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Childrens Art Matters

While the refrigerator is the typical place of honor for a child’s crayon scrawl, Barry Moore ’55, Illinois State University professor emeritus of art, might see it differently.

In the twenty-five years since being appointed curator of the International Collection of Child Art by the Illinois legislature, Moore has examined thousands of such drawings and seen the collection grow to over 8,500 pieces.

Barry Moore

Selected works from the collection have been exhibited in places like the Loyola University Medical Center, the halls of the Nickelodeon network, and the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid. Two exhibits were featured at IUP in the early ’90s. Moore reviews each piece of art that is submitted for the collection, looking at the age and sex of the child artist, the content of the piece, and what area of the world it is from. An important aspect is the personal theme of the piece. “I look for honest work which shows the children’s environment,” he said. “A picture of cowboys and Indians from a kid living in Switzerland is more representative of TV than of the child’s environment.”

Gathering donations from other countries has not always been easy. From the 1970s and into the 1980s, no one seemed to care very much about children's cultural exchanges. None of the artwork Moore collected came from any of his 140 formal diplomatic inquiries. Many times he relied on chance meetings and happy accidents. In 1975 Moore was in Paris for an art education meeting and exhibit. He met the Hong Kong Minister of Art Education, who asked where he could buy some film. Moore wound up trading two rolls of film for the artwork the Minister was carrying under his arm.

A bizarre chain of events permitted a collection to arrive from the Soviet Union during the Cold War, when artwork was normally impossible to get through the Iron Curtain by diplomatic means. In the early ’70s a chunk of metal slammed into the street in Manitowoc, Wis. Suspecting it was a piece of Sputnik, the director of the nearby Rahr Museum kept it in his safe while negotiations ensued between him, U.S. Intelligence, and the Soviets. It ended with the recovered metal’s being traded, at the director’s request, for about 150 pieces of children's artwork from Moscow and Romania. These were donated to the International Collection when the director retired.

Possibly the most difficult obstacle to overcome has been U.S. Customs caution. A graduate student in Iran had assembled an art collection and tried to send it back during the 1979-80 hostage crisis. The plane bounced between Chicago and Tehran at least three times before Moore was able to convince Customs agents that no sensitive secrets were being passed, and he had to go through all 200 pieces in Chicago to attest that there was nothing subversive about the transaction. In another case, nuns from a South American country carried several hundred pictures through Customs under their habits—which were immune to Customs inspection.

Moore received his art education degree from IUP in 1955 and followed that with a short stint in the Army. He said that when he left the service he just wanted to teach high school. “I thought I didn’t have little kids figured out yet.”

Despite his initial reluctance, Moore was soon teaching art to elementary students in Penn Hills. He also found time to add a master’s degree in art supervision and a doctorate in elementary art. Moore credits IUP with developing his approach to child art, citing art department professor Blanche Waugaman Jefferson ’29 as his major influence. Jefferson not only taught Moore at IUP but also at the University of Pittsburgh while he was studying for his doctorate.

Moore retired from university teaching in 1992 after thirty years at Illinois State, but his passion for the unique artwork he collects still keeps his hands full.

“The collection has provided a unique resource for the art profession, used everywhere from Hong Kong to Istanbul,” he said. Pictures of individual pieces have been published in at least two dozen books. He recently applied to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ford Foundation for grants to create a website for displaying the entire collection, located at Illinois State University. Even without grants, he intends to follow through with his vision. Moore’s key motivation is to keep the International Collection of Child Art available to the public, serving as a cultural exchange that may help bring the people of the world just a bit closer together.