One of my playgrounds when I was growing up was the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the Fairmount section of the City of Brotherly Love.
I lived in a neighborhood called Brewerytown which is located just north of the museum. I’d walk six blocks or so and climbed on the rocks that surround much of the museum grounds. There was something thrilling and challenging about reaching out to the boulder just above my head while I pulled myself up and onto the next rocks. I didn’t need playmates. I became a solitary mountain climber about to scale Mount Everest or some other mountain top of the mind.
I’d also play in the shallow pools toward the front of the museum. The steps are familiar to most people who saw the movie “Rocky.” Hidden off the side of the steps are concrete pools of water no deeper than a foot or two. I usually played with other fellows from the old neighborhood and had a ball looking toward the east where the statue of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, rested on top of city hall where I would try jury trials many years later.
I’d go into the museum proper every now and then. You used to get in free as a kid on Sundays. Now, you determine what offering to provide the museum caretakers on the first Sunday of the month.
What greeted me was this giant statue of a warrior, a tall metal one at the top of the steps. It was a girl, a woman named Diana, the huntress from the age of the Romans. Her Greek name was Artemis. I didn’t know woman were ever depicted as soldiers or warriors and the statue opened my eyes to a world I had never imagined before.
So did this really gross picture, a painting of a guy in the nude trapped on the side of a mountain by Peter Paul Rubens. A large black eagle is depicted chewing a red part of his body, the liver, ripping it from his uncovered side. The fellow was one my father’s countrymen, a Greek, who pissed off the gods by sharing fire with mankind. The gods of Olympus doomed Prometheus to be forever chained to the mountain with the bird feasting on him for all of eternity.
One of my favorite recollections from the museum was the large painting by the French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He painted a bunch of women near a stream and he entitled it “The Bathers.” The attractive women had different hair colors, but all shared the same type of physical attributes. They were large women and girls. Bountiful is the word I learned from seeing that painting. I fell I love with them and see how attractive Renoir made what most women actually look like.
They became part of my playground and the appreciation of true beauty ever since.