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It takes the collaboration of many to make a successful symposium. We, the National Docent Symposium Council extend our sincere gratitude to the host site, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, their director, staff, countless volunteers and the marvelous and spectacular chairs; Grace Powell, Patricia Wenzel-Ades, Diane Massicotte and Louise Gauthier. I know we speak for all the docents and guides who were in attendance - Thank you for an unforgettable and rewarding experience!



Washington D.C., October 24th-27th, 2019

Hosted by:
The Smithsonian's Freer|Sackler Museums of
Asian Art

for information click: 



2017-2019 NDSC transition, 2017 Director Recruitment, The Docent Handbook 2, 2017, 2019 and 2021 Symposia

Henry Ford said, "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." Mr. Ford must have had a premonition about the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) and National Docent Symposium (NDS). His statement is a good description of our organization, its mission, collegiality, vision, leadership and accomplishments. We have successfully been moving forward together since 1981 because of people like you who are supporters and contributors to our organization.

Here's a brief rundown of NDSC/NDS successes and moving forward together:

2017-2019 NDSC (Council) Transition-

The Council says good bye to veteran officers and directors and welcomes new officers and directors following the closing day of each biennial symposium. My two-year term as Council president ends officially on October 15 and I will be handing over the "gavel" to Mina Shea (San Francisco Museums of Fine Arts.) Mina has served on the Council for several years first as a San Francisco symposium co-chair and as vice-president for the past two years. A more capable and dedicated Council member would be hard to find. Docents/guides have much to look forward to under Mina's leadership.


With the end of the year approaching for many docent & guide organizations the National Docent Symposium Council thinks it is a great idea to thank all the wonderful people who volunteer countless hours making the museum experience a meaningful one for visitors. What is the best way to honor docents? What keeps docents docenting (possibly not a word but you know what I mean?) Museums often find ways to honor docents at this time of the year. Luncheons are held, awards are given and in San Francisco, California and Evansville, Indiana Mayoral Proclamations were handed down last year to recognize docents and the amazing service they give. Museums also give parking discounts, gift shop discounts, sponsor enrichment trips and give holiday parties. I think docents enjoy the parties, discounts, and recognition but I wonder if this is what really keeps docents contributing untold volunteer hours to their museums.

A recommendation, some make, for those who are nervous to speak publically, is to imagine everyone in the audience is nude. However, few of us actually ever find out how this really feels. Last fall, one of the docents on the National Docent Symposium Council (NDSC) had the opportunity to do just this when The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts presented the exhibition Focus: Perfection Robert Mapplethrope.

The exhibit notes describe him as "One of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century, Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) gained renown for his masterful compositions and subjects that have compelled new reflection on questions of gender, race and sexuality." There were close to 300 of his photographs in the exhibition and it was very popular with the public. The exhibit concentrated on the genres of portraiture, the nude and still life.

Personal Development: NDSC, 2017 NDS Montreal and YOU

My theme for the spring of 2017 is personal development and YOU.

Personal development is the process of achieving and expanding your full potential. Wherever you go, whatever you do, you have the power to experience and expand your personal development. Whether you are improving your strengths, reducing your liabilities, or expanding what you are capable of, personal development is a path.

NDSC (the Council) Mission and YOU:

The mission of the National Docent Symposium Council is to promote continuous improvement in docent practice by facilitating communication and collaborative interaction among U.S. and Canadian volunteer docents/guides. This is accomplished through biennial symposia, sales of The Docent Handbook and with our interactive website

The NDSC consists of 30+ volunteer docents/guides from across the US and Canada who represent docents/guides from a wide variety of cultural institutions and museums. Our members are dedicated team players, who actively support our mission statement and the NDS. Our strong suit is the broad base of leadership, experience and knowledge that 30+ people bring to the table.

A gentleman adjusted his glasses to read, one more time, the clue in his booklet that described a work of art in the Taft Museum of Art. With his hands tied behind his back, he cannot see what is happening around him. Who is he?

"By golly, I think I finally found it," he said to himself as he studied the 16th century Italian Majolica plate in the Renaissance Treasury of the museum. He wrote "a blindfolded cupid" on his answer sheet.

This gentleman was a guest attending the annual Docent Fall Social at the Taft Museum of Art in Cincinnati, Ohio and was participating in a Treasure Hunt as part of the evening festivities.

Edith Wharton meets John Singer Sargent. More precisely, aspects of the society that Edith Wharton describes in The Age of Innocence can be seen reflected in portraits by John Singer Sargent of his wealthy and privileged sitters. Edith Wharton and John Singer Sargent, both American artists, were at the peak of their creative energies during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period known as the Gilded Age for the tremendous number of fortunes that were amassed during this time, and the lavish lifestyles those fortunes supported. What relationships do you see between the culture Edith Wharton describes and the culture of John Singer Sargent's sitter—Wharton's illuminated in words, and Sargent's illuminated in oil paints? How are they similar? How are they different?

If the above paragraph sounds like the beginning of a discussion, it is intended to be. It is a sample setting for a 'Book-Meets-Art Tour' as we have been conducting these at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). First, let me explain the philosophy that drives a Book-Meets-Art Tour, why we're calling it a 'creative visitor experience, and how we're implementing it.

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) Docent Council celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016 with many events and accolades. Our organization would like to share our experience with other docent organizations who may want to collaborate with their institution to celebrate a significant milestone.

Docents formed a 50th Anniversary committee and planned special events to acknowledge and publicize this historic event.

* A Golden Jubilee Handbook that included the history of the Docent Council, important Milestones over the years, docent pictures, and images of art works that docents contributed to.

Jen Brown (Oleniczak) is the founder of The Engaging Educator, a NYC-based organization that specializes in improv-based workshops and professional development for educators. Docents at The Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC had a chance to experience her engagement techniques during a recent training session.

We may think of improv as freewheeling comedy or situations where anything goes, but Jen assures us that it is anything but. Improv requires strong listening skills and concern for others.
For improv to work as intended, those involved must support each other so that everyone participating is successful. You can help your visitors feel comfortable by encouraging and supporting their contributions to the tour conversation.

Tales from the Museum

Many museums have works in their collections that are accompanied by an interesting story or unusual circumstance. Share your museum's tale by sending an article to Kristen Keirsey:  

Docents at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC enjoy sharing a painting with two signatures, a plaque giving artist attribution and wall text that explains how a museum mystery was solved.

Sanford Robinson Gifford and Jasper Francis Cropsey are familiar names among Hudson River School painters. These artists and their contemporaries painted the scenery along the river in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic region in the mid to late 19th century. The painters shared a quality in their work that was later termed Luminism to describe their focus on light and atmosphere. They painted the same subject matter and often had similar elements of composition. It can be difficult for the untrained eye to tell the difference between the painters in some cases and, as the Mint's story goes, it was difficult for the professional eye as well.

To make a long story (the subject of entire exhibition) short, in 1945 the museum was loaned a painting attributed to Jasper Cropsey. The work was signed and dated 1871 but little else was known, including the exact title.

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