Learning by Touring

The Barker Mansion is home to many events. It opens its doors to the public and community, allowing people to be a part of the mansion. Meeting for organizations, “how to” classes, parties, and sleepovers are just a few of the many happenings that occur in the Barker Mansion. One aspect of the mansion that sometimes gets overlooked, but is indeed important, is the fact that we give out tours of the mansion.

The mansion has added signs to further help interpret rooms.

Tours of the Barker Mansion happen every Tuesday through Saturday at 1pm. In the past, tours have been self-guided and allowed people to walk through the mansion at their own leisure. Now, tours are all led by a guide and everyone is a part of one group. The tour itself takes around 45 minutes and allows people the chance to see the many rooms of the mansions.

Another interpretation sign.

I’ve had the ability to tag along on a few tours of the mansion. The mansion isn’t a massive place, but I’ve always seemed to learn something new. There have been times where I’ve privately walked around the three floors, exploring the different rooms. Those these walks were nice, I never really knew what I was looking at.

The door that is often mistaken for a dumbwaiter.

The rooms are elegant and grand. The bedrooms are spacious and fancy. The halls are large. The ballroom is filled with fascinating artifacts. However, that’s basically all I could ever take away from walking through the mansion on my own. All the knowledge I’ve gained about the mansion has been given to me through the tours.

Some of the artifacts of the mansion.

This past Saturday I joined the 1pm tour and once again went through the mansion. Once again, I learned some new things like that there’s a hidden button on the table in the dining room. One lady was talking to the tour guide and I overheard an interesting tidbit. The lady shared that she personally enjoys having a guide rather than doing self-guided.

One of the many pianos in the mansion.

In my head, I agreed with the lady. The guide spoke about how she also enjoys having a guide since then you know what you’re looking at. Naturally, the guides we have know everything there is possibly to know about the mansion and the Barker family. This point was really insightful. It makes perfect sense. Yes, it’s nice to have the ability to tour the mansion on your own, seeing the many rooms at your own pace. However, unless you’re a real history buff, you aren’t really learning/knowing anything about the mansion.

The room of Catherine’s teacher.

Everything looks really nice, but what makes the mansion interesting is the history surrounding it all. The era it’s from and the family that lived in it are what make the mansion fascinating. So, I’ve enjoyed having the ability to join a tour group and learn more and more about the mansion. It’s allowed me to morph a more complete perspective on interning here. Being guided through the mansion has allowed me to be more appreciative of the mansion as a whole.

I’m grateful for always having a guide on the tours since it’s allowed me to understand what I’m looking at/supposed to be looking at. Greater, finer details are given about a room and why it was set up the way it was. Explanation for certain styles and choices are told so that I’m able to walk away from the tour with a greater sense of knowledge.

Miguel Valencia


The Doll Tea Party

This weekend has been a busy one for the Barker Mansion. Yesterday and today, Saturday and Sunday, the mansion had the Doll Tea Party event. Every year, the mansion opens its doors for families to come in and enjoy some late afternoon tea. The families are able to walk around the mansion, make crafts, and see the garden.

Getting ready to have some tea and treats.

In the past, the event was known as the American Girl Doll Tea Party. Only girls with an American Girl Doll were allowed to participate in the event. However, in recent times, the event has changed to simply Doll Tea Party and is more inclusive to people. Girls aren’t required to have an American Girl Doll to be a part of the event, they are still encouraged to bring a doll if they have one.

Families making crafts in the library.

This event is one of the more well known events presented by the mansion. There were families from both days that have done the Doll Tea Party in the past. This event is also one that fills up quickly. As I walked around and talked to some of the families, some mentioned how they tried signing up in the past only to learn both days were fully booked.

Two friends enjoying the weather and the garden.

The interesting part about this event is that it is treated, and seen, as a mother-daughter event. Now, this doesn’t mean that only mothers and their daughters are able to partake, there were some grandmothers, aunts, and even a few fathers both days. It’s just more common to see mothers come with their daughters. The actual interesting part of it being a mother-daughter event is that some of the mothers that I spoke to have been coming to the mansion since they were children.

Nora and her daughter.

