Wednesday, July 8, 2009

I Spy...

This afternoon I led a tour of the J2WH quilt for a group of children ranging in age from elementary through early high school as well as their adult chaperones. Groups such as these always present a challenge as it is difficult to teach to people of such a wide age range and keep them engaged. One of the tricks I have discovered throughout my brief time (5 years) as a museum educator is that when you incorporate play into your teaching everyone wants to participate.

Dr. Gaither's works lend themselves easily to several different types of play, but the game I always enjoy playing most is I Spy. As I spoke with the students about the quilt, I decided to play I Spy with them to see how quickly they could discover some of the many interesting symbols included in the quilt on their own. This was also my way of helping to teach about some of the symbols and not make it too "lecture-like" and boring. As I went through the quilt playing I Spy, all of the students were able to find the images faster than I thought and as soon as they solved one puzzle they were on to the next. In turn, they started playing I Spy with me, although they didn't realize they were doing so. As we played and they studied the quilt looking for what I was asking them to find, they would discover images and objects on the quilt they wanted to know about. When they would ask me about them, they would end up engaging me in a game of I Spy to hunt down what they were talking about. This interaction made the quilt more interesting for the students as well as myself.

I strongly encourage you to try playing I Spy the next time you go to a museum. Whether you have children with you, children at heart, or adults, I Spy is a great way to move through a museum whether it be an art museum, history, science, or any other type. You begin to look at objects in a new way. People looking for the object you have challenged them to find may point out other objects that are similar or cause you to look at them in a new light because they are not coming from the same point of view as you are. When people challenge you to find an object, you are able to see things through their eyes and look at images and objects in a way you would have never done on your own. Using today's tour as an example, one of the children asked me today about the bird with the gold beak in the one of the corners of the quilt. It took four other children helping me to find the object before I realized they were pointing to one of the angels in the corner. I Spy reveals new perspectives all the time and makes looking at the world an ever-changing experience. If nothing else, it certainly makes for a more entertaining museum visit.

One of the most frequent comments I make and have people make to me is that no matter how many times they see Dr. Gaither's works, they can never see it all. Besides today's game of I Spy, I have encountered other situations like this where I have simply had people ask me questions about images on the quilt only to come to the realization that I hadn't even realized something was on there. When I relayed a story about such a situation with one of the squares to Dr. Gaither earlier this week, she seemed genuinely surprised. Well, "seemed" doesn't exactly fit her reaction. The shocked expression on her face and the startled amusement in her voice as she exclaimed "Genevieve!" more accurately describes the reaction. I have looked at this quilt almost every day since it went on display, seen it several times while it was in process, and heard Dr. Gaither talk about the quilt sometimes going square by square and yet I still find myself playing I Spy with it. I will admit there is a square on the quilt that until a friend of my pointed it out to me about a month ago I didn't even realize was on the quilt.

This constant game of I Spy proves to me that no matter how well you may think you know something, there is always more to see and learn. It all depends upon how you play the game. Take a moment one day and look at the world from a different angle. See how your perspective changes if you alter one thing. In the case of an artwork or a picture you have seen several times, try looking at it standing closer up. Try sitting down and looking at it. Look at it with someone else and talk about it.

Be bold and try this in your everyday life. I am always amazed at how little I see when I drive somewhere as opposed to when I am along for the ride. Try walking somewhere rather than driving. See what all you have missed. You will be amazed how quickly a little game of I Spy can inspire you and encourage you to look at the world in a new light.

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