We don’t always get the chance to see an artist’s original sketch displayed side by side with the finished work of art—to compare the private sketch with the public artifact. In Juliette Gordon Low’s bedroom at the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace, visitors can see just that: a pencil sketch and oil portrait of Juliette in a quiet, private moment with family, as she sculpts a portrait bust of her grandniece, Connie. Artist Alice Parker Shurtleff (Juliette's niece and Connie's mother) sketched Juliette while she worked.
The first sketch made toward creating a finished work of art is an intimate thing. Not made for display, it is an artist’s private attempt to catch the essence of a subject or an idea with a few, quick strokes of the pencil. It is a tool, a means to an end, but it is also a work of art in and of itself.
I think about this sketch of Juliette Gordon Low when I think about sketching out a life and legacy in the confines of a guided tour narrative. A compelling tour must capture the essence of a story in a few, well-chosen strokes. It is a means to an end—a sketch to allow visitors to flesh out their own views of the subject—but it is also a work of art in and of itself.
The audio tour we are now offering to visitors lets us host visitors safely, allowing our staff to remain masked and keep a safe distance while assisting visitors as they tour the house where Juliette Gordon Low, Founder of Girl Scouts, was born. It was created as a tool to safely reopen our site, but it is also a tour that allows visitors to experience the site in an intimate and revealing way.
To create the tour, we began to sketch the outlines of the story, working out how to catch the complexities of Low’s character and the reach of her legacy in a few, efficient lines. What objects were key to telling our story? How do we give life to key objects with descriptive language while keeping the tour comfortably brief? How do we ensure that visitors have time to observe and think for themselves as they move between the rooms?
The audio tour was created during a time of enforced reflection, when the rooms of the house were stilled and emptied by a pandemic. In the stillness of the closed-up house, we were able to reflect carefully on how we display key objects, making thoughtful changes to improve narrative flow, creating more space to linger with important artifacts and explore what they can tell us. The quiet intimacy in which this tour was created is ingrained in the audio tour experience itself.
The audio tour is one rendering of our story. When we are able to safely host guided tours again, our guide staff will share their own impressions of Juliette Gordon Low and her legacy, with tour narratives reflecting their own thoughts, studies, and ideas. The ways we interpret the site and its stories will never be static. Our narrative will continue to change as our understanding of our subject changes, as we add new voices to our story, and as society changes. We invite you to share your own impressions and ideas as you explore these stories with us.