Not many children curate museum exhibits – not many children receive an acknowledgment from the governor’s office – but that’s just what third-graders at Cheney’s Salnave Elementary School accomplished. Their teacher, Peggy Haslebacher, planned a class project on writing biographies and mentioned it to her friend, Gayle Foien.
Foien, history educator at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, thought of featuring the third-graders’ work. It would be a typical history project for these youngsters, except it would be featured as an authentic exhibit in an art museum. Foien explained, “The students have an audience that they wouldn’t otherwise have. It helps make history more real with a personal perspective too.”
Their exhibit is called the Wall of Influential Women, which features women’s voices in history composed through hand-written biographies and delightful illustrations by the third-graders.
In her own special way, 9-year-old Kayla Bennett portrayed Gov. Chris Gregoire, Washington’s second female governor. “In my picture of Governor Gregoire,” Kayla details, “I used a striped background because I wanted a colorful background and I like stripes. On the face, I tried to do my best.”
Next to Kayla’s project stood a figure dressed in the governor’s second inaugural gown, which she also wore to an inaugural ball for President Obama. Gov. Gregoire recognized the creative project in her statement: “Wow! It’s humbling to touch the life of a child. I printed off a copy of Kayla’s picture to remind me why doing the work we do is important. My mother was the most influential woman in my life. She was a single mom who worked as a short-order cook, and she taught me values that still guide my life. Her priorities were simple: education, education, education. It paid off, and now with two degrees in hand I’m honored to do the work I do. As governor, education is one of my top priorities. Whenever we can inspire a young person to pursue their dream or get excited about learning, we must. The Wall of Influential Women highlights some of the region’s most inspiring women, whether Olympic athletes, explorers, or anyone else doing her best. Our region’s women are an inspiration to every girl (and boy!) to pursue their dreams.”
According to Haslebacher, “this experience is sort of that toe-in-the-water introduction to get the students excited about future studies they will have.” Eight-year-old Jackson Rowley portrayed a cheerful former Gov. Dixy Lee Ray in his drawing.
Maddy Lindemann, 9, wrote about Reba Hurn, who had a foundation in the dairy pasteurization industry and later served in the U.S. Senate. Maddy contemplated her research on Hurn and said, “She was born in the 1800s, a long time ago. She met this guy and I think they were boyfriend-girlfriend and they processed milk.”
Mason Allen, 9, wrote about Carrie “Dell” Strahorn, an explorer who was known for “mothering the West.” Mason used his crayons to make a bright royal blue background for his picture. He explained about Strahorn that “she did not explore differently than a man, because she was, like a tomboy. In her hand is a piece of paper and a pencil. She liked to write and she wrote all about the places she traveled, like Alaska.”
Nine-year-old Makya Clark wrote about Missouri T. B. Hanna, who has been called the “mother of journalism” in Washington state. In her picture, Makya chose to split the background colors with red and blue, putting Hanna in the middle. Makya said, “Mrs. Hanna’s hair reminds me of my grandma.” Hanna moved to Spokane Falls, Washington Territory in 1882; the young widow and single mother became Washington Territory’s first woman newspaper publisher. The rest of the students created equally eye-catching portrayals of interesting women as well.
Several galleries highlight the historical contributions of women: The Dress Codes exhibit is a whimsical attempt to decode the social messages of what women wear; Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices commemorates the centennial of Washington women’s right to vote. “We needed something to help bridge the exhibits. The Wall of Influential Women does that,” Foien explained, while pointing out how its location is situated between the exhibits.
A fourth-grade boy touring the exhibit asked about whether the museum had a certain man’s exhibit. An astute MAC security guard matter-of-factly tipped him, “this is a girl exhibit, but the guy exhibit is coming in June! It’s on Leonardo da Vinci and is going to have stuff like catapults, machines and cool inventions!”
The “guy exhibit” he referred to is called Leonardo da Vinci: Man-Inventor-Genius and is reputed as a world-class exhibit. Until then, the exhibit about women will be featured until May 7: After all, ladies first.