Flashlights light up a marble copy of Laocon and His Sons.
George Roush, 14, Whitehouse, views a painted and gilded fiberglass scupture by Indian artist Ravinder Reddy.
There’s nothing like the sound of laughter to make darkness visible – laughter and a phalanx of flashlight beams slicing through the shadows.
Couple that nocturnal illumination with a location that should, by all rights, be off limits this time of day, and you find the appeal of the Toledo Museum of Art’s semi-annual flashlight tours.
On a recent Friday night, 100 people as young as 8 gathered in the main lobby just as the complex would normally be closing, for one of four tours scheduled this month.
Docents promised that people would see the museum as they’d never seen it before -- and indeed they would. Paintings leapt from walls, then melted back again once the light was gone. Stone statues, sensuous by day, became creepy, twisting figures. The religious reverence of The Cloister took on the haunted tone of a crypt.
“This is the best adventure in the world,” a middle-aged woman whispered to her friend as five 20-person groups dispersed through the Impressionist gallery and other rooms. Participants were armed with a surprising array of light sources, from basic handheld cylinders to green and orange glow sticks. One woman even wore a cap with tiny LED lights strung along the bill.
As the tour groups moved through the darkened museum, their heels clicking on polished marble floors, the docents alternately lightened and darkened the mood. “That’s the ugliest baby in the world and also the ugliest dog in the world,” quipped guide John Duvall of figures in side by side oil paintings.
Later, he took pains to park his group before an over-sized painting of King Herod being presented with the severed head of John the Baptist by Salome. Before tonight, one might never have noticed just how many heads without torsos are depicted in the museum’s collection.
There’s mention of a former museum curator who died in the 1970s, and paintings mysteriously removed from walls in the midnight hour and placed on the floor. And just what would a night at the museum be without the news of purported ghostly visits from a long-dead night watchman?
The museum of art runs flashlight tours in February (Valentine’s Day is the impetus) and again come October. Halloween ads an extra kick to traipsing through a building where even whispers bounce off unseen objects and walls.
A tour group explores The Cloister, during a flashlight tour.
“This is pretty awesome,” said George Roush, 14, of Whitehouse, as he stood before an Egyptian sarcophagus and studied it with his flashlight. “I’ve never been on a guided tour before, and you feel more like you’re in Egypt or Rome than when the lights are out.”
“The great thing about this whole tour is that, when the lights are on your see everything and I think you’re overwhelmed,” said Gwen Smith of Whitehouse, who arrived with a group of 23 Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and friends. “With a flashlight, you’re really focusing on one piece and not distracted by the other stuff in the room. You can really concentrate.”
Although she works on in the museum’s Glass Pavillion, this was her first night time tour. “I tried to come last year and they were sold out,” she said.
Docent John Duvall stands in front of Apollo, by Henri Matisse, as he prepares to take visitors on a flashlight tour.
Docent Tom Isley recalled taking his first flashlight tour several years ago. He returned this night to lead one of the outings.
“When my wife and I (took the tour) four or five years ago, it sounded like something neat to do: see the museum after dark,” he recalled. “It was a great experience, particularly seeing the marble sculptures. They look totally different at night, because they tend to glow.”
One man’s glow, of course, is another man’s ghoulish delight.
If you go
The Toledo Museum of Art will conduct flashlight tours at 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Participants must bring their own flashlight. Tickets are $5 for members, $10 for nonmembers. Purchase tickets in advance during Museum hours at the information desks or by calling 419-255-8000 ext. 7448. Participants meet in Herrick Lobby.
Mike Pearson is the Blade Features Editor. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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