A curator’s best day on the job involves jousting, theater, armor—and a chance to see people enjoying the museum together

A child dressed in chain mail at a Getty Center family festival

Kids aren’t the only ones who know how to have fun on a Saturday at the museum. The faux-medieval chain mail helps, though.

This past Saturday the Getty held a Family Festival related to the theme of the current exhibition of manuscripts, Chivalry in the Middle Ages (running until November 30). As senior curator of manuscripts, I felt I should do my duty and stop by for a few minutes.  Instead, I ended up staying all day and had an awesome time.

I began by attending the medieval combat exhibition. After demonstrating with swords, daggers, and even pole axes (some of the participants dressed in full armor), the instructors invited children into a marked-off area to take part with foam versions of the weapons.

Favorite overheard comment: “Mommy, they’re letting the girls fight too!”

Performers and visiting children engaging in a mock medieval battle

Then I headed over to the art-making area. Kids and their parents were invited to make flags they could decorate with a made-up coat of arms, goblets with gold paint and plastic jewels, or “stained glass” frames.

Favorite overheard comment: “Now we can toast each other in a medieval feast!”

The next event was the best part of the day. The medieval acting troupe Les Enfans Sans Abri launched the world premiere of A Knight to Remember, a play based on the story told in one of the Getty’s manuscripts. Called The Romance of Gillion de Trazegnies, the manuscript features all the aspects of the Middle Ages that we love: brave knights, damsels in distress, exotic adventures, and…bigamy? (You’ll have to go to check out the story to find out what that’s all about.) The manuscript itself is on display in the Chivalry exhibition. It is open to the beautiful image of Gillion marrying his (first) wife, Marie, an event captured flawlessly by the actors.

Members of les enfans sans abri at the Getty Center

I was just as enthralled as everyone around me. It was wonderful to see a medieval story I knew so well come to life before my eyes.

Les enfans sans abri at the Getty Center

Favorite overheard comment: “I think the Dark Ages must have been fun!”

My next stop took me to blacksmith Tony Swatton demonstrating his techniques. He wielded a variety of tools with skill and ease, talking all the while about the work he has done for video games and movies. The children were drawn to him like little bees to honey, including one girl who came in full medieval dress for the day.

Favorite overheard comment: “Daddy, I think he should shave.”

Blacksmith Tony Swatton at the Getty Center

My last visit of the day was to hear the USC Collegium performing music on lutes, recorders, shawms, and drums. The dulcet tones washed over the crowds, providing a perfect ending to a perfect day.

USC Collegium performing at the Getty Center

It was a day full of good cheer. I made new friends, learned much about medieval weaponry, and had the opportunity to see the Middle Ages through the eyes of our visitors. Families thronged the manuscripts gallery, eagerly looking at the images on display. It’s days like this that are the best, seeing thousands of visitors enjoying the Getty, simply celebrating a beautiful day and enjoying the activities, art, and each other.

Overheard curator’s comment: “Did I mention that I love my job?”

Elizabeth Morrison with performers at the Getty Center family festival

Me (in non-medieval dress) with some of the day’s amazing performers


Family Festivals at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa are free and complement current exhibitions. Our next festival is inspired by the upcoming exhibition In Focus: Play.