Three veteran Walker Art Center tour guides–Florence Brammer (13 years), Scott Winter (8 years), and Chris Kraft (6 years)–serve up some of their dazzling Garden gab, and six-year-old Maggie Kerwin shares a few insights gleaned on a recent personal quest to understand art and sculpture.
What are some of your best tour gimmicks and responses to them, especially from kids?
Scott Winter: I like to begin my spiel on Frank Gehry’s Standing Glass Fish with a simple question: Is this fish in or out of the water? At first glance the giant fish appears to be leaping out of the shallow pool beneath it. But if you draw people’s attention to the top of the palm trees and the top of the fish, an argument can be made that the palm fronds are enormous lily pads and we, along with the fish, are all still underwater.
Chris Kraft: I often show Ellsworth Kelly’s Double Curve to young children and ask them what it looks like to them. Some answers have been straight out of Sesame Street! One said, “ It’s eleven” and another said, “ One, two.” Some adults say it reminds them of being at Stonehenge from the feeling they get when they walk between the two parts of it and look up.
Florence Brammer: I like to tell tour groups about the bird family that nested in Woodrow‘s head about three summers ago . . . a vivid, cross-species confirmation of how much the bronze horse looks like it’s made of wood.
SW: Another of my favorite tricks is to recognize the efforts of our Garden staff. Whenever someone is working out there, I make the kids shout hello on a 1-2-3 count. They think it’s fun, and it gives me the chance to explain some of the realities of the Garden–that the artworks need constant attention and care. Besides, it usually startles the crew, which I rather enjoy.
CK: When you tell young children the story of George Segal casting Walking Man from a live person, they will often ask, “ Is he still in there?”
SW: And I’m embarrassed by the number of times I find myself absentmindedly acknowledging him as though he were a real visitor.
CK: I love giving Garden tours, especially to schoolchildren on their spring field trips. They always want to climb on Mark di Suvero’s Molecule because they think it looks like a piece of playground equipment . . .
SW: I’ve chased more kids off that work than I care to count. My preferred tour with kids is themed on animals, as there are a considerable number represented throughout the Garden installations. Springtime “ animal” tours are the most risky (goose droppings notwithstanding), because on more than one occasion the entire art tour has been upstaged by actual critters near the pond under the spoon. You quickly switch from keeping kids from climbing on sculptures to becoming Ranger Rick to stop them from disturbing nesting ducklings, baby bunnies, and other young creatures. Sometimes the natural backdrop of the Garden leaps to the foreground with little advance warning.
What’s one of your most cherished Garden memories?
FB: Seeing choreographer Merce Cunningham and company grinning and waving happily to the crowds at the Garden’s 10th-anniversary party in 1998. They were riding through the grounds in the back of an open truck en route to their performance space near Spoonbridge and Cherry.
CK: One year, I took a St. Paul school group to see Nari Ward’s [temporary installation on the Sculpture Plaza in 2000] Rites-of-Way, a structure with bead curtains and pictures of the Rondo neighborhood on the ceiling. The teacher became very animated and asked if she could tell the children a story. She then started talking about the days before I-94 went through the Rondo area and pointed out some of the photos of places that were familiar to her. She told me later that their school was very near Rondo and she was glad the children had a chance to see the artwork that commemorated their lost neighborhood.
Which sculptures do people respond to most positively?
FB: Spoonbridge and Cherry, Woodrow, and Standing Glass Fish.
SW: Dan Graham’s Two-Way Mirror Punched Steel Hedge Labyrinth is by far one of the most popular works in the Garden (as evidenced by the path worn into the lawn around the work). The kids really dig Mark Di Suvero’s Arikidea because it swings a bit. And Deborah Butterfield’s Woodrow always manages to capture everyone’s attention.
Maggie Kerwin: It looks like the horse is made of wood. I think she used sticks to show that animals are really cool. They are part of nature. It is the same size as a horse, but not realistic. I think it would have been hard to make this sculpture. It is tall. She was probably not that tall.
CK: It’s always Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry. They are as-tounded by the size. The second favorite seems to be Gehry’s fish. They love the fact that it, too, is so large and that it is leaping out of the water.
MK: Spoonbridge is very realistic. It is enormous. We need food. Especially healthy stuff. Like fruit. The fish also is enormous. It’s easier to see it that way. You can see through the glass. It is pretty much what real fish look like. The scales are diamonds.
Do you have a favorite piece in the Garden?
FB: Brower Hatcher’s Prophecy of the Ancients–I love how it seems to transcend time, being both primitive and futuristic at the same time.
CK: I really like Charles Ginnever’s Nautilus. I have young children weave in and out of it and look up at it from underneath to see the different parts. I also like the fact that the sculptor was thinking of origami when he made it.
SW: I have two favorites: Prophecy of the Ancients, because it is strikingly beautiful and rich in its interpretive potential; and Double Curve, because the purity of its form and the monumentality of its scale leave me speechless . . . which can be awkward for a tour guide.