventure

Tiny Thursdays take place every week from 11 a.m. – 12 p.m., and include story time, gallery visits, and make-and-take art projects for children ages 2 – 5 and their caregivers. Cost is $8.

About the Author

Barbara David

Barbara David, mother of five and an award-winning columnist for Cincinnati Family Magazine, enjoys travel, writing, and restoring her century-old, west-side home.