Van Gogh and a fox make art more fun

Special to Washington PostJune 5, 2014 

After visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., with his parents when he was 5, Mark Macaluso picked up the book about the exhibit they had seen and asked his dad to tell him about the paintings.

They were all by Vincent van Gogh, a famous artist born in Holland in 1853. Van Gogh’s work is not too kid-friendly, so Mark’s dad, Ted, knew he had to come up with a good story to capture the boy’s imagination.

He invented a tale about a fox that leads young Vincent and his brother, Theo, on a wild chase. The boys want to catch the furry creature. The fox leads them through thick woods, across land and sea, and into the city – scenes shown in the paintings in the book.

Fast-forward 14 years, to the present. Mark is now in college. Ted Macaluso has retired from his government job and decided to revisit that story and share it with other kids. The result is his first book, “Vincent, Theo and the Fox.”

It’s not a long or hard book to read. But the colorful paintings jump off the pages and will give you a lot to think about. The story ends with Vincent wondering what he’ll be when he grows up. In real life, van Gogh tried many jobs, including teaching and being a minister like his father. He didn’t begin painting until his late 20s.

Macaluso includes information on each of the paintings in the book, on van Gogh’s life and on sites where you can see more of his work.

At home in Reston, Va., Macaluso is working on his second book. The challenge, he said, is “having faith that you can find the story and the right paintings” to help tell it. In the second book, due out later this year, a child steps into a painting at an art gallery and wanders into several more while trying to figure out how to return to the real world. It’s a story inspired by the author’s own childhood.

“My mother used to drag us to every museum in New York City,” he said. “I loved it, but I wouldn’t admit it. I’m, like, 8 or 10. Kids aren’t going to tell their parents, ‘This is cool.’”

Not until they grow up, it seems.

Now, Ted Macaluso wants to share the beauty of the art world with all kids. And even if they don’t admit it right away, it’s cool. Very cool.

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