We have recently turned our traditional historic house tour on its ear. The standard 30-minute, guided docent monologue has been torn apart and put back together in a whole new way.
One of the best preserved artist homes and working studios in the United States, Gari Melchers Home and Studio gives visitors a glimpse back in time when internationally-famous painter, Gari Melchers and his wife Corinne, inhabited their country retreat and gentleman’s farm up the hill in Falmouth overlooking the falls of the Rappahannock River. The elegant 1790s Colonial Revival mansion is crammed with the couple’s belongings. The authentic power of place and creativity found here is palpable.
My goal throughout this process was to create a more dialogic-based and sensory-rich experience. Staff provide the tour’s basic framework and the rest is a collaboration with our visitors who explore what they are drawn to and stories that interest them. We, in the words of Frank Vagnone, co-author of the Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums, “Tell a story without someone telling the story for them.”
New tour elements include the addition of ambient sounds (i.e., music, clock ticking, farm noises, dogs barking) that capture the sounds the Melchers would have heard during their residency at Belmont. Open-ended questions replace rote delivery of dates and facts. Docents and guests spend more time examining together how Gari and Corinne Melchers made a home that reflected their artistic and eclectic sensibilities. Visitors are given more freedom to explore, enter rooms, snap pictures and engage in conversation. As one of our veteran docents observed, “Our guests can, in effect, create their own tour.”
I hope our newly re-imagined house tour will continue to be a work in progress and not a static product. Visitor and staff feedback will continue to inform our process and evolution.
~ Michelle Crow-Dolby, Education and Communications Manager, Gari Melchers Home & Studio
New tour offers sights and sounds of Gari Melchers in Stafford (Free Lance-Star, September 5, 2019)