Alumna Uses Museum Works in Cutting-Edge Program to Teach K-12 Art

wreath of gold leaves
One of the objects in the MFAH’s collection used in K-12 object-based learning. Information: artist unknown, myrtle wreath, 330–250 BC, Greek, gold, 12 × 1 3/8 inches, 37.5 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,

A career in art history can offer an unexpected variety of options. Alumna Emee Hendrickson has followed a path that led from studio courses to medieval and Renaissance art history to training museum docents to developing curricula about museum collections for elementary and high school students.

At UA, Hendrickson earned a BFA in printmaking and painting in 2013, and an MA in art history in 2017, specializing in Early Modern and medieval art. She’s come a long way since her days of researching 16th-century Italian bronze portrait medals.

Since 2018, Hendrickson has been working at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), where she started as a tours specialist and recently was promoted to object-based learning (OBL) specialist. This means that, among other things, she now helps develop freely available content that educators, docents and anyone can use to teach history, art, and a variety of subjects.

Emee Barrow
Emee Hendrickson as a graduate teaching assistant in art history at UA.

In her new position, Hendrickson works with a team of museum professionals directly with K-12 teachers in local school districts to integrate visual art into their curriculum, using objects from the MFAH’s permanent collection. For high school level curricula, they use a free toolkit, Museums for Digital Learning (MDL), that allows participating museums of all disciplines to use their own digitized collections to create learning resources for educators and students based on the objects. MDL was originated by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS); Newfields Lab of the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Field Museum, Chicago; and History Colorado, Denver.

Hendrickson said that she and her colleagues think about art as central to learning across disciplines. “Our team’s philosophy,” she said, “is that the development of habits of mind promotes a learning environment that prepares students for today’s global society. Object-based learning encourages reflection, self-expression and the willingness to experiment and learn from one’s mistakes.” Hendrickson has been writing some of the “conversation starter” essays for high school students about works in the museum’s collection, that encourage students to look carefully and participate in teacher-led discussions. In this way, students develop skills in close observation and critical thinking. Hendrickson’s team also provides professional development workshops to equip teachers with object-based teaching skills in order to lead discussions about the art with their students.

Hendrickson still takes part in training new docents on how to use the object-based teaching techniques in tours. However, now her work with objects in the collection is more “hands-on,” she said.  After an internship at the Birmingham Museum of Art (BMA) in 2014, Hendrickson realized what she needed to stay happy in any future job. In an interview with the BMA, she said, “As long as I am either handling art or talking about it, I will be content every single day.”

A Museum Internship Helped Hendrickson Focus

While in grad school, Hendrickson interned at the Birmingham Museum of Art, assisting the museum’s registrar. It was there that she realized all the choices she had in museum work. Although interns worked in one area, they were able to learn more about the other areas of the museum through lunch meetings with each department. Seeing those choices helped her home in on what she really wanted in a career. In a 2018 interview with Hendrickson and three other former interns conducted by BMA staff, Hendrickson explained, “By having facetime with departments [at the BMA] such as preparation, conservation, and registrars, I recognized that several avenues would lead to a fulfilling career.” Read the entire interview.

For more information about The University of Alabama’s programs in art history and studio art, visit our Degree Programs page.