We’re the People in the Rooms

Halfway through our summer at the Art Institute! It’s going by pretty quickly. Now that we’re giving our own student, family, and adult tours, a typical day-in-the-life-of-Kat looks something like this:

5:45 a.m. – Begin hilarious struggle to get out of bed
6:50 a.m. – Walk to the train like my life depends on it
8:20 a.m. – Arrive downtown, almost get trampled by mob, grab iced coffee
8:30 a.m. – Swept by sweaty crowd of muttering humans to Michigan Avenue
9:00 a.m. – Dramatic arrival at the Modern Wing; everyone prepares for the day
10:15 am. – Meet incoming student groups in Ryan Education Center; tell myself that the Art Institute is Hogwarts and I am Dumbledore and Moses is Professor McGonagall
10:30 a.m. – Student tours begin
10:33 a.m. – The children say something incredible; faith in humanity is restored
11:30 a.m. – Studio begins and we lead a one-hour collage project for the students
12:30 p.m. – Moses and I tell each other what a good job we did, to boost team morale
12:31 p.m. – Lunch break / caffeination station
1:30 p.m. – Book and online research for next student, family, or adult tour in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries or the docent room; convene with team; everyone talks about how much we like the library; Carey imitates Sarah Palin; Kendall talks about how much she loves brunch; we all make plans to go to a Cubs game
3:00 p.m. – Museum Practices Seminar (meeting with a curator, educator, or other AIC employee)
4:30 p.m. – More research and preparation
5:00 p.m. – Leave for train
5:25 p.m. – Man beating metal drums outside the station yells “AMERICA!”, “MIAMI!”, or “HEY RED-HAIRED GIRL!”
5:35 p.m. – Stranger sits next to me for an hour on the train
7:00 p.m. – Arrive at apartment; roommate makes hardboiled eggs and asks about my day; we refuse to turn on the A/C because it costs dollars
7:15 p.m. – Stare inside the fridge and try not to fall asleep
8:00 p.m. – Research and prepare, answer emails, pack lunch for the next day
9:30 p.m. – Bed.

What we do at work varies from day to day, though — for instance, I led an adult tour on Monday instead of a student tour, and yesterday Moses and I spent eight hours researching because we had a brand new tour to give today. Conducting a new tour means tracking down and memorizing information about six artworks, as well as preparing a lesson plan for each one with clear goals for the target age group.

Armor for Man and Horse, Photo by Daniel DeCristo

Armor for Man and Horse
Photo by Daniel DeCristo

I honestly love doing the research. It’s creative, diverse work and it gets me excited about the world. This week, I had the opportunity to read up on two of the Art Institute’s most popular exhibitions: the George F. Harding Collection and the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Visitors of all ages love looking at the arms and armor that Harding collected, and Moses and I chose to open today’s tour with Armor for Man and Horse in the Maximilian Style. I was grateful that we chose that particular piece, because the kids made a beeline for it as soon as we got up the stairs! Our tour theme was “Quest,” and the students (2nd and 3rd graders) were excited to share what they knew about knights and heroes. They knew that the figure was holding a lance, and they drew comparisons to other experiences in their lives (“I saw that at Medieval Times!”, “Is it a quest when I tie my shoe?”). One of them asked if he could try the armor on, and when I told him that he unfortunately could not, we imagined what it would be like to wear something so heavy and warm. We talked about the way in which George F. Harding’s life was also a quest: he had an airplane custom-built in the 1920’s so he could travel the world looking for weapons and armor, and his house overflowed with pieces so quickly that he built a two-story castle-like addition next to his home in order to create more space.

Thorne Miniature Rooms:  English Drawing Room of the Georgian period, 1770-1800

Thorne Miniature Rooms
English Drawing Room of the Georgian period, 1770-1800

The Thorne Miniature Rooms were last on the agenda for today’s tour. Anyone who visited the rooms as a child will understand how fun it was for me to present these works to six children who had never seen them before. They were in awe. The miniatures look so different from a child’s point of view — I remember seeing the rooms for the first time as a little girl, standing on tiptoe to peer into the glass. The exhibit itself seems so large, with an endless number of rooms to choose from, and each tiny room holds an expansive game of “I Spy.” There are signs of life throughout the rooms: books laid open, discarded teacups. Peering into one of the displays feels liberating, like a scene has been set for you to direct with your imagination.

Thorne Miniature Rooms: English Roman Catholic Church in the Gothic Style, 1275-1300

Thorne Miniature Rooms
English Roman Catholic Church in the Gothic Style, 1275-1300

For the conclusion of the Quest tour, the students pored over the miniature rooms and decided which room they would like to return home to at the end of their imaginary journey. One little girl picked the same one I would have picked: “I like this one. It’s full of books!”

A little boy pointed at a Gothic church and said quietly, “I want to live here.”

At one point, when the students observed that there weren’t any miniature people in the miniature rooms, I asked them why they thought that was.

“Because we’re the people!” said one boy, climbing up to look at the next window. “We’re the people in the rooms.”

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