When you think of a gallery, you might think of a white, airy space blanketed with a reverent hush fractured only by the sounds of echoing footsteps and muttered musings. However, ask a Bard Graduate Center gallery educator, and you will soon find that the gallery can be an exciting, bustling, life-filled space through which a vast spectrum of humanity passes, each person leaving their mark as they do. These are the characteristics of a gallery that draw me into the world of museums; the opportunities they create to inform, entertain, and inspire. It is no surprise, therefore, that I leapt at the chance to become a gallery educator in my first semester at BGC, and the experience has proven more rewarding than I could have thought.

If you were lucky enough to visit the Bard Graduate Center’s most recent exhibition, Threads of Power: Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen, you can imagine what a joy it was to immerse myself in the world of lacemaking for three months. I immediately felt part of a collaborative and supportive team of my peers, led by our mentors Andrew Kircher, director of Public Humanities + Research at BGC, and mary adeogun (MA ’22), lead gallery educator, which made deep-diving into the questions and narratives of the exhibition all the more exciting.

We began our journey of unpicking the complex, tangled knots of this exhibition by approaching each floor of the gallery in isolation, giving each other space to throw up queries, problems, and intrigues. I found particularly valuable the acute focus we placed on close-looking or spending time with individual objects and using different lenses to see them in new ways. For example, in a repeat pattern, minute changes might reveal the humanity and creative agency of the lacemaker. The journey was, at every point, slow, intentional, and thoughtful. Revisiting the exhibition with the eye of an educator-in-training brought previously overlooked details and nuances into sharp relief.

The way you speak on a tour is as important as what you are saying. In one helpful workshop with Andrew Kircher, we thought about how tour-giving is a kind of performance involving bodily gesture and vocalization. In a series of vocal and movement exercises, we stretched our mouths as wide as they would go and then screwed up our whole face as small as it would go. It was good that we were such a close team because very quickly we had to get used to looking silly in front of one another as we practiced these theatrical techniques for clear annunciation and engaging body presence.

In another workshop, we were fortunate to be joined by Deborah Lutz, an artist and museum educator specializing in verbal description, a technique of describing art in a way that is accessible to people with vision loss or blindness. Lutz was a warm and kind teacher who took us slowly through the process of considering the needs of people with vision loss, thinking about our vocabulary and body position in tours. I was extremely grateful for this experience since I am deeply passionate about the potential for museums and galleries to connect with as broad an audience as possible. I will definitely carry this experience with me as I pursue a career in this field.

We thought about the tour content as an essay, in which the “paragraphs” were the objects in the gallery that complicated or furthered our understanding of a given question. My classmate Angela and I took on the question of the relationship between the lace and the lacemaker as the focus of our tours. The Lacemakers’ Studio on the fourth floor of the gallery and the contemporary lace commission by Elena Kanagy-Loux, which opened the exhibition, encouraged me to think about the experience of creating lace and the fact that lacemaking is a living, evolving practice.

Approaching the exhibition through this lens profoundly affected how I experienced the objects on display. When thinking about the time, knowledge, and skill required to create these objects and the deeply personal relationships created with and through these textiles, the laces seemed to lift out from behind their glass cases and become animated. I suddenly saw them as moving, living entities that crystallized hours of labor by anonymous women.

When I started giving my tours, I was less nervous than I expected; I was more excited to bring the visitors on the journey with me and see how their reactions and questions might alter our course. Having delved into the world of lace in a level of detail one could never truly convey in thirty minutes, often the most rewarding moments of the tours were when the mere intricacy of the lace astounded visitors. These moments reminded me of the power objects have in telling their own stories, and each gasp or “Oh my goodness” took me back to the exciting spark I had felt the first time I saw these laces.

Some tours reminded me of the value of gallery educators in making people feel welcomed, seen, and represented in the museum space. One visitor, a Swiss national whose face visibly lit up whenever I mentioned St. Gallen, told me that he was so glad to hear the social history of the production and use of these textiles, which other exhibitions often overlook. In that moment, I realized that the personal connection this visitor had felt with the objects was far more meaningful than all the minute facts and figures I had worried about remembering.

The most important thing I have learned in my experience as a gallery educator is that giving tours offers you the opportunity to learn as much as you teach. The “educating” is truly a two-way process. Galleries are a unique space for this kind of reciprocal learning, a lively environment where the visitors I encountered and our conversations educated me as much as I hopefully educated them.