The Helping Hands Behind Origami Success

By: Catie Anderson, curator of education on March 4th, 2020

Trinity Lutheran School students in grades 6-8 consider the materials and technique behind artist Vincent Floderer’s Unidentified Flying Origami installation.


Throughout three origami exhibitions that concluded March 1, the Woodson Art Museum welcomed more than 1,100 students during class visits. Before closing – or folding – the book on origami and turning to upcoming exhibitions being installed this week., I’d like  to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of the Museum’s volunteer docents who guided students during the past twelve weeks.

Broadly speaking, docents are meaning makers at museums; their role is critical and their duties diverse. Docents are lifelong learners, motivated to share their enthusiasm for the arts and culture with others. Docents share stories and educational materials with visitors and encourage conversation and observations from students during gallery tours by posing questions and actively listening to responses from their groups.

Trinity Lutheran students try wet-folding paper, with help from a docent, to create non-representational paper sculptures.

Woodson Art Museum docents are cheerleaders for students in the Museum’s classroom, too, guiding groups through hands-on art projects, which accompany each visit. Whenever possible, docents, teachers, and chaperones also join in the art-making, modeling for students their willingness to try something new and embrace process-based art making.

Docents attend trainings for new exhibitions, four times a year, to learn about artworks on view, curatorial themes, and the logistics of new projects, hands-on materials, and tour content for different audiences. While Museum volunteers do absorb lots of new information during each exhibition period, the backbone of their touring techniques – Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) – remains consistent, allowing them to ask open-ended questions and employ observation and critical-thinking strategies with visiting groups year-round. The ongoing use of VTS in the galleries ensures student visits remain interactive and that docents remain present with each group, responding to the diverse observations and interests of different age groups and visitors.

Museum staff and volunteer docents only represent half of the partnership that makes the recent visits of over 1,000 area students possible.

Left: Third-grade students from Maine Elementary enjoy their docent-led experience near Robert J. Lang’s Vertical Pond II installation. Right: Franklin Elementary third-grade students visit artist Paul Jackson’s
Above the Fold artwork.

The impressive number of field trips during the origami exhibition is also something to celebrate and is due in large part to the Wausau School District’s commitment that every third-grade student visits the Woodson Art Museum each school year. This collaborative effort makes out-of-the-classroom learning experiences possible for hundreds of students each year and increases students’ familiarity with and affinity for their community art museum. Dedicated Wausau School District elementary art educators meet with Woodson Art Museum educators each year to ensure the third-grade visits complement classroom curriculum and art projects to maximize the experience for all students.

Students from IDEA Charter School guided by a docent, a closer look at a FaunaFold artwork by Robert J. Lang.


If the docent activities and opportunities described here pique your interest, you’re in luck. Woodson Art Museum staff are planning new-docent training classes for August, when we’ll meet twice a week to learn more about the Museum and strategies for engaging with audiences in the galleries.


For more information or to sign up for this summer’s docent classes, email me at

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