In a previous issue of The Docent Educator, you discussed some tough topics. I would like to share with you what works for us when we deal with our own “tough topic,” partial nudity in an exhibition on the Mississippian Indians.
Our exhibition consists of several objects, including bowls, scrapers, and projectile points, as well as a mural of what Mississippian Indian life might have been like in our area. In the mural, the women and men wear only a “loin cloth.” Children ALWAYS notice that the “women have no tops on” and there are usually quiet giggles and lots of finger pointing.
Our docents do not ignore this or try to stop it … at least they have noticed something! We address the issue by talking about the weather. Our questions begin with a description of the mural. What are the people doing? What are their houses like? What season do you think it is? How are the people dressed?
When we talk about the season, we ask what clues they’ve seen that tell them it’s summer time. They will invariably mention the trees in full flower, the people working on crops, and eventually will mention that “the women have no tops on.”
Finally, the magic sentence! Now we can get to the reasons they have no tops on. We ask the children to consider what summertime is like here in Clarksville, Tennessee. Is it hot? How do you keep cool? Their answers range from swimming pools and air conditioning, to going to malls and movies. Then, we have them look again at the mural and identify ways the Mississippian Indians might have kept cool in the summer, without air conditioning, movies, swimming pools, and so on. The children mention the creek in the painting, shade, and finally the magic words . . . their clothes.
We have had only one problem with a school group at this particular exhibition, and that was before I arrived at the Museum. When we have had religious schools call for tours we mention the mural and let them know that it is part of the tour, but that if they felt it would be inappropriate we could skip it. We have never had a school decide to skip it, but they have said that they were pleased that we brought it to their attention beforehand, so that they were not surprised upon arrival.
If you can use this, please do. I enjoy reading The Docent Educator, as do our docents. Keep up the good work!
Anne Berry, Curator of Education, Clarksville-Montgomery County Museum, Clarksville, TN
Berry, Anne. “It Works for Me…Docents share techniques they find successful.,” The Docent Educator 2.4 (Summer 1993): 15.