As part of the Des Moines Art Center’s new My Museum Monday program, each month an Art Center member is invited to spend time in the museum when the building is normally closed to the public. We received dozens of applications to take part in this experience and are excited to begin sharing them with you.

When Mary Ellen first heard about the My Museum Monday program, she was eager to participate and came up with a plethora of ideas. As an artist herself, she wanted to use this opportunity to bring her imagination to life, and that’s exactly what she did. Having always been drawn to the dark and lonely themes present in Edward Hopper’s work, she dressed up as the woman in Automat (1927), on display at the Art Center.

She studied the work in great detail in preparation for her experience. Angela Lampe from the Des Moines Community Playhouse helped design her outfit to match that of the painting, transforming Mary Ellen from artist to art. Mary Ellen also thought about the woman’s story. Automat shows a woman sitting by herself, drinking what is presumably coffee in a diner at night. It was uncommon for a woman to be out and alone at the time, Mary Ellen noted, and she wondered if the woman was waiting for someone, if she was just by herself, and if she was lonesome. Dressing up as the character allowed Mary Ellen to think more deeply about the art, examining smaller details like the woman’s glove or the fruits painted over her shoulder.

Afterwards, she went on to explore the galleries, looking for paintings that featured other women. As an artwork-come-to-life herself, she pretended as though she was talking to these women, wondering what these conversations would be like. Mary Ellen said that this was a fun experience as it forced her to revisit the Art Center and its works through a whole new light. This time around, she felt she could actually identify with the paintings instead of just viewing them from a more distant and historical lens.

Mary Ellen has been a member at the Art Center since 1968, and even before then visited to take classes and view art. Still today, she continually takes classes, attends member group events, and supports the museum. As a student, an artist, a patron, and a friend, the Art Center fulfills all her needs with the breadth and depth of experiences that are offered here. As always, we thank Mary Ellen for her involvement with the museum and are grateful to be able to provide these opportunities for our community.