This evening, I will attend the first official function for new docents-in-training at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I am about to become a volunteer tour guide for our state museum, one that just hosted the largest exhibit of Picasso works seen in the United States in years. I am so very excited about this step on a potential journey to….some place I don’t know yet.
I love going to school. I love learning, I love the process, and I love intellectual discussion. It’s been 15 years since I got my graduate degree in speech pathology, and I have been itching to go back to school for a long, long time. I don’t want to study speech pathology though, and I don’t want to get a PhD in a health-related field. I want to go back and do what I originally wanted to do before I got sidetracked by “good career potential” and other aspects of my chosen work. Truth is, I love to teach people, and as a therapist, I do get that opportunity every day in one way or another. But my real passion lies in art and history. It’s only taken me, oh, 25 or so years to finally figure that out and own it. One would think that would be a simple matter, right? Go get a degree in history or art and embark on a new career.
History is not a particularly revenue-generating field at the moment. Neither is art.
But as the saying goes, ‘Life is short’, and I might actually be in a position to do something with the passions that have been peripheral for the past 20 years. I make jewelry. I adore working with my hands, and producing works of art that people want to own and wear. But whenever people stop by my booth at an art show or a market, I find myself teaching about the origins of lampworking and how techniques haven’t changed in hundreds of years — only the equipment has. I talk about my design inspiration and how lower-class Romans used glass to imitate the precious jewels worn by the ruling classes. I talk about Viking women and their strands of glass beads, of hoards of jewelry found in England, and about the development of glassblowing and production-line work in the first few centuries of recorded history. I teach people that Murano is not the only source of glass or glassworking in the history of the world.
THAT just stokes my fires. (Ha!)
It has gotten to the point that just chatting people up at an art show isn’t enough. I do participate in a medieval living history group, but even that isn’t enough to satisfy the desire to educate people about these aspects of the world’s rich cultural history. I have spent a decent amount of time perusing the Master’s degree offerings at Virginia Commonwealth University. For a while, I thought I wanted to train to be an art teacher. It’s my deep love for museums, though, that keeps bringing me back to the Art History pages, where there is a concentration in Museum Education. But how can I get there, lacking an initial degree in Art History? Especially with my husband working on his bachelor’s, and me with three kids, one of whom is not yet school-age, returning to a rigorous graduate program is not feasible right now.
I patronize our state museum frequently, and I knew they used tour guides, so when the application process opened earlier this year, I eagerly applied. After one LONG written application and an in-person interview, I was accepted to train for the next year to become a VMFA docent. While I have been creative all my life, and have done many things that were outside my career field, this is probably the first “job” I have applied for and gotten (aside from being a Girl Scout leader) that has nothing to do with my being a speech therapist. It’s beyond thrilling!
So, tonight I start out on a journey in which I am not sure of the destination. Will the yearlong training program satisfy my yearning to go back to school? Will conducting tours of the museum’s fantastic exhibits satisfy my desire to teach and excite people about our cultural history? Will I end up at the local community college next summer, taking prerequisite classes and studying for the GRE? I don’t know. I’m going to find out, though, and I am so excited.