Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Blue Star Voices

Chesapeake, Virginia

Blue Star Families Communications Director Stephanie Himel-Nelson with her sons Holden (l) and Hollis (r) at the Chrysler Museum of Art. Photo by Stephanie Himel-Nelson

As a military brat, some of my earliest memories of summer vacation involved my parents dragging me to museums around the world. And yes, at times I felt dragged, particularly when I was 12-15 years old and spending time with my parents was akin to being water boarded in my adolescent angst-ridden head.

In hindsight, however, it was pretty darn cool.

Fast forward to summer vacations with my kids. I have two "high energy" boys. I use the quotes because sometimes simply energetic doesn't quite cut it as a description. Imagine a four year old (Holden) and a five year old (Hollis) chasing each other around in circles and screaming at top volume. Now picture that for two hours or so in a public place filled with fragile and expensive objects and art, where you aren't supposed to touch anything.

Have a migraine yet?

Over the years my husband and I have taken the boys to lots of museums. We've traveled up to the Smithsonian in D.C. pretty frequently. The Natural History Museum, both Air and Space Museums, the American History Museum, all were loved by H&H. We've been regular visitors to the USS Wisconsin and Nauticus, the Portsmouth Children's Museum, and similar kid-friendly venues. But I've never been brave enough to try an art museum with Hurricane Hollis and Hurricane Holden.

I've been selling my kids short.

Holden Nelson, age 4, moves quickly through the exhibits at The Chrysler Museum of Art. Photo by Stephanie Himel-Nelson

A few weeks ago I packed up the family and we headed to a Blue Star Museums event hosted by the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia. We joined Blue Star Families, Senator Mark Warner, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, Admiral Mark Boensel (Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic), representatives from local participating museums, and many military families, all excited to see the museum and learn more about the [Blue Star Museums] program, which offers free museum admission to military families at participating museums this summer.

As the Director of Communications for Blue Star Families, it was rewarding to hear Senator Warner and Admiral Boensel thank Blue Star Families and the National Endowment for the Arts for the Blue Star Museums program. Speaking of the importance of supporting military families, Senator Warner noted, "This is a nice way to demonstrate support for our military personnel and their families, and I congratulate the Chrysler Museum and all of the other Virginia cultural sites that have stepped up to partner with the Blue Star Museums program." Admiral Boensel indicated that, in providing programs like this for military families, we are contributing to military readiness. Is there really any greater thanks we could receive?

Nonetheless, I was distracted a bit during the presentation because I was worried that my kids (the very noticeable ones wearing the Blue Star Families t-shirts) would start loudly demanding cupcakes while Senator Warner spoke or begin running around the museum atrium, knocking service flags into Admiral Boensel and the Chrysler Museum's director, guaranteeing that my family would be permanently banned from one of my favorite local museums.

But they were fine. In fact, during the museum tour, H&H were enthralled. Holden, my social butterfly, engaged Chrysler Museum Director Bill Hennessy in a chat about a sculpture called Lion Crushing Serpent and, as I watched Holden and Mr. Hennessy debate whether or not the lion would indeed eat Holden's hand if he touched the statue, I realized that my kids were having a great time. And they weren't swinging from the exquisite crystal chandelier on display in the Chrysler's glass exhibit.

Holden Nelson and Chrysler Museum Director Bill Hennessy had a spirited discussion about Antonie-Louis Barye's Lion Crushing Serpent. Photo by Stephanie Himel-Nelson

In fact, as we moved through the museum, my kids were genuinely excited to see what came next. I heard gasps of wonder at paintings and sculpture, not just the Egyptian artifacts and sarcophagus I expected the boys would enjoy. In fact, my four year old, Holden, pulled me to every single sculpture we encountered, demanding names and descriptions of each piece.


We'll be heading back to the Chrysler every chance we get, and not just because I love the museum so much. My boys are already asking if they can go back today (right now, right now, RIGHT NOW, Mommy!) and see everything they missed. And Holden would like to visit that lion again. Just to make sure it's not biting anyone.

I think our visit to the Chrysler was amazing. Having a personal tour was certainly educational and a lot of fun, but I think I learned even more about the art from my children. H&H taught me about the magic of art and turned a fun museum event into an experience that I'll never forget. So, to the Chrysler Museum and each of the more than a dozen local museums participating in the Blue Star program I say, thank you. Your generosity means more than you know to me and to all of our local military families.


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