One of the moms I had the opportunity to speak with was Nora Liss. This was the first time she and her daughter took part in the Doll Tea Party. They tried the previous year, but it had been completely booked. Nora told me how excited her daughter was to come to the mansion and have tea and make crafts. Nora mentioned to me that she has been visiting the mansion since she was a child. She remembered coming to mansion and learning the history it has with Michigan City. She credits the mansion to an extent with facilitating her love for architecture. For her, Nora recalled gaining an interest in history due to her visits to the mansion. Nora believes events like the Doll Tea Party and the many other events that encourage children’s involvement are revitalizing the mansion. Another aspect that Nora enjoys is that since Catherine grew up in the mansion it allows for children like her daughter to relate more with the mansion. Her and her daughter have been to the mansion before. Whenever there is an event that promotes family involvement, Nora and her husband  make sure  to bring their two kids for the fun, learning experience.

Amanda and Lila.

I also had the chance to talk with two other families, Stephanee Vega and her daughter Vanessa and Amanda Gillisse and her daughter Lila. Stephanee and Vanessa have done the Doll Tea Party before while this was the time for Amanda and Lila. However, all four have been to the mansion for other events and tours in the past. Vanessa enjoys learning new facts about the mansion, and Lila enjoys seeing the different rooms of the mansion. Both Stephanee and Amanda have been to the mansion many times since they were kids. They mentioned how they seem to always learn something new with each visit. Stephanee told me that she loves that the mansion gives the ability to learn about history. Amanda shared that she sees more life in the mansion now from when she was kid and even compared to a few years ago. Stephanee agreed and sees the mansion as a place where the community is a bigger part of it now. They both love the idea of the community being involved. Both appreciate being able to bring their daughters to events like the Doll Tea Party. They hope to do the event with their daughters in the future when Vanessa and Lila have daughters of their own.

Stephanee and Vanessa.

The last two days have been very busy for the mansion with having to set everything up and then entertain the two parties. It’s been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. The families enjoyed themselves and had fun. That’s all we can ask for. Learning that some of the moms used to visit the mansion when they were kids and now continue to visit with their kids is fascinating and awesome. Tradition is a big part of the Barker Mansion. To learn that some families have made traditions involving the mansion is truly awe-inspiring.

Miguel Valencia

Candle Making at the Mansion

This past Wednesday, the Mansion once again hosted a first-time event. We had Brittany Whitenack from Antique Candle Works teach a class on how to make candles. Now, the great thing about this class was that it taught people how to make candles from the comfort of their own home. It was simple and fun.

Brittany (left) helping the ladies.


The group of ladies we had for the class were very excited to make their own candles. Each person was allowed to choose three scents that they would then make. Brittany had a great mix of scents to choose from including: Cashmere, Vanilla, Pumpkin Spice, Back Roads, and others. Back Roads and Cashmere were two favorites amongst the soon-to-be candle makers.

The ladies mixing the fragrance scent with the wax. 

Everyone had the opportunity to pour the wax, mix the fragrance scent in, and choose two tea cups for two of their candles. Then, everyone learned how to place a candle wick. While the wax cooled, the guests were given a brief tour of the mansion. After the wax cooled, everyone got their scents and carefully poured them into their jar and two tea cups.

Brittany giving some further instructions.

All the candles ended up turning out amazing. They all looked great, and all the ladies were so happy to have made their own candles. Each of them were careful throughout the whole process, asking questions when needing help, and it all paid off. Everyone wrapped up their newly made candles to take home.

Brittany showing how to place the candle wick.

After the event, I had the opportunity to speak with Brittany about Antique Candle Works and how it all started. At first, making candles was only a hobby for Brittany. It was something for her to do while she was in between jobs. One day, she said, “hey, I think I can make candles” and then she started her business. For learning how to make candles, Brittany was self taught with some help from Google. In January of 2014, Brittany started Antique Candle Works as her business. She does wholesale across the US and sells online.

The finished product.

Teaching a class was something that Brittany had thought about before. However, it was something that never happened. She saw it as something that could be fun and a good learning experience. It was just something that she hadn’t went forward with before. Then, our very own Jessica Rosier got in contact with Brittany. After some talking, Brittany found herself teaching a class for making candles at the Barker Mansion. Brittany was very ecstatic and impressed with all the ladies that showed up. She saw them as a very lively group. Brittany really enjoyed being able to do the class. She had a lot fun with it all. Before she left, she expressed interest in possibly having another class. If that were to happen, we at the Barker Mansion would love to have her back.

If you’d like to learn more about Antique Candle Works, check out their website, Facebook page, and Instagram.

Antique Candle Works Website

Antique Candle Works Facebook

Antique Candle Works Instagram

Jessica and Brittany.

