The sound can be heard through the halls at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art with its decorative molding and iron grillwork. It’s the sound 6-year-old Debbie’s shoes make as she walks across the floor.
It makes her feel like a princess walking through a castle.
Debbie Williamson-Smith, now 40, works as the communications manager at the Jordan Schnitzer and still loves to hear the sound of her heels against the floor.
Although the art didn’t matter much when she was 6, Williamson-Smith does remember what her art teacher taught her when looking at art. “You have to allow yourself to feel,” she says, adding that when she first looks at art she asks herself “Does it make me feel mad, sad or glad?” To Williamson-Smith the medium doesn’t matter as much as the feeling she gets from looking at art. Responding to art as a child is something that she would challenge anybody to do.
Williamson-Smith hopes to pass her love for art on to her 3-year-old niece. She likes to take her niece to art exhibits and show her the pieces that she is drawn to and hopes to see a reaction from her niece. Although her niece’s attention span doesn’t allow for long days at the museum, it’s those small moments when the art makes her giggle or cringe that Williamson-Smith looks for. “I love experiencing art through her eyes,” she says.
For Williamson-Smith the art also has a therapeutic effect. “I have to be bouncing around almost all of the time,” she says. “When I feel the art, it has a calming effect.”
A Eugene resident from birth, she remembers the field trips to the museums and the way her parents encouraged her to embrace art. “They’re sports people, but I responded to art as a child, and they took me to museums,” she says.
The museum gets school visitors almost daily. September and May, around 5000 children from all over Oregon visit the museum.
Her favorite exhibit was Carl Morris: History of Religion which was on display in 2007. The art debuted at the 1959 Oregon Centennial Exposition and had not been collectively shown since their debut. Morris was asked to create a piece representing religion and he chose to do so through large mural representing things that religions have in common; such as light, struggle, and sacrifice. “The art took up a large part of the museum, but it was just beautiful,” Williamson-Smith says. “It told a story with no religious bias,” she says as goose bumps appear on her arms while talking about the exhibition. She says a tingle went down her spine just thinking about the exhibition. As she begins to talk about the possibility of the exhibition returning a smile appears on her face.
As a lifelong Eugenean, Williamson-Smith had always dreamed of becoming the Slug Queen, an unofficial ambassador of the city and the reigning “monarch” of festivities at the Eugene Celebration. In August of 2011, that dream came true when Holly GoSlugly, her alter-ego, became the new queen.
In her sparkly green dress, Queen GoSlugly attends arts shows throughout the city, spreading arts awareness and advocating for arts education. Holly GoSlugly is a character Williamson-Smith based on Audrey Hepburn’s character Holly Golightly from the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
Holly GoSlugly is louder and more outspoken than Debbie Williamson-Smith, but their goal is the same: “Trying to raise $10,000 to target arts programs.” The money will go to several different places. The two most important ones are Fill Up The Bus, A stipend the Jordan Schnitzer Museum provides for field trip transportation; and Outreach Kits, suitcases from the Museum filled with arts lessons so that teachers without a background in arts will be able to teach children about the arts.
Although she’s sad that her ‘rain’ –instead of ‘reign’ because of rainy Eugene- as queen is soon coming to an end, she is happy with the changes that Holly GoSlugly brought to her day-to-day personality of Debbie Williamson-Smith. “I’ve become more of the person that I wanted to be.”
Even now, 36 years later, the click-clacking sound of heels serve as a reminder of the royal life that the museum has brought Williamson-Smith.