Sunday, August 25, 2013

NC Museum of Art's Cloud Chamber Visit and Hike

Check out this wonderful post from blogger Kat Benson about a very special and hidden stop at the NC Museum of Art.  I can't wait to check this one out!

What it is: The NC Museum of Art is a lovely place for visiting with older children - the collection is huge and the variety of works is amazing. But the best part, in my opinion, is the park. At 160 acres, it is a great place to picnic, bike, and play, as you give your kids exposure to art without having to worry about them knocking over a fancy sculpture. Yesterday, my family and some friends got to experience a true hidden treasure of the park - The Cloud Chamber. Shaped like a small Hobbit house, it is tucked away in the woods beyond the forest with chairs magically placed in the trees. If that sounds fantastical to you, it is! 

When you walk in the small wooden door, it seems to merely be a damp little round hut with several benches around the walls. But close the door behind you and you’ll see the small pinhole in the ceiling above you beam a shaft of light down on the floor, revealing a camera obscura effect that in essence projects the view of the outside above you down on the floor. A broom is left in the hut so you can sweep the floor for a more clear view. The principle of a camera obscura device or room, where an outside image is reflected into the inside, is as old as Aristotle and is one of the inventions that led to photography and the moving image. The kids (and adults alike) were mystified by the concept in practice and loved watching the overhead scene in the quiet, darkened house. In the winter, the scene would be more distinct with the naked branches. (You can see how enchanting the forest with snow would be at the museum’s flickr photo stream here: If you sit long enough, you might see the shadows of butterflies and birds flying just above your heads, through the roof, with the moss and plants that grow above it. After we were done watching, the kids had fun running inside and out, dancing, sweeping and playing house. Afterwards we walked the trails back to the museum. 

What we like: This is a great way to get exercise outdoors with your family, as you surprise them with something truly magical. You could even make your own pinhole miniature camera obscura at home afterwards! (Did we mention that the park is free?)

What we would change: It’s hard to change this, as it is a permanent outdoor art installation. Part of what makes it special is that it takes some effort to get to and that it’s hidden away. However, the walk is a bit far for little legs and should be attempted when everyone has the energy to do it. Expect to spend a good part of the day enjoying the scenery and walking to and from there, including stops to rest and have snack. I would advise a sturdy jogging stroller if you have little ones who are inconsistent with their desire to walk long distances. In hot weather (like we had on our hike) be sure to fill up your water bottles before. Don’t forget to use the bathrooms inside before you leave - there are none in the large park itself.

How to get there: You can see on the map the path I’d advise taking. I would start by going from the parking lot to the main entrance and walking down the paved trail past the amphitheater. It’s a nice downhill slope that goes past the lake and has a bench. Then head straight into a small wooded area that has chairs hidden in the tall trees. It’s a really neat instillation called “Forest of the Chairs” by Tom Shields and it seems as though the trees have grown around chairs and even tables of various sizes - really neat sight. Pass through there and you’ll end up where two paved trails meet. You’ve got a really nice view of the three large circles (“Gayre” by Thomas Sayre) from there, perfect photo op time. Then continue down to the intersection with the unpaved trail, marked by what looks like a giant brown corn cob standing on end (that’s “Crossroads/Trickster I” by Martha Jackson-Jarvis made of shattered Italian tiles and bricks). Turn left onto the unpaved trail and look for a smaller little foot trail entrance on your right. For some reason, it’s unmarked. Walk up there and you can’t miss the cloud chamber on your left. After you’re done, follow the trail up into the woods and you’ll also get to see “Untitled” by Ledelle Moe, which looks like a giant human curled up into a ball. You’ll eventually meet back up with the paved blue loop - look for the nearby drinking fountain if you need it. Take a right onto the blue loop, which will join up with the capital area greenway at a large storage building. This leads you back to the parking lot. However, we like going back down to the museum entrance, where we let the kids play in the many fountains rising up from the gravel. They get refreshed after a long hike and we get to rest!

More from the NCMA website:

“Cloud Chamber for the Trees and Sky” by Chris Drury 
“This shelter operates as an oversized camera obscura or a pinhole camera. A small aperture in the roof projects an inverted image of the sky onto the floor of the chamber, an effect that seems to pull the sky down to the viewer. Inside, one’s perspective is turned upside down. Instead of looking up at the sky, trees, or clouds, one looks down on them from above.”
How to make your own camera obscura: 
Courtesy of Edinburgh, Scotland’s renowned camera obscura attraction:


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