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ONCE UPON A TIME… Stories in Art

By Marianne Ruggiero
Coordinator of Family Programs at The RISD Museum

If artworks could speak, what would they say? Would statues tell you about the day their features took shape from a block of stone or lump of clay? Maybe the little girl in the portrait you like so much would invite you to step into the painting and play a game with her. Artwork often tells a story. Sometimes the artist has a specific story in his or her mind when creating the work. People also imagine their own stories as they look at paintings or sculptures.

What stories are suggested by the artworks below? Look at each one, and write a short tale to go with each:

Risd-Anne Brindley-Story

Print PDF


Print PDF

What would they say? Match each dragon pictured below with what you think it might be saying.

Risdm 35-391Risdm 2005-80

Risdm 30-005A. “That woman’s strength is nothing. With one lick of my fiery breath, she will drop the crystal, and power will be mine!”

B. “Some people think I’ve opened my mouth to laugh. My hope was to breathe fire, but the artist forgot to include that detail. I was placed in a tomb, more than 1000 years ago, with an important person. My special powers kept him from harm in the after-life.”

C. “My golden yellow color means that I was made to be worn by a member of the royal family, probably a queen or a princess.”

Here is the painter Joshua Reynold’s “A Caricature Group.” What could these music-makers and listeners be saying?


“Once Upon a Time…”
If you like to find stories in art, come to Free-For-All Saturday at The RISD Museum on March 29. Make a book, create a dancing puppet, or go on a story-filled quest. At 3:00 p.m., come to The RISD Auditorium for a magical dance performance created especially for this day by Festival Ballet in Providence.
The RISD Museum – 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI

ARTplay is a monthly column written by Marianne Ruggiero from The RISD Museum in which various themes and activities introduce kids and parents to the museum’s collection both online and off. Each month Kidoinfo will help spark your children’s interest in art – they can learn about different works at the museum and download a related activity to create offline. Be sure to visit the museum and explore the art in person. On Free-for-All Saturdays (the last Saturday of every month), kids may continue their exploration through a variety of hands-on workshops, performances, videos, and special gallery quests throughout the day.

Illustrations for “If Dragons Could Speak” and answer to matching game:

B. Chinese, Northern Wei Dynasty
Dragon, 386-557 A.D.
Gray clay with traces of red pigment
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Museum Appropriation
Photography by Erik Gould

A. Utagawa Kuniyoshi
The Pearl Diver with the Magic Crystal
Pursued by the Dragon King, 1853
Polychrome woodblock print
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Elizabeth T. and Dorothy N. Casey Fund
Photography by Erik Gould

C. Chinese
Robe, ca. 1873
Silk, metallic yarn, gauze embroidery
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design
Gift of Miss Lucy Truman Aldrich
Photography by Erik Gould

All additional inquires or requests should be directed to: Melody Ennis, Coordinator of Photographic Services, The RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903. 401 454-6535. E-mail inquires to: mennis@risd.edu

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