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How to Use Museums to Reconnect With Loved Ones, as Seen at the Clark

Relationships are as beautiful and fragile as glass.
Relationships are as beautiful and fragile as glass.

Like a river, connections with loved ones can course, strong and flowing, for years, then one day just dry up to a trickle. Maybe the rain of communication is in drought, or perhaps a dam formed from a build-up of what’s unsaid.

But all you know is that lately, you can’t talk to your friend the way you used to… and it makes you sad.

My "little" brother has been my best friend since 1985!
My “little” brother (6′ 7″ tall) has been my best friend since 1985!

My brother, Dave, and I were going through one of those connection droughts this summer. (Note: I have my brother’s permission to write all this — I promise! He even helped me edit.) Dave has been my best friend since he was born, popping into existence when I was 3.5 years old, and surpassing my 6-foot-tall self by 7 inches in just a decade and a half. Recently, however, our communication got all messed up.

Maybe it was the marked differences in our lives — his single West Coast private school teacher world, versus my married-with-kids East Coast public school educator scene — but our weekly phone conversations turned stilted. What wasn’t being said?

This case of silver in the Clark Museum reflected our caged thoughts.
This case of silver in The Clark reflected our caged thoughts.

In August of this year, Dave hopped a flight east to join our extended family in Western Massachusetts for 5 days.

“Ok,” I thought. “This is my chance to reconnect with my little brother. We’ll go for a walk or something. We’ll talk. We’ll work this out.”

But days went by, and it just didn’t happen. My kids were screaming, or it was raining, or — well, it just didn’t happen. Soon there was only one more day left in the vacation. I panicked.

Delicate and detailed as our feelings.
Delicate and detailed as our feelings.

“Want to check out the famous Clark art museum?” asked my mother. “It’s right near us in Williamstown.”

It was pouring outside, and suddenly I realized, this was it! We could walk and talk without getting drenched. We could figure out what went wrong. I pulled my mother aside and asked: “Can you take Devi so Dave and I can talk alone while we push Jojo through the museum?” My mother kindly agreed.

My favorite ever painting: Renoir's "Onions."
My favorite ever painting: Renoir’s “Onions.”

Arriving at The Clark, Dave and I peeled off (pun intended — get ready) toward Renoir’s “Onions” painting, which I’ve mentioned before is my favorite ever painting. Magic happens upon pairing impressionism with bulbous veggies!

At that moment, I realized the power of museums to reconnect people. I’d been nervous to talk — I mean really TALK — with my beloved brother about what was going on, but standing in front of those jolly onions, we relaxed and started to open up.

Baby Jojo, running through the Clark Museum.
Baby Jojo, running through The Clark.

Why is a museum ideal to re-open communication with a loved one? First, there’s the walking element. When your limbs are moving and your eyes are free to gaze either forward or at the other person, it’s often easier to be honest.

Next, there are conversation starters all around in the form of art. “Hey,” I said, pointing to the painting below, “that woman stole my favorite couch slouch pose!” We laughed, and I got ready to dive into it.

Rossi's "Young Woman Reading" from 1875.
Rossi’s “Young Woman Reading” from 1875.

“Soo…” I began as we entered the elevator to the glass exhibit, “I feel disconnected from you. What is going on in your world?”

“I haven’t wanted to bother you because you’ve been so busy with the kids,” said Dave.

“NO!” I wailed, suddenly realizing what had happened. “Let me make this clear: The best thing you can do to help this stressed double mama is get my mind OFF the diapers by telling me about what’s going on with YOU!”

Rainy window through four layers of glass.
Rainy window through five layers of glass.

“Hmm,” said Dave. “I get that. Ok, well, there’s been a lot of stuff I haven’t told you yet. Here goes… [Censored for the public by Agent Marshall.]

“WHAA?!” I screamed, “I can’t believe you were keeping all that from me!”

“I wasn’t keeping it from you to leave you out,” said Dave. “I just thought it was what you wanted. I thought you needed to focus on what was going on with you.”

“NOOO,” said I. “Please don’t do that again. Honestly, I always want to hear about your life, and I’m sad when I don’t!”

Dave and Jojo with Remington's "Dismounted."
Dave and Jojo with Remington’s “Dismounted.”

My brother smiled and put his arm around me. The rain poured down outside, slapping bright green tree leaves against the windows, but Dave and I were cosy and connected as we trotted around the museum.

Part of travel’s joy is layering personal memories over new spaces. When I look back at these photos of vases and frames, what I actually see are the stories my brother shared with me as we walked through each room. For providing that perfect context to reconnect with my sibling that day, The Clark will always have a special place in my heart.

How to Use Museums to Reconnect With Loved Ones During Travel or In Your Home City. Pictured: Glass at The Clark Art Institute in Western Massachusetts.
Cups of new memories made in this museum.

So what about you? Have you ever had an experience of connecting with someone thanks to a museum’s lovely setting? Have you explored The Clark, or the Berkshires, MA? Do you also enjoy Renoir’s “Onions”? Do share!


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Diana Olsen

Monday 11th of February 2019

Funny thing about connections although it may not be the way you envisioned. While reading this article, I made a full-on, slam on the brakes stop at the stunning photo of bright, shiny silver. Click, click, connect, could it be? You see, my 4th great-grandfather was Christian Wiltberger, known far and wide for his silverwork (he considered our founding fathers among his friends and clients) back in the late 18th century. Sure enough, I did a search on The Clark's website and found a ladle (c.1800) that he crafted that is "on view." I don't see it in your photo but it must be there somewhere. A connection is a connection, right? Thanks much for this!

Lillie Marshall

Tuesday 12th of February 2019

What an incredible coincidence, Diana!!! Thank you for spotting and sharing this connection!

Dave M.

Tuesday 3rd of October 2017

Was great to reconnect with you in such a gorgeous space!

- Your loving brother :)


Saturday 7th of October 2017

Hugs and thanks!


Tuesday 3rd of October 2017

What a lovely personal post. I really like how you utilized a museum visit to reconnect and find your common ground. Wonderful.


Tuesday 3rd of October 2017

I love that you were able to spend time together doing something that you obviously both enjoy and that this allowed you to reconnect. Sometimes doing something - as opposed to sitting down over coffee or dinner - takes the pressure off and conversation comes much more naturally. What a lovely experience - and result!

Colleen Lanin

Monday 2nd of October 2017

I love visiting museums. It's more fun to go "do" something than just meeting for a meal all the time. Sounds like this was just the thing to help you & your brother connect!


Saturday 7th of October 2017


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