Art Docent Program: A Family Legacy (Part I)

Art educator Barbara Herberholz almost did not apply for what turned out to be the job of a lifetime.
in 1983, San Juan Unified School District in Sacramento, California was looking for a part time art resource specialist. Barbara applied, was hired and began developing curriculum to supplement the District’s elementary school classrooms.
“At the time, classroom teachers were mostly relying on pattern work, like craft projects for holidays, with no resources to teach art criticism and art history,” Barbara said. “The head of curriculum said that if I could come up with a program in art that didn’t cost anything, he would implement it. What a challenge!”
A challenge, yes, but one that suited her perfectly. Barbara, a classroom teachers, had co-authored a textbook on early childhood art education with her husband Donald Herberholz, art education professor at California State University Sacramento. She had a passion for art history and loved to teach it to children.
Barbara gradually created 56 lessons with themes such as “People at Play”, “Musicians”, and “Food” while leading training workshops for teachers. The program used large reproductions of famous works of art and contained hands-on art projects based on the theme of the particular lesson. Soon parents were coming to her and wanted to be part of it. They would bring their sewing machines to stitch up the vinyl portfolios to hold the reproductions.
“We got a small grant from the State Department of Education and California Arts Council to purchase the large prints of famous works of art and employ me full time,” Barbara said.
She led trainings for parents so they could present the prints to classes and elicit responses from students. She also taught them how to do the hands-on art lessons that came with each portfolio. By the second year, the Art Docent Program really took off with parents throughout Placer and Nevada Counties, as well as Elk Grove, gathering for work days to put together the portfolios and art supplies.
“We soon had 1,000 Docents in Placer County alone. They celebrated with a Docent Luncheon at the end of every school year,” Barbara said.
Placer County Docents are still gong strong today and the Art Docent Program is thriving in more than 200 schools.
“Barbara is an absolute genius in developing, packaging and delivering curriculum in art education that engages students of all ages and makes the world of art accessible to all,” said Crystal Olson, Ed.D., Associate Professor in Ats in Education, CSU Sacramento. “She believes all children have the right to know of their heritage in art that begins with cave paintings and evolves to include current technology.”
“It’s hard to calculate the number of children and their parents that the program has reached over the last 30 years, “Barbara said. “But it’s a safe bet that the number is somewhere around a million.”
(Next month we will publish Part II.)

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