Welcome! Since I interpret history for a living, I should share a little of my own.
1) I’ve always liked cities. Wauwatosa, a close suburb of Milwaukee, is my lovely hometown and on one of the few days I *gasp* dared to skip out of high school, I took the bus to downtown Milwaukee. For fun. And then there was always the ultimate thrill of going 90 miles south to Chicago! I couldn’t wait for the first glimpse of that skyline. I still feel that way.
2) I’ve paid attention to buildings all my life, but didn’t know anything about architecture. As a child in 1960s Milwaukee, I remember being fascinated by (what I now know as) Modern architecture: the War Memorial at the lakefront, the County Zoo buildings, a few Catholic churches, the glassy Marine Bank downtown, Milwaukee’s Public Museum. In the early 80s, I lived for a few years in Burlington, WI, a town filled with grand Victorian houses set on spacious, hilly lots. I walked my baby son and dog right past those beauties, admiring, but not knowing a darn thing about them.
3) Architecture finally, seriously, got my attention in the 1990s. I woke up to the fact that I really, really liked looking at and learning about great buildings. And I simply liked being near them.
4) Two developments at my parish church, St. Sebastian’s in Milwaukee, gave me two great opportunities. The person who gave a “behind the scenes” tour of the church left and the person who handled the church archives could no longer handle them. I volunteered to do both. I began to give a historical-architecture tour of the richly designed 1920s church for adults and the school kids – while also explaining some of the mysteries involved. And I dug into the archives and created a slide show history talk that I presented often to many different groups. I am so honored that my work was useful in the recent 100th parish anniversary celebration.
5) Having gotten a taste of being a tour guide, I wanted more! I completed training to be a Historic Milwaukee tour guide and eventually led three different downtown walking tours. I had moved downtown, too, and was now a member of the Cathedral of St. John, which, happily, provided many regular tours of its sanctuary. I was soon one of their busiest tour guides, especially once the cathedral opened after a major (and a little controversial) remodeling.
6) Up to this point, being a tour guide was a volunteer labor of love. But I went on a choir tour to Europe (we sang at the Vatican, in Venice, in Vienna…) and it rocked my world. The musical experience was unforgettable, but crucially: I saw all of these European tour guides making a living. I was determined: I was going to do the same.
7) I completed my BA in Communication at Alverno College-Milwaukee and it was on to graduate school to pursue my goal: being a European tour guide for the PBS personality I so admired: Rick Steves. I decided to study Art History (European, of course) and Italian – and to take a Rick Steves tour. Things were going along fine: I was specializing in Bernini and studied in Italy for a semester and took that Rick Steves tour – of Florence and Siena – and the tour guide even let me lead a little bit of it! Toward the end of grad school, I was indeed hired by Rick Steves and worked one season in Europe as an assistant tour guide.
8) But a couple of things changed my course. I had been working at Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate in Lexington, KY and was absolutely devoted to it. Further, as a teaching assistant in grad school, I happened to catch another professor begin her class after ours… and I stopped and listened, transfixed. This phenomenal professor was Wallis Miller and the class was 20th Century Architecture. I immediately made arrangements to get into her class – and to make sure Architecture would still fit under the Art History program I was already deeply into.
9) I left Bernini and European tour guiding behind and instead focused on the history of Ashland as a public-private place (and fascinating architectural hybrid), took on museum studies and architectural history courses with Wallis Miller and was incredibly fortunate to have her as my mentor and thesis director. She challenged, encouraged, and inspired me. I am writing a book based on my thesis: Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate as House Museum: Private Home and Public Destination.
10) Through my thesis work and work at Ashland, I discovered my life’s calling. When friends suggested I go on to get a PhD in Public History, I realized that I was already doing this work of interpreting history (and architecture!) for the public. Call it Public History, call it Architectural History – it’s what I love and it’s what I do.
11) And so I brought my life’s work to my favorite city in the whole world: Chicago. (More about that journey in this post.)
12) In the interest of full disclosure, besides my WendyCity blog and tours, I am involved with the following:
* I am a docent at the Glessner House.
* I am a docent at Shoreline Sightseeing.
* I’m a certified tour guide in Chicago (having passed the exam given by the Chicago Tour-guide Professionals Association, January 2015)
* I maintain a blog about Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate: History of a House Museum.
THANKS for visiting WendyCity!