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A Child's Art Gallery

I’m begging, and my 5-year-old is in tears. “Come on, sweetie,” I plead. “It’s not even a real picture. Let me recycle it.”

“No!” she yells, grabbing the soiled napkin on which she’s created her latest Miro-esque ink drawing. “It’s for you, mommy,” she says. “I made it for you.”

With a sigh of resignation, I take the napkin and, tack it up on the refrigerator, alongside about 30 of her other recent works on paper. I know I’m supposed to love this explosion of my daughter’s unique personhood. And I do. But can’t I appreciate her masterpieces without hanging on to every balled-up scrap of aluminum foil?

Mommy as Gallerina

Yes, says Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, founder of the blog Apartmenttherapy.com. He told me that clearing out old art actually encourages fresh bursts of inspiration. “For children, art is all about making,” he said. “For adults, we’re much more about preserving. We have to be careful we are allowing them the freedom to open up the next pad of paper and start again.”

He recommended that I create an “intentional, beautiful” display space to show off the creative output of Lillian and her big sister Aurora. “Choose a really nice spot that everyone can see, and that has boundaries so it can’t spread,” he said. I chose a living room wall to give the “gallery” a feeling of importance.

Mindful Display Spaces

For mounting you can use Fun-Tak, the blue sticky stuff. For a fancier look, buy acrylic box or gilded backless frames. Lil’ Da Vinci frames (available at amazon.com) swing open for easy insertion and can store extra artwork. If you’ve got artistic chops, you can paint or draw fanciful “frames” directly onto a wall.

I created a magnetic wall: First, paint the wall with magnetic primer. (I used three coats of Magic Wall.) Then cover it with your wall color and mount the artwork with super-strong magnets; regular fridge magnets won’t hold.

I like the strong magnets from Three by Three. They’re too big to swallow and come in fun shapes and colors. Magically Magnetic ( sells rare earth magnets in a child-safe pushpin shape and self-adhesive magnetic sheeting you can attach to the backs of picture frames.

Kid Curators

My kids loved the idea of the gallery. The process of editing was a harder sell. I asked Amy Gray, a professional organizer, if she could convince Lillian to part with some of her treasures.

Amy helped her to fetch her 12 pictures from the fridge, laid them out on the coffee table and asked her to put them in three piles: one to recycle, one to hang in the gallery and one to save. Without batting an eye, Lillian relegated six pictures to the recycling bin and put one in the gallery. Amy suggested that Lillian put the rest in a special binder. “Yeah!” Lillian shouted.

I bought a display portfolio with 9x12-inch clear sleeves to use as an archive. Every couple of weeks, Lillian and I sort through her recent creative output and change our gallery’s exhibit. Giving Lillian curatorial power sidestepped the power struggle. Plus, the thrill of seeing her artwork formally displayed did much to ease the pain of parting with the recycled pictures.

Juliette Guilbert is a freelance writer.

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