Bird Days at the Museum

I applied to work as the Linde Family Foundation Education Intern for the Colby College Museum of Art because I felt like after two years on the Hill I wanted to reconnect with the community and its youngest members. My love of working with children came from my experience volunteering with mentally disabled kids, and from mentoring a fifth-grade girl in a local school in Winslow, Maine. In the spring of 2017 when Margaret Aiken said that she’d love to have me as her intern, I could not wait to come back and start working alongside Museum Student Advisory Board member Clare Murray (Colby ’18) and Margaret on different education programs. My passion for working with fine arts and interacting with people came from my studio art and psychology double majors at Colby and from different internships and mentoring experiences I have had in the past. Throughout this museum internship, I have acquired key skills in leading one-on-one conversations, organizing art and craft activities, and facilitating children’s social development.

In the fall of 2017, I started interning in the education department at the Museum, where I assisted Margaret with designing the interactive drawing experiences for both the public and school visitors to the exhibition Bird Watching: Audubon and Ornithology in Early America. The exhibition included John James Audubon’s books of bird illustrations and taxidermied birds on loan from the L. C. Bates Museum. Weekly meetings with my supervisor enriched and clarified my understanding of the needs of Museum visitors and the Museum’s vision to bridge the gap between Colby College and the Waterville community.

Margaret Aiken discussing a display of birds from the L. C. Bates Museum in the exhibition Bird Watching: Audubon and Ornithology in Early America.

One of my first tasks in September was to come up with a name for an interactive drawing experience for visitors of the exhibition (the name chosen was “Draw Me a Bird”). I also worked on creating drawing prompts for this activity. Both Margaret and I had some ideas in mind, and you can only imagine the shock on my face when I saw my concept come to life and presented on a wall of the Museum. Together we refined ten drawing prompts designed to assist visitors with visualizing and sketching bird bodies, posture, angles, wings, tails, and the negative space around the bird. Visitors could hang their artwork and, in that way, become a part of the Audubon exhibition. We had hundreds of drawings left on display by visitors. As they accumulated, I began scanning and archiving all of them. It was such a pleasure to see the artwork that our visitors, both young and old, produced. Some followed the prompts for the “Draw Me a Bird” activity, but others took it to a whole new level and depicted their own unique versions of birds that were not on display, including cartoon pigeons, dodoes, geese, and even penguins!

The second part of my project was to make a comparative anatomy book for 399 second graders who would be visiting the exhibit as part of the “Bird Days” program, a collaborative field trip with the L. C. Bates Museum. Together Margaret and I designed a six-page sketchbook with instructions on how to draw anatomically important features of a bird, including its feet, feathers, beak, and tail. We realized that second graders who were sent into the gallery to draw birds might not draw what they saw but rather what they thought of when they imagined a bird. In order to get them to observe birds more closely, we created a book that asked them to draw and compare two different birds and a specific feature. Below the sketching area was a list of related words for them to circle, in order to describe their drawings. So, for example, for a bird foot, they had to decide if it was thin or thick, big or little, webbed or not webbed, and long or short. We did this so they could learn new vocabulary and also describe what they were seeing in a visual and verbal way.

A student drawing from observation.

Overall, I have approached this project with great joy and dedication and I was happy every time Margaret asked me to make more copies of sketchbooks for upcoming school visits, or to scan the drawings that Museum visitors had made. Thanks to this great opportunity to work on the Audubon exhibition, I have learned more about the anatomy of birds, and I have put into use different art skills that I have acquired while majoring in studio art here at Colby. Being part of this project gave me a chance to engage with the local community and to plan two separate activities whose main goal was to educate and connect humans of all ages. Working on this project I have truly lived the three sentences by artist Luis Camnitzer at the entrance of the Colby College Museum of Art: “The Museum Is a School: The Artist Learns to Communicate; The Public Learns to Make Connections.”

The students’ sketches may be viewed on