As part of a yearlong project devoted to the work of painter Thomas Hart Benton, Doris King's art students at Clarkrange High School trained to become docents for a travelling exhibit King brought to the school as part of her 2011 Award of Recognition for Outstanding Teaching of the Humanities. Over 900 students and adults from the town saw the exhibit during its stay at Clarkrange. And like the best museum educators, King's classes surveyed their audience to gauge the effect of their work. According to King, "Only 32% of students at the high school level have ever been to an art museum. Most students knew about the Great Depression, but had no idea it influenced the production of art. Very few recognized art could or should be used to study history."
The intersection of art and history was the focal point for the student project, which culminated in the unveiling of a mural at the school's entrance depicting the history of Clarkrange. "As Benton said about his paintings and their roots, our painting is intended to spark curiosity about where we live and the activities of history that made [Clarkrange] become what it is today," said King during a presentation to students, fellow teachers, and parents.
Though the materials for the mural itself were privately funded, Humanities Tennessee supported a multifaceted student research project that was truly school wide in nature. Students, along with scholars from Tennessee Tech, researched their local history through visits to archives and the local register of deeds. According to one student, this method of discovery was "more interesting than listening to a lecture." Students also visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville to study the last mural painted by Thomas Hart Benton and explore the themes and subject matter visible in his work. Finally, with the arrival of the traveling exhibit in Clarkrange, the students put their studies to the test as they led groups through guided tours of Benton’s work.
Projects like this make clear the value of an education in the humanities, and we salute Doris King for her dedication to making the humanities an important part of her students' lives.