Smart Art

The dilemma of what to do with your child's artwork is a constant struggle. 
Should it stay, or should it go? We argue, both. Encourage their creative side, but also take steps to ensure your home isn't overrun by too much of a good thing.

Amy Baier and Abeer Al Otaiba are co-chairs of the Children's Ball for Children’s National 
Medical Center on April 11. Photograph by Greg Powers. Photograph by Kate Warren. Photograph by Kate Warren. Photograph by Kip Dawkins. Photograph by Kate Warren. The Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, Maryland.

It spills out of backpacks, flutters from folders, and emerges from the rec room: kid art. Bright colors abound. Macaroni is involved, as are beads and imaginatively shaped wood scraps. “What is it?” you ask, thinking the piece your eight-year-old brought home is possibly a turtle. He says, “Duh, Mom. It’s a spaceship, don’t you get it? See the steering wheel I made out of gemelli?” You take your glasses from atop your head and peer at it from another angle, “Oh yes, I see it! Well done!” Now what do you do with it?

Most kid artwork follows a trajectory from the refrigerator door, where it resides in brief glory, to the recycling bin. But some of their artwork is worth saving. The dreamy watercolor of a unicorn, the portrait of you with your hair askew with a coffee mug—the works are adorable, hilarious, or even sometimes just good. You want them in your house.

Interior decorator Kelley Proxmire de-
scribes the emotion children’s art brings 
to a home as “joyful,”which means it cer
tainly deserves a spot for display. “Kids’
artwork has a wonderful energy and zest,”
says interior designer and wardrobe stylist Umbreen Khalidi-Majeed. But where to 
start? With saying goodbye. Goodbye to the 
mildly creepy popsicle-stick people with yarn hair. Adios, macaroni wreath. Save the
ziti necklace or the bracelet made of clay beads heavy as boulders for wearing once a year, on Mother’s Day. Keep hard copies of only the art that speaks to you of your child-
ren’s unique personalities and milestones.

Go through this purging process about every three months, setting aside bins or storage pieces that will help sort and keep dates clearly marked, create a filing system. Don’t beat yourself up for throwing away a good majority of the items; there’s always more where that came from. Proxmire suggests designating a gallery wall for the frame-worthy pieces. “I once worked with a family whose framed children’s art was front and center in the foyer as you entered the home,” she explains. “It helped set the tone for the decor, and the child artists were naturally delighted and very proud of their work.” Don’t overlook your kids’ rooms as places to hang their art; a playroom wall will also do the trick. Just make sure that if the chosen wall gets lots of sunlight, UV glass is used in the framing process; sunshine fades construction paper fast. 

As for the hanging arrangement, take your time and really plan it out, says Annapolis-based printmaker and framer Sherry Sherwood. “Mock up a layout on the floor. You are in no way ready for a hammer and nails yet.” She emphasizes thinking about setting a mood or a tone; collages of small pieces within a single frame, for example. Khalidi-Majeed and Proxmire both suggest identifying an “anchor” statement piece and building upon it. 

Privileging kids’ works with space in the house is a win-win. It feeds their self-esteem, they know you value their immense creativity, and—let Sotheby’s weep—you get cheap art that feels very modern and of the moment. After all, modern art is most often what children’s art is compared to, and every day, like an avid collector, you get more.

Artful Ideas

• Use cream-colored frames and white mats for display. 
Let the work speak for itself. 

• For a more casual look, forgo frames and mats altogether and opt for simple clips and wire; Ikea makes good ones. 

• Try magnetic paint, then hang artwork with cute, colorful magnets

• Cover a corkboard or a foam board with decor-compatible fabric and use push pins to display the artwork.

• Swap out the art every six months and get inspiration from how museums curate their works, based on colors (your son’s “Rose Period”), or ages (your daughter’s “Early Years”), or time period (“The Holiday Show”).

Digitize It

Still too nervous to throw anything away? There are apps that specialize in storing kids’ artwork online, either via photographing or scanning the items. 
Check out Canvasly, 
Art My Kid Made, 
Kid Pix, and Artkive.