Fellows and guiding at the Museum
One of the Winterthur Program’s more interesting, and interactive, opportunities is that each student doubles as a museum tour guide. We are required to guide twelve shifts over the course of our two-year curriculum, with the possibility to do more. We give the introductory house tour to up to ten guests at a time, which allows us to connect to visitors firsthand. As graduate students, it can be easy to wrap ourselves up in our studies and forget to share our knowledge with the outside world. As guides, we learn to communicate our passions to the public in creative and engaging ways. Curators and educators we meet during our travels are always impressed that we have guiding experience. Guides are on the frontlines, seeing how visitors actually respond to the experience that museum professionals have crafted for them. Guiding forces you to think like a visitor, to step out of the ivory tower and onto the ground. If we want to be successful curators, educators, or any other position in this field, we have to remember who our audience is and how to communicate our knowledge effectively.
In addition to this invaluable on-the-ground experience, a hidden benefit of guiding is that we learn so much more about Henry Francis duPont and the Winterthur Museum than we might otherwise. From duPont’s prize-winning dairy herd to the museum’s outstanding fifth floor collections (Paul Revere tankards, a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington, the list goes on), we become experts in the history of the Winterthur estate well as American material culture. Finally, did I mention giving tours is fun? We get to meet people from around the world, share our enthusiasm for objects, and delight in the occasional visitor’s “aha” moment.