Fine arts professor Chris Sullivan brings Chris Van Dusen’s cherished children’s book to life.
By Liza Darvin
Photo by Chris Sullivan
Two days a week, Chris Sullivan, assistant professor of fine arts, gets the chance to take the lessons he teaches to his students and give them real-world application through his work creating exhibits and installations for the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine in Portland. Sullivan’s most recent project is an interactive outdoor display based on the children’s book Down to the Sea with Mr. Magee by beloved Maine author Chris Van Dusen. Billed as “Chris Van Dusen’s Down to the Sea: An Outdoor Adventure,” the exhibit marries the 2-D world of Mr. Magee and his little dog Dee with 3-D models and play areas.
The museum’s mission calls for its young members to have a safe environment in which they can explore their senses and push boundaries. In the new space, the plot of Down to the Sea leaps off of the page at each station, where sections from the book are presented next to real-life counterparts, including a whale pond for water play and a shipwreck jungle gym to promote gross motor activity.
“The exhibit is a good example of utilizing both traditional and new media,” says Sullivan. “A student’s tool kit will change over time, which is why as an educator, I try to impart the skill set of a critical thinker. It’s this philosophical approach that makes the art degree program at Saint Joseph’s so effective.”
Sullivan’s well-worn motto—“When art’s done well, it’s always a collaborative process”—informed the exhibit’s connection with the community. Working with a Maine author and a team of local builders, design volunteers, and museum colleagues, Sullivan tried to imbue a sense of history into the exhibit through collaboration. The shipwreck jungle gym, for instance, is based off of a real wreck that lies off the coast of Wiscasset, Maine. Saint Joseph’s College even had a hand in the creative process, donating the sapling that sits as the focal point of the exhibit.
“Good exhibits are open-ended. They’re a conversation that is fluid through time, space, and history,” Sullivan waxes philosophically. But for all the high-minded concept work and attention to detail that went into “Down to the Sea,” he’s quick to bring the conversation back to one of the most important aspects for a successful children’s exhibit: enjoyment.
“Because it’s hands-on and interactive, it’s just plain fun!”
To get more information on “Down to the Sea” and to plan a visit to the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine, see their website at kitetails.org.