"I think I was just having a really hard time personally because my business basically collapsed over two days," Elaine Ritchel tells SFR.
Ritchel is the founder of and guide for Santa Fe Art Tours, a company that hosts a wide variety of thoughtful tours around Santa Fe, many on Canyon Road, all of which were canceled as COVID-19 spreads. The downside? Her model kind of requires congregation.
"That's what happens when you're in tourism and a pandemic suddenly shuts down travel," Ritchel says with a measured laugh, "so I started to think of ways that I could still do what I do, but online…share art with people, just not in person."
She landed on free downloadable worksheets for kids, which she designed herself and which are available now through the Santa Fe Art Tours website.
"Before I started my tour company, I was a museum educator for years [at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas], and one year I worked pretty much exclusively with fourth- and fifth-graders," Ritchel says. "I loved it. Kids are so insightful and perceptive. They're not inhibited. They're not thinking 'What if I say this and it's silly or not right?' What I found was that they're incredible at immediately perceiving what's going on in a work of art."
Keeping that in mind, Ritchel chose the pieces for her worksheets following exhaustive research using Google's Arts & Culture archives, landing on pieces by Jozef Izraëls, Wassily Kandinsky and John Singer Sargent. Two of the three are representational and feature children—y'know, to better engage children—Kandinsky's is, of course, abstract.
Each sheet comes with a short set of questions about the motivations of the paintings' subjects or about the thoughts and feelings brought up for the observer; each plays on themes Ritchel identified while mulling over the project in its early stages: conversation, abstraction and feeling. Ritchel says kids can do the sheets on their own, or parents can join in. She also envisions potential sheets specifically for adults and, possibly, collaboration with local galleries for future streaming or downloadable projects.
Whatever shape those next steps take, the point remains the same for Ritchel—of art engagement as a therapeutic mechanism.
"When you slow down and really look at a piece of art, it's very mindful, it can be very healing," she says. "That's something I hope parents and kids can do—to focus on something really beautiful."