Traveling to Europe to study its rich art history has only deepened Betsy Weaver’s appreciation for what Kansas University has to offer.
“KU’s Spencer Museum of Art is one of the best university museums in the country,” says Weaver, a retired Spencer docent. “First-time visitors are often surprised by its space and comprehensive collection of over 36,000 artworks.”
Weaver should know. In 1964, just before she graduated from the College of Wooster, Ohio, with a major in music education, she made the first of many long trips to Europe.
“My music history course included art history. My music professor was interested in comprehensive arts, so he really whetted my appetite,” she says.
“On my first visit to Europe (with a college group) I got to experience first-hand the power and influence of art history on cultures. We visited 14 countries in nine weeks and went to every museum, art gallery and church we encountered. I couldn’t get enough of it.”
Weaver married in 1965, taught elementary music in Durham, N.C., for three years before the first of her two daughters was born, then taught at the Hebrew Academy in San Francisco. She moved to Lawrence in 1971 when her husband, Rob, joined KU’s biochemistry department. Her post-graduate studies in vocal performance at KU’s fine arts school were put on hold when the family moved to Switzerland for a year.
“Our family loves Europe, and we went every chance we had,” she says.
In 1982 a friend recommended SMA’s docent program to her.
“Given my interest and passion for art, it sounded appealing,” Weaver says.
She worked as a volunteer for three years, was hired as part-time docent program coordinator in 1985, and returned to volunteering when she retired from the paid position in 1999.
Weaver still attends the twice monthly two-hour docent training sessions, and like the other 27 active docents, gives one museum tour a week. She admits it’s a big time commitment, especially when the extra study time needed to prepare for tours is added. The docents use a discipline-based art education model drawn up by Pat Villeneuve.
“It’s more philosophical and research-based rather than simply experiential,” Weaver says. “I believe this approach gives the adults and children the tools they need to appreciate art on their own later. It also enables me to keep learning new things.”
Weaver enjoys the museum’s collaborative efforts with the Lawrence school district. Fourth-grade students participate in the museum’s docent-led History of Kansas program. Fifth- and sixth-graders follow the Detective’s Eye program, where students are encouraged to search for evidence to discover the artwork’s period, artist’s name and any other information that identifies the work.
“Students get really engaged and learn how styles have changed over the centuries,” Weaver explains.
“I love working with children and teaching them how to look at art. They’re always teaching me new things, too.”
After 27 years with the SMA docent program, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, Weaver remains passionate about the museum’s work.
“I work with and meet the most wonderful people, and I feel privileged to be able to enjoy such incredible art,” she says.