Miguel Valencia

Another Night at the Mansion

This past Friday, April 8th, the Barker Mansion held another “Night at the Mansion” event. This time we had Girl Scout Troop 30130 of Brumitt Elementary School in Chesterton, Indiana. This event has been a great success for the mansion. Saying that, the mansion didn’t see this happening when the event first started.

When the first “Night at the Mansion” event occurred, the mansion hoped it would be successful. It was something new and different, a big unknown. For a long while now, the mansion has been taking risks and trying new ideas to create more and more interest for the mansion. There has been a multitude of new, exciting events that have popped up in the last year. The “Night at the Mansion” event was a completely different task.

The girls learning about the mansion.


Events at the mansion happen during the day and are a mixture of adults and children. However, the “Night at the Mansion” event is much different. It’s an overnight event. This is the only event that is overnight as well as the first event to be overnight. This was one of the biggest unknowns. We weren’t sure how everything would go allowing people to spend the night. Would it go smoothly? Would the people sleeping over have a good time?

Luckily, these “Night at the Mansion” events have been great. They’ve gone extremely well, never having any problems. For me, it’s fascinating how unique of an event this is. We allow these groups (for the time, girl scouts) to visit the mansion and have it all for themselves. They are given a tour, have dinner, watch a movie, and spend the night.

The girls hanging out and watching a movie.


The girl scouts this time were from Chesterton and were a group of 4th graders. Like before, the girls were enthralled by the mansion. They wanted to see the entirety of the mansion so much that they came up and asked if they would get the chance to go upstairs.

I find it interesting how excited the girls continue to be about seeing the mansion. Now, each time we have this event the group is different. It would make sense they would be excited, especially if they haven’t been to the mansion before. Plus, the mansion is an interesting place to explore. However, I always wonder how interested the kids will be.

Mansion Girl Scouts (23).JPG
The girls getting ready for their tour.

The world is very different today with the technology that exists now. In some ways, it has changed what is fun and interesting. However, kids are still excited by a place like the mansion. It’s great to see the amazement in the kids’ eyes. They are genuinely excited to be there. They love what they see, and they want to see it all.

This event is still in it’s infamy, but so far it’s been going really well. The girl scouts have enjoyable themselves. We’ve had a great time hosting the events. More groups are looking to take part in the “Night at the Mansion”, and that’s amazing. We hoped this would be an event that would do well. We are beyond happy at how successful it’s been so far. I’ve enjoyed being able to see it grow from the first time to now.


Miguel Valencia


First Friday at the Mansion

The first Friday of every month sees the city of Michigan City celebrate and focus on the arts and the artist who created it. The Barker Mansion participates in First Friday, giving artists the ability to showcase their art within the walls of the Barker Mansion. This month, the mansion had local artist Dorothy Tristan with her art on display.

Dorothy Tristan standing next to her work.

The art Dorothy displayed were all paintings, a variety of them. A few were of animals, some were of people, and others were of different scenery. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dorothy and learn more about her artwork and her time as an artist.

Dorothy started drawing when she was a kid. It was something she simply started doing. It wasn’t pushed on her or a class, she just started drawing one day. She ended up loving it as she kept making more and more art. She went to an industrial art school for high school and attended an arts student league in New York.

Visitors viewing the art.

Art, specifically drawing/painting, became Dorothy’s passion. It “gives [her] pleasure” and it’s “just fun to do”. Being an artist requires a lot of time and effort. However, Dorothy doesn’t let those things worry her when painting. She simply sits down and goes at it. She takes a general idea and let’s it evolve on the canvas. When she’s finished, she feels a real connection with the painting.

This connection with the art leads to the paintings have their own stories. Dorothy said that “everything has a story”, and those stories come out through the art. Even so, whatever story Dorothy might see in a painting doesn’t always mean others will see that same story. One of the great things about art is that it can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Dorothy welcomes people seeing something entirely different and says to “make up your own stories”.

More of Dorothy’s art.

Though Dorothy has been painting for a long time, this is the first time she has ever had her work publicly displayed, especially with her in the same room. It was a surreal experience for her. She could hardly describe the feelings she felt while watching so many strangers walk around and see her art. Though she might have been nervous to start, she said that it was “pleasant to see people look at [her] work.”

One of Dorothy’s favorite pieces, “Girl on the Swing”.

This was the first time Dorothy took part in First Friday, and it definitely won’t be her last. She’s glad to be able to share her art with the community, allowing them a look into her world. Some people might be sharing their art to make a name for themselves, make money, or any other reasons, but Dorothy is just happy to share her work. She’s just happy painting.

Miguel Valencia