My family always visited art museums when I was a child. I’m not quite sure why, as we never talked about the art, and I wondered, in secret, what exactly we were supposed to be doing there. When I was about eight years old, I read a book that answered that question: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg. It is the story of two children—a brother and a sister—who run away from home to solve the mystery of a sculpture: was it a long-lost work by Michelangelo? They hide in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, borrowing coins from the fountain to buy food, sleeping in a magnificent bed in a period room, and blending in with school groups. More importantly, the sister Claudia is entranced by the Renaissance sculpture of an angel then on display at the museum, and she is determined to get to the bottom of the question of authorship: is it really a Michelangelo? And, if so, how did it end up in the museum?

On a school trip from suburban New Jersey when I was in second grade, I could take on the role of Claudia, admiring the works of art on display but also wondering: who made this? Why? How did it come to be here? These questions helped me realize from a young age the enormous potential of the experience of a work of art—to fascinate personally but also to open up a window onto the past. All of this activated by the curiosity to know more about what is staring you in the face.

Morna O’Neill (NHC Fellow, 2012–13)