What do knights in shining armor have to do with slimy snails and porcupines? A lot, according to Elizabeth Yohlin Baill, museum educator and author of “Armor & Animals.”
What do knights in shining armor have to do with slimy snails and porcupines? A lot, according to Elizabeth Yohlin Baill, museum educator and author of “Armor & Animals.” Her book, published by Princeton Architectural Press (PAP) and released Feb. 23 of this year, informs kids about art and animals using the armor collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as its backdrop.
Today, Baill, 35, serves as the Collections Interpreter for Youth and Families at the Art Museum. “We use the word interpreter as sort of a buzzword. But here we think of it as acting as a proxy for visitors, helping to make the collections as accessible as possible, most especially for our youngest audiences.”
A second book by Baill, “What Can Colors Do?” (also published by PAP and released May 11), features colorful paintings, sculptures and objects from the Art Museum to help children think about how artists use color and how colors express feelings.
Prior to her current post, Baill held positions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Art Museum of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and Chicago History Museum. Additionally, she has developed award-winning content for kid-friendly audio guides, exhibits, etc.
Born in Abington, Baill soon moved with her family to Upper Dublin. “I was 8 years old when we moved, and my family still lives there,” Baill said, although she and husband and two children recently moved to Bala Cynwyd. “Upper Dublin is where I spent my childhood, so I have really fond memories of the area. I still go there often to visit friends and family and to take my own children to see some of my old haunts.”
Her high school years were spent at Germantown Academy, and although she did not attend the local public high school, she still felt very much connected to Upper Dublin. “I have great memories of growing up there,” Baill said, “and I picture Upper Dublin as the basis of all my childhood milestones. For instance, my dad taught me to drive in the Fort Washington Expo Center parking lot, and so much more. Even today, the area still feels like home.”
After high school, Baill went to the University of Pennsylvania to major in visual studies. And then to the Art Institute of Chicago for a master's degree in Art Education. “I consider myself very lucky because I always wanted to do exactly what I'm doing now,” Baill said. “My dad was an avid art collector, and I grew up surrounded by works of art. So I kind of assumed it was normal to have tons of pictures on the walls.
“And although I was never an artist myself, I grew up going to places like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, learning about the art's history. For my senior project in high school, I managed to get set up with the then-head of family programs at the Museum. I shadowed her and saw her read a book to a group of pre-schoolers, and I was hooked ... And from then on most of my work has been focused on working with young children in an art museum environment.
“I have always wanted to write children's books for an art museum. I actually did my graduate thesis on children's books about art and art history. And years later, when I was already part of the Art Museum, we had a new head of publishing with a vision of creating a new children's book series for the Museum. I couldn't have been more excited.”
Baill is energized by her work, “especially when I listen to young kids talk about art. Adults may often think how bored our children might be with visits to the Art Museum, but if we give them the time and space to verbalize what they feel, we may be pleasantly surprised.”
“Armor & Animals,” by the way, has received nothing but rave reviews. A typical five-star review on goodreads.com, by a Jessica Hawkins, stated: “This was a really great book for my little boy, who is into all things about knights and dragons and, of course, animals! This would make a great addition to any children’s library, and I would easily recommend this to family and friends of little kids.”