Michelangelo's Cleopatra

Last weekend, J and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit of Michelangelo’s drawings and to wander the museum’s Art of the Americas wing. As we passed from the “old” to “new” wings of the MFA, we passed through the Shapiro Family Courtyard, where we saw hundreds of hand-sewn flags made by quilters around the world in response to the Boston Marathon bombings: a cheery installation aptly named “To Boston With Love.”

Shapiro Family Courtyard with quilt squares

It’s funny how the Shapiro Family Courtyard has evolved over the years since the “new” wing of the MFA opened in 2010. At first, the courtyard seemed like a looming and cold expanse–an empty and impersonal space to be endured as you passed from one half of the museum to the other–but then the addition of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in 2011 gave the space both focus and warmth, like planting a big, towering tree in your backyard to liven up the space.

Lime Green Icicle Tower with quilt squares

The Shapiro Courtyard has come to feel like a backyard–Boston’s backyard–with a constant stream of patrons dining at the New American Cafe and an ever-shifting array of temporary exhibits brightening it. The hand-sewn squares of “To Boston With Love” underscore this homey feel, looking like laundry hung to dry between high-rise tenement apartments or colorful Tibetan prayer flags flapping in a lively Himalayan village.

To Boston with Love

Although I would have never dreamed of crisscrossing the Shapiro Family Courtyard with either laundry or prayer flags, the result is aesthetically delightful, creating a simultaneously cozy and cosmopolitan space where both neighbors and nations can congregate and find community.

Shapiro Family Courtyard

In addition to the handiwork of “To Boston With Love,” J and I saw three visiting masterpieces from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Northeaster” by Winslow Homer; “Lachrymae” by Frederic, Lord Leighton; and “The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil” by Edouard Manet.

Visiting masterpieces:  Homer, Leighton, Manet

Like the humble, hand-sewn flags of “To Boston With Love,” these three paintings were send to the MFA as a goodwill offering in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings. A tribute from the people of New York to the people of Boston, these three paintings were handpicked to either complement Boston’s permanent collection (Homer, Manet) or speak to the mood of grief that hung over the city in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy (Leighton).

Homer and Leighton

Visiting a museum is one way of figuring out your place in the world: given the creative endeavors of the ages, what contribution might you add, here and now? When quilters and museum curators heard of the Boston Marathon bombings, they had the automatic human response, wondering “What can I do to help,” and the automatic answer to this question, it turns out, is “Send what’s close to hand.”

The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, by Edouard Manet

Museums are a great civic asset: not merely receptacles of tangible treasures, but places to see and be seen as you mingle with other museum-goers from near and far. Individually, few of us can afford to own a priceless masterpiece; collectively, though, we share a space where that wealth is openly enjoyed.

Admiring Michelangelo

Both the Metropolitan Museum and quilters from around the world shared their treasures with Boston during her darkest hour, and I for one would like to return the compliment by sending warm greetings and gratitude from Boston, with love.

Quilt squares for Boston

The drawings of Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane will be on exhibit through June 30, and both “To Boston With Love” and the three visiting masterpieces from the Met will remain on view through July 7. If you can’t make it to Boston, click here to view my photos from last weekend’s visit to the MFA: enjoy!