Hands Across Texas

Programs on Native Americans, Buffalo Soldiers, Cowboy Poetry, Ethnic Characters in Texas History, Dance, Music with Siyotanka and Harmonica, Storytelling, and Mountain Men

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Museum of Western Art

Go West, youngsters
By Carlina Villalpando, The Daily Times, Published November 07, 2005

Six-year-old Curtis Deans was wide-eyed as he watched a demonstration Sunday on laundering done the old-fashioned way.

“I’ve never seen clothes washed like that,” Curtis said. “I wasn’t born then.”

Denise Harris of The Texas Lone Star Rangers, dressed as a pioneer, explained to kids how pioneers on the wagon trail once used river water, a campfire and a washboard and tub to keep their clothes clean. This was just one of the many chores pioneers had to do while en route west, Harris explained.

“Life on the wagon was hard work,” she said.

That exactly was what kids learned Sunday afternoon at the opening of the new Journey West Children’s Gallery at the Museum of Western Art. The first visitors to the gallery experienced the many challenges of life on the wagon train.

At each station inside the gallery, kids found interactive exhibits and real artifacts that they were encouraged to touch and hold. They packed trunks full of supplies, boarded a realistic wagon and took part in campfire entertainment.

Kids who visited Sunday got a special surprise. At each station in the gallery, pioneers and/or Indians where there. They role-played, explained each exhibit and interacted with kids without using scripts.

At a station that illustrated life around the wagon, Harris served up dinner on tin plates while answering questions about what life was like for women. Middle school Texas history teacher Clifton Fifer dressed as an Indian and manned a station explaining the many challenges that could threaten pioneers’ lives.

He talked with kids about pioneers’ first interaction with Indians, explaining that Indians and pioneers probably were equally apprehensive about one another. Indians, however, weren’t all pioneers feared, he said. Treacherous weather, wild animals and the possibility of getting sick all threatened life on the wagon train, he said.

Fifer also displayed a variety of artifacts, including instruments, which he played to show kids how pioneers entertained themselves around the campfire. Fifer said he hopes to plan field trips to the museum for his own students and use the gallery as a backdrop for teaching Texas history.

“I think it’s an amazing environment,” Fifer said. “Everything in here is dealing with the Old West. Not only can you see everything in here, but you can feel and touch it.”

“Anytime you can get (students) out of the classroom and let them experience what they’re learning it’s a good thing,” he added.

Shawn Gelsone, the museum’s new coordinator of children’s programs, said she encourages local educators to use the gallery. She said the museum invites classes to come on field trips to tour the gallery or to use it as a setting to offer their own programs, presentations or history lessons.

“We already have three school groups scheduled,” Gelsone said, adding that the response she saw from kids Sunday was reassuring.

“It was a huge success — being able to see the looks on the kids’ faces, watching them enjoy the museum,” she said. “They actually got out of it what we’d hoped they would.”

Numerous families brought their kids, wanting to be some of the first visitors into the gallery on Sunday. Jeanne Kyle and her granddaughter Kiersten Nelson, 8, said the opening provided them a fun afternoon outing.

“It was really cool,” Nelson said, adding that she most enjoyed the music and flute playing.

“I thought it was fabulous,” Kyle said. “It shows the kids how hard it was to travel with so much less that what they’re use to. It was very interesting.”

The children’s gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday or whenever the Museum for Western Art is open. For information about scheduling a group field trip or about the museum’s children’s programs, contact Gelsone at 896-2553, ext. 231.