Behind the Design of Orsay for Families

Designer Ashley Mercado tells us more about her “Meet the Impressionists” educational materials.

The Paris Muse News booklet you designed looks great. It feels like something from the era of the Impressionists.  Tell us more about the concept behind Meet the Impressionists: Orsay for Families?

The tour sends kids back in time to the year 1900.  They are cast as art writers during this revolutionary moment in art history.  In the booklet, kids receive telegrams from Degas, Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh inviting them to see artworks by those famous artists along their journey through the Orsay galleries. The telegrams, which are probably my favorite part of the booklet, put kids in the driver’s seat and get them thinking like art writers in a fun way.

Paris Muse tours make the child’s educational experience the number one priority. What do you hope families will take away from their visit to the Orsay?

The activities on this tour are all about experiencing firsthand the four keys of art making: composition, color, texture, and line. By the end of the tour, kids are taking this language of art and using it to describe a painting of their choice. So they develop their own impression of the Impressionists. It really gives them a sense of confidence!

Why do you think an activity book, along with the guide’s teaching, helps to get kids looking more closely at art?

When kids put pen to paper, they connect what they learn from their guide to what they are seeing in the museum. The booklet allows children to be their own force for interpretation. I mean it’s their booklet! They are carrying it, writing in it, and it has their name on it. And these kinds of creative materials empower kids by giving them tools to interact and contribute in a meaningful way. As a former Paris Muse guide myself,  I loved to see kids get to show off new skills and flex their muscles in front of their parents.

Tell us more about the other people behind the tour.

I enjoyed working in close collaboration with our team of art historians who developed the program’s themes and content.  It was also terrific working with the children’s book illustrator Seth McCombs who did the drawings. It’s a great feeling to create original materials that you know will directly transform how a kid looks at a work of art.

What is it about Impressionist paintings that make the Orsay an ideal place to explore those keys you mentioned: composition, color, texture, and line?

The Impressionists were rule breakers. They were the first generation to really paint finished work entirely outdoors, thanks to the invention of portable paint tubes, to see the world in natural light, to show the world in a different way. But you have to know the rules (of color, of composition) to break them, and those rules are exactly what we unpack on this tour. And the Impressionists — who were quite controversial for their time — pushed the limits to make art more accessible, to really open things up.  So the Impressionists are important not just because of what they did,  but because of what they are still doing, what they allow us to see.


Do you have a favorite Impressionist?

In the mid-1980s, when I was 6 years old, my Aunt Sarah took me to see a Van Gogh exhibition at the Modern Museum of Art in New York, and I still remember that experience.  I was only 6! He is technically a Post-Impressionist, but he was using all the innovations of the older generation of Impressionists, taking them in new directions. I remember seeing Van Gogh’s treatment of color, of lines, of the way he chose to represent people, or objects, or the night sky. His paintings are like blurry photographs almost coming into focus. Impressionist paintings, they’re all about nature, the things that surround us, what’s familiar. I think that’s what makes them so meaningful even today, why they stick with us.

Why would you recommend this experience to families you know?

This tour is all about kids finding their voice, about giving them the authority to think about and talk about art. Not everyone grows up to be an artist, but to explore, to think, to visualize — these are things you need in any profession! And in our world today we are so saturated with media in every aspect of our daily lives. This tour is about giving children the vocabulary to navigate their own world of images, to make them active participants in visual culture, and not just consumers.  These skills have never been more relevant than they are today.

Book your Meet the Impressionists: Orsay for Families tour now here2-hour tour for children aged 6-12. €305 for families of 5 or fewer.