Bridging Culture Gaps at Bowers Museum

July 31, 2011
“Lauren, how do you paint this orange color? Do you use the toothpick first or the toothpick last?” Catherine asks me as her twin sister Christy busy decorating her pastel artwork with glitter.

“So, first you roll the flower onto your toothpick and then you dip in this beautiful orange paint,” I say as I guide her hand across the canvas. “There, you got it!”

Catherine squirms with glee.

I started volunteering at the Bowers Museum located in Santa Ana in June 2010 as part of a volunteer requirement for a non-profit volunteer society in Irvine. I chose Bowers because of the opportunity to learn about many different cultures every month while interacting with the children of those cultures.

On the first Sunday of each month, I help out children with simple art crafts such as decorating a Japanese kimono, painting a Russian egg, creating a Persian card, or quilting a Native American rug. Because the children are very young (around 5-7 years old), most tend to struggle at first but they giggle as they untie knots and start over. Occasionally, a precocious child will ask me what the Persian egg’ or the ‘Native American painting’ symbolizes so I must “study” ahead of time to avoid embarrassment. Through this monthly experience, I realize that the children aren’t the only ones learning about different cultures, so am I.

Catherine and Christy for example are Hispanic and attend the after-school program for kindergarteners during the summer. There, they not only improve their math skills but also create dolls and clay pots to brag to their parents. The two children’s innocent smile despite difficult living conditions inspired me to overcome my own obstacle of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

After Catherine finishes her painting, she helps Christy cut out a tree for her glittery masterpiece. When the sisters are finished, they sign their names at the bottom of the picture with furious squiggles. As I am leading the sisters back to their parents, a deep rumble of African American jazz sounds from the outdoor stage.

“Let’s dance, Lauren!”
Before I can object, Catherine and Christy both grab one hand and start to twist their body and bobble their heads to the beat. My stiff body stretches from the exotic performance of the twins. As soon as the number ends, the sisters giggle in unison and sprint together toward their parents, their art pieces fluttering to the ground.

The grass-stained pictures speak to me, “Volunteering at Bowers is double the work and triple the fun!”

I can’t wait to see the sisters again.





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