BY MIRANDA WHEELER ’19
The Mount Holyoke Art Museum opened The Sightlines Tour spring series with “Shaping the World: The Art of Architecture” on Saturday. Hosted by student guide Serena McDonald-Newman ’20, the tour explored the role of architecture in everyday life.
“Architecture speaks for those who can no longer speak for themselves,” said McDonald-Newman. Utilizing multimedia from seasonal exhibits and Mount Holyoke’s permanent collection, architecture studies major Mcdonald-Newman used a gilded Japanese panel featuring scenes from the Tale of Genji, several Pompeiian frescoes from first-century Italy and a painting of urban nineteenth century New Jersey.
In the Japanese panel, McDonald-Newman discussed the symbolism of faces and monsters carved into the pillars of Southeast Asian monasteries and how the carvings offer an insight into the religion, fears and traditions of monks. The frescoes typical of Pompeian architecture allowed historians to explore class, power, and values. McDonald-Newman highlighted a particular fresco which celebrated peacocks and important figures on the walls of a Pompeiin home. The last piece, “A Country Town” by Daniel Garber, told the story of a mid-atlantic painter that manipulated his location by replacing smokestacks and phone lines with towering trees and New England church steeples. In this instance, architecture has become the enemy — a representation of the invasive human influence of industrialization on natural landscapes.
“Shaping the World” is the first of several tours to be conducted by the Museum’s student guide program this spring. Although the Museum is an educational resource on campus, the staff encourage students to experience it beyond the classroom. According to Program Coordinator Kendra Weisbin, this is the reason the program is so student-focused. “We have so many classes come to the museum,” she said. “That’s one way for students to experience the museum, but we don’t want to just be a place students come to study. We also want to be a place where students come to be alone or reflect or have quiet time or meet other students. The tours are a way for students to experience the museum in a non-curricular capacity — to come in here and have fun for 30 minutes.”
When asked about the most exciting part of creating the tour, McDonald-Newman discussed the importance of peer education. “I’m a student, I’m giving these tours and I’m giving them to students,” she said. “It’s nice having a student have this conversation with you, and getting to give your opinion and having your opinion be valid [and] having your ideas about art be appreciated.”
Mac Chambers ’19, a biology and anthropology double major and fellow student guide, agreed. “I love the fact that the program is student-led and that we interact with our peers as tour guides. I think that it can make the idea of bringing art into our lives and classrooms a little less intimidating.”
After interviewing students in April, the museum selects eight students for intensive preparation throughout the fall. This work culminates in the spring when each guide leads a tour based on their research. Although available objects change from fall to spring, McDonald-Newman is confident in the program’s flexibility. “As long as your theme is constant, you can always find new ways to show what you want to say,” she said.
For McDonald-Newman this is the importance of looking deeper. “Architecture is not merely your house or the store that you walk into,” said McDonald-Newman. “I hope you look at the built environment around you and consider how it shapes you — and how you shape it.”