Many studies and papers have been written about how arts education helps students become more successful. In fact, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities suggests that child arts education can result in better academic performance and social engagement over a long term period, perhaps with life-long benefits. As the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator, one of my main duties this fall is to make sure that all public, private, home school and post-secondary students have an opportunity to experience art, especially in our feature exhibition, The Horse in Ancient Greek Art.

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Attributed to the Sappho Painter [Cahn], Greek (Attic), Black-Figure White Ground Lekythos, ca. 510 BCE, Quadriga chariot horses being harnessed, terracotta, Private Collection.
It can be difficult for students to relate an ancient vase to their every day lives. Some of these objects spent hundreds of years underground, and the people who made them aren’t on SnapChat. But I have discovered some human connections between modern Americans and ancient Greeks that the students have really enjoyed.

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Attributed to the Workshop of Hermogenes [Heesen], Greek (Attic) Band Cup, ca. 540 BCE, Achilles, Troilus on horseback, and Polyxena, terracotta, Private Collection.
1. They drank out of bowls. The variety of vase shapes used in ancient times can be overwhelming at first. How could each be used differently? And why didn’t Ancient Greeks drink out of cups like normal people? They actually drank out of shallow bowls called kylikes. Drinking out of a kylix sounds strange at first, but just about every kid eats breakfast cereal and then slurps the leftover milk straight from the bowl.

2. They spruced up on the go. Ancient Greeks did not have silky bubble baths and showers like we think of today, instead they used oil to clean off a sweaty body after exercising at the gymnasium. Not many middle school students roam the halls with an arybollos of perfume or oil tied to their belt, but they understand needing deodorant or body spray after gym class. At least, we hope they do.

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Greek (Corinth), Stater, ca. 340 BCE, Obv: Pegasos, silver, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Fund (63.13.3)

3. They are inspired by impossible, magical things. Some of the most engaging pieces of art in the exhibition are those that show mythological creatures. There’s something inherently heroic about a gleaming silver pegasos, something curious and powerful about a centaur crouched, ready to leap across the lip of a bowl. Amid historic recounts of Greco-Prussian wars or horse races, the mythological figures hold a child’s gaze the longest. Children understand the draw of fantastic dishware. ‘I have Power Rangers spoons’ says one student, ‘I have a Minions cup’, ‘I have a whole Frozen tea-party set’, they can relate to these characters.

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Students practice making connections across history.

What is so special about their character dishes at home? On the last tour, one little girl recounted a story about how her favorite fictional character came to be. She paused, struggling to convey what it is about the supernatural, mythical, magical world that pulls her in so.

“I just love it”, she sighed. She was telling me about her favorite cup at home, but her eyes are still glued to the pegasos. 


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Anne Marie Barnes is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail

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