ROCKLAND, Maine — The wide-eyed youngsters at the Farnsworth Art Museum’s “Share the Wonder” exhibit Saturday were best advised to do as Fred Cullen said, not as he did.
Cullen, a Rockland man who has worked as a guard at the Farnsworth for five years, used something that looked like a chalkboard eraser to clean the twin rails around the museum’s Christmas exhibit, which opened Saturday and will run through Jan. 2. As Cullen cleaned, he kept an eye on several kids ogling the trains and ornate Christmas village in the middle. Inevitably, one of the children would reach out to a passing train, a tiny Christmas tree or one of the decked-out homes in the sprawling exhibit.
“Don’t touch,” said Cullen when he saw a little hand going a little too far, using a tone firm enough to be serious and a smile warm enough to be friendly.
Cullen said he had seen 1,000 or more children pass through the exhibit — most of them all at once at about 11 a.m.
“It’s been a very good day,” said Cullen.
Anthony Pedatella, 5, of New Jersey, visited the exhibit with his grandmother. He circled it numerous times, pointing out new details as he went: a truck with firewood in the back, a boy skateboarding, a pirate in a lobster boat, Santa Claus.
“Look, Nana, look!” was Anthony’s refrain of the day.
But the trains impressed older eyes, too. Gerry and Helene Maraghy of Brunswick rode a passenger train to Rockland to spend the day before returning home at about 4 p.m.
“We’re just getting into the spirit a little early,” said Jerry.
“It’s better now than it was four weeks ago,” said Helene. “Seeing all the little kids here really adds to the fun of it.”
According to museum spokesman David Troup, this marks the sixth time the museum has opened its doors for Rockland’s annual Festival of Lights. Though the museum regularly opens its doors at no cost to the public, Troup said, the “Share the Wonder” exhibit has marked the institution’s busiest day of the year, usually pulling in more than 1,200 visitors in the course of a few hours. In addition to the trains and Christmas village, local artists have designed Christmas trees, which adorn several of the building’s galleries.
Troup said a major benefit of the event is that it pulls people into the museum who otherwise might never see it. Particularly rewarding for museum staff is when they see young children marveling over the contemporary art on display, including a slew of paintings from Maine’s famed Wyeth family of artists.
“It’s amazing to see their faces just light up,” said Troup.
For information about the “Share the Wonder” exhibit or the Farnsworth, call 596-6457 or visit the museum’s website at www.farnsworthmuseum.org.