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For Mother’s Day: Mom Booth Volunteer Tells All

Mom booth

Many of you will remember the Mom Booth from the State of the Art exhibition.  This innovative and unusual artwork by Andy Ducett was set up just outside the entrance to the exhibition’s north gallery, and featured real-life volunteer moms who interacted with Museum guests:  offering advice, asking questions, and chatting folks up throughout the run of the exhibition. Though initially most of us thought of the Mom Booth as a humorous, whimsical installation, what we discovered as the exhibition progressed was that, in fact, there was much more to the Mom Booth experience:  both for our guests and for the volunteer moms who staffed it.  The stories we heard were sometimes humorous, yes, but also poignant, touching, and sometimes heart-breaking.  In honor of Mother’s Day, volunteer Jan Williams tells about her experience as a Mom Booth mom.  –LD 

Mom booth

Mom Booth volunteer Jan Williams poses with family members: Julie Ferguson (daughter), Claire Ferguson (granddaughter), Scott Ferguson (son-in-law), Kate Ferguson (granddaughter), and Paul Ferguson (grandson).

Julie Ferguson (our daughter), Claire Ferguson (granddaughter), me, Scott Ferguson (son-in-law), Kate Ferguson (granddaughter), Paul Ferguson (grandson). My times perched at the State of the Art exhibition’s Mom Booth can best be described as fun, whimsical, and unexpected experiences. Dr. Seuss should have written a book titled Oh the Places You Can Go…as a Crystal Bridges Volunteer. It was like improv—you never knew whom you would have encounters with, where they would be from, or what would be on their minds or hearts at the time, when they saw a real live Mom available to them, sitting in a very unlikely place—the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Sometimes, I felt like Lucy at her 5¢ Psychiatric Help booth. What an opportunity! The encounters ran the gamut from silly to serious. Just look at all these wonderful one-of-a-kind human beings passing by—just ripe for an interaction or a conversation out of the blue.

Photo by Marc F. Henning State of the Art exhibit preview event on Sept. 11, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Mom Booth volunteer Mary Kay Franklin (left) with artist Andy Ducett and his (real life) mom, and guest. Photo by Marc F. Henning

Andy Ducett, the artist from Minnesota who created the display, envisioned people just enjoying the “Mom” experience (from both sides of the table, indeed!). For most Museum guests, it evoked warm thoughts of their own mom. Andy’s words of wisdom for the volunteers who were game for the experience: “Just show up, bring something you’re working on from home—and…well, you already know how to be a mom.”

My “project from home” was usually a quilt in progress, so I heard many interesting stories about the guests’ own family quilts; some even showed me pictures on their phones of their sentimental quilts.

College-age young adults who were living apart from their parents had questions they wanted to run by me (maybe a test before they approached their real mom about the subject?). Other encounters: “How do you keep a long-distance relationship vibrant?” “Can I have a loan?” :o)  “My mom’s going to be in the hospital for perhaps an extended time—what would she want from her daughter?”  “Hey Mom, can I borrow the car?” :o)  “Oh Mom, I’ve got a button coming off—can you fix it?” (I actually DID—to his surprise & delight!). “How do you season an iron skillet?” “What’s the meaning of life?”

There were discussions about whether or not it’s all that important if your bed is made each day or not. People looked at the display behind me, and reminisced about what their moms did for them when they were growing up (it seems Campbell’s Chicken Soup & Tomato Soup were neck-and-neck for a cure when they were sick). An older gentleman looked at the display and said, “Hmmph…there’s no castor oil there.” :o)

I enjoyed encouraging the busy moms with kiddos in tow: “Hey, one day, you’ll actually be sitting like I am, working on your own hobby. Yes, really.” Another mom shared with me the strategy she was using with her grown children to get them to “fly” from her nest; great tactics—I applauded her!

The Mom Booth in action.  Photo by Marc F. Henning State of the Art exhibit preview event on Sept. 11, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

The Mom Booth in action. Photo by Marc F. Henning

From my first shift on, I could tell some of the interactions were “meant” to be. One lady’s elderly mom was dying; we visited about some meaningful interactions for the two of them until that time came. Our conversation ended with a warm hug. Another time, a mother whose younger-middle-aged daughter had passed away just a few months before needed to share her concerns and grief with another mother; followed by a sweet hug. One time, I assured a soon-to-become-new-grandmother that her daughter would get through the birth process just fine. :o)

Some guests’ mothers had passed on (like mine), and they just enjoyed sitting down beside me and visiting for a half-hour or so. I learned so many interesting things from others’ life experiences. One man from Africa shared the differences between our two cultures: mothers are placed in an elevated position in his country. Anytime there was a language barrier between a guest and myself, I found out a hug usually bridged the gap and produced smiles between us.

I loved seeing the Crystal Bridges staff come by, accomplishing their various tasks, and being called “Mom” by them. (I think they liked having a mom on duty nearby.) They received some motherly hugs from time to time, too.

Call your motherAt the beginning or end of my shifts, if there was a young guest around, I’d have them help me get out or put away Andy’s “Call your Mother” sign from the “secret closet.” (Andy wanted it on the table when there were no moms on duty.) That sign was well photographed by many phones—lots of moms wanted a copy of it to send to their grown children as a not-so-gentle reminder.

Being a Crystal Bridges volunteer is somewhat like the Mom Booth—you never know what might be offered to “give-a-try.” You might just get hooked and fall in love with the opportunity! Several guests (several weeks apart) were adamant Andy should set up Mom Booths in malls, or on street corners—“They’ve got to be EVERYWHERE! There’s SUCH a need out there!”

Well, Andy, if you do that, I’ll be the first to volunteer to be a mom.

Jan Williams

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