The docents at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange said their jobs include knowing the collection very well, answering questions as the audience is guided through the collection, and other duties such as matting and framing, and deframing the art.

Pictured in no particular order are: Carol Sims, Judy Taylor, Judy Turpin, Linda Womack, Pat Summers, Rebecca Johns, Sherrill Porterfield, Shirley Marshall and Stacy Russell, all docents; staff are: Restauri; Casey Goldman, educator, studio and outreach; and Annmarie Ventura, education intern. RECORD PHOTO: Lawrence Trimm

David Ball – For The Record

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a docent as  a person who leads guided tours especially through a museum or art gallery. It can also mean someone who is a college or university teacher or lecturer.

This is an apt definition for the docents at the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, who likewise, go through a preparation course before hitting the floor. They are also constantly learning, according to Jennifer Restauri, curator of education.

In fact, the docents were on their first day of a two-week intensive on August 25.

Several of the docents also have much experience with three who have more than 10 years of experience and another nearing 15 years of experience. Restauri herself has been curator of education at the museum for three years.

Those attending the two-week intensive were: Carol Sims, Judy Taylor, Judy Turpin, Linda Womack, Pat Summers, Rebecca Johns, Sherrill Porterfield, Shirley Marshall and Stacy Russell, all docents; staff are: Restauri, Casey Goldman, educator, studio and outreach, and Annmarie Ventura, education intern.

The docents said their jobs include knowing the collection very well, answering questions as the audience is guided through the collection, and other duties such as matting and framing, and deframing the art.

There’s also lots of research and studying including knowing the background of the Stark Foundation.

The docents serve as ambassadors of the museum too since they are the first point of contact with the public. They’re also active in the community like learning to do face painting such as at the Lions Club Carnival, the Juneteenth Celebration and the BASSmasters Elite Tournament .

One example was a giant floor mural assