By Julia Clark
June is Member Appreciation Month at the Blanton!
As the membership assistant at the Blanton, I look forward to June because it’s a great time to celebrate the generosity and support of the museum’s members.
When I was asked to write a blog about one of our members at the museum, one person immediately came to mind: Frances Thompson. Frances, one of the museum’s wonderful docents, and her family have been members since 2004. Every time I see Frances in the museum she has a huge smile on her face. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going on one of her public tours, you can tell she has a passion for the arts. I had a few questions for Frances about her nine years as a Blanton member. Enjoy our interview below.
Julia: What made you decide to first become a member of the Blanton?
Frances: When I move to/arrive in a new city, I always join the art museum(s); it’s an easy and engaging way to get to know one’s new home.
Do you remember your first visit? What were your first impressions?
I believe I came to the museum for a docent interview, and the new building was under construction. So my first impression of the Blanton was of the old Art Building, in the shadow of the football stadium. Yes, it was a bit cramped, but absolutely full of European and other treasures, and I was surprised at how substantial a collection was in such a space; it was well curated with regard to the permanent collection and I also remember a couple of fantastic special exhibitions, like Marking Time, a Latin American temporary show.
What are your favorite memories of the museum?
The “24-Hour Extremely Grand Opening” in April 29-30, 2006: I was so proud to be part of the museum, thrilled by the line wrapping around the building, energized by the more than 22,000 people who wanted to get in and be part of this absolutely new place; there was nothing like it in Austin, and for me, it made Austin a more substantial city. Also, tying into those “opening” memories, I loved the elegant simplicity of the “Art is…” tagline, I sometimes feel nostalgic for all those “Art is” possibilities. Finally, I will always remember my first visit with my then-five-year-old daughter, who was mesmerized by the atrium skylights, thought they were walkways above us! Seven years later, she’s practically a docent herself!
Is there a particular piece that is your favorite?
Karl Zerbe’s Woman on Trapeze, Louise Nevelson’s Dawn’s Presence – Two Columns, Carlo Ceresa’s Portrait of a Widow, Maynard Dixon’s Top of the Ridge, Amy Sillman’s Letters from Texas, Bill Lundberg’s Swimmer.
What have been your favorite exhibitions at the museum?
Daniel Joglar’s captivating mobile in the inaugural Workspace installation; New Now Next: The Contemporary Blanton in 2006; in 2007, the artistic insanity of Mike’s World (I was there for his “diaper” performance); and in 2010, the elegance of Teresita Fernandez’s Blind Landscape and of course, the Petrobelli Altarpiece.
I often begin my tours (to school groups specifically) with “I am like a teacher, but I don’t give tests,” about which I mean I’m looking for the kids’ observations, their connections to and thoughts about an object, not “answers.” It’s about seeing and sharing the art, without inhibitions, with wonder. And, each time I tour a group — whether children, adults, first-time museum visitors, out-of-town tourists, I have to let go myself in order to allow others the freedom to see; for me, it’s not about how much I know about an object, it’s how I approach the experience of viewing that object.
What made you decide to become more involved with the museum and become an educational resource for our visitors?
I wanted to connect with my new community, outside my life as a mother of young children, selfishly wanted “to belong” somewhere outside my home life; and to experience a world I actually never studied in school (I am not an art scholar!). Finally, I wanted on-the-job training as a public speaker, and to do so was a risk for me, to compose tours, present in front of visitors, and I am proud to say that I think I’m pretty good at what I do as a docent.
You’re very active in the Austin community, what other involvements do you have in the arts and otherwise?
I am a docent for Ballet Austin, presenting each fall in several Austin elementary schools before the children attend a performance of The Nutcracker. I volunteer at my childrens’ schools, St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and Austin High School. I attend and support Ballet Austin, Austin Shakespeare, Forklift Danceworks, ZACH Theatre and Zilker Theatre Productions. I am an Art Diva (via Women and Their Work); and my daughter and I recently joined National Charity League, and we will volunteer together at the Blanton, in addition to working with several other philanthropies. I recently ended a several-year run as a Girl Scout leader.
Any additional insight you’d like to share as a member, a docent, or an interested visitor to the museum?
I see the Blanton as a collaborative force/institution in Austin, in the state, and one with even greater potential than yet realized. If I were to take my docent experience to the next level, that would be the direction I would take — one of more outreach, beyond the museum walls …