Weekender: Take a (Gallery) Road Trip Through the Manetti Shrem Museum

road trip packs
Plastic fanny packs for the Gallery Road Trip hang invitingly in the lobby of the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum. (Leigh Houck/UC Davis.)

Because of the Labor Day Weekend, we are running a Weekender piece earlier in the week than usual. We will also run an arts summary in Weekender 2 on the usual Thursday publication day.

This story is compiled and written by Leigh Houck, UC Davis News and Media Relations Intern. She takes us on a journey.

Museum offers interactive tour through Sunday

Labor Day weekend is one of the busiest travel periods of the year. But if you want to take a road trip without the traffic, stop by the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art on the UC Davis campus. The Gallery Road Trip invites visitors to interact with the art in brand new ways. 

At a Glance

The Gallery Road Trip is free and open to everyone. Don’t get stuck in traffic. This museum attraction will only be available  through Sept. 1. 


Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–5 p.m.

Closed Monday

Museum Educator Carmel Dor created the Gallery Road Trip with their team, modeling it after similar art gallery activities. The activity complements the exhibitions currently on view — both Kathy Butterly’s ColorForm and Landscape Without Boundaries: Selections from the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art.

“The goal of the activity is to get visitors to walk around the gallery, connect, and spark exciting conversations about the artworks on view,” said Dor.

So how do you take a road trip? All you have to do is grab a transparent fanny pack full of activities from the museum lobby. Student employees in their tie-dyed coats, their signature uniforms, are standing by to help. I picked up a pack recently and took a drive.  

The Gallery Road Trip involves three different activities: fine art fortune teller, animal sanctuary, and travel tokens. 

colored discs
Candy-colored discs give the road trip warrior prompts for the next task.

Fine art fortune teller

This is a paper fortune teller, origami, or “cootie catcher” with different descriptive words on each top flap. Just pick one word and spell this first word out loud — opening and closing the fortune teller for each letter. Whichever word you land on is your second word. My words were “warm” and “3-D.” Now, my task was to find a piece of art matching this description. I chose “The Palace at 9 a.m.,” which is a bright, glazed earthenware piece by the late Robert Arneson, a member of the first-generation faculty at UC Davis. It was definitely three-dimensional, spanning several feet in width and height, and “warm,” I decided, because the sprawling sculpture depicts Arneson’s former family home in Davis. 

Animal sanctuary

The animal sanctuary activity appeals to any child, or in my case, my inner child, with a kindergarten classic: finger puppets. My fanny pack contained three: an elephant, a dog and a dragon. The prompt in the pack invites you to “choose a finger puppet and find an artwork you think the animal would be happy to live in.” I picked the dragon, and imagined him moving into his new home, an untitled mixed media on wood piece by Maija Peeples-Bright. To me, the art’s bright colors and abstract curving shapes look like dragons in a Chinese New Year parade. The finger puppet fit right in. 

I found the dog finger puppet his furever home in an untitled graphite, crayon, and tempera on Masonite piece by Maurine (Fay) Morse Nelson. The piece depicts two canines on a rocky path, in front of a background of leafy fronds. As dogs are pack animals, I decided he would be happy with his canine friends in this artwork. 

Travel tokens

These are a set of candy-colored discs on a ring, each one printed with a prompt. The instructions invite you to “set off on your great gallery adventure and find artwork to match the statements on the Travel Token.” For example, one disc invites you to find artwork that matches your outfit, while another invites you to find artwork that looks like the inside of your brain. I decided my brain looked like Jeremy Anderson’s “Map #7.” Two roads veer off the map; one arrow points to “Somewhere” and the other points to “Nowhere.”

finger puppet and art
The animal sanctuary activity, part of the Gallery Road Trip, provides guests three finger puppets and invites them to “choose a finger puppet and find an artwork you think the animal would be happy to live in.”

Yet another disc invites you to find artwork that makes you feel cold.

I felt cold when I looked at Joan Brown’s graphite-on-paper sketch “Buffalo in Golden Gate Park” depicting a lone buffalo under a tree. The style was spare and minimalist, with no color. When I read the work’s description on the wall, I realized a possible reason I felt cold: “...her mournful Buffalo can be read as an emotive commentary on the oppression of Native Americans.”

I was immediately drawn to “Metal Mirror” by Robert Hudson to fulfill yet another disc’s invitation to find “artwork that seems out of this world.” The large, three-dimensional piece is made of what appears to be a wood stand, a bird toy, and a painted saw blade. I imagined this to be the perch of a surreal, larger-than-life bird. 

Finally, my favorite disc invites you to find artwork that reminds you of home. I immediately felt a connection to Professor Emeritus Wayne Thiebaud’s oil-on-canvas “Brown River, 2002.” At first I couldn’t figure out why. Its colorful plains and farmlands, segmented by a wide river, have nothing to do with my beach town upbringing. But then it hit me: the painting feels like Davis to me. Over my three years here as a student, Davis has become home. 

Don’t let the summer end without a road trip, even a somewhat virtual one. Do yourself a favor and don’t just walk through the museum — buckle on a fanny pack and take a road trip through the art while you still can. 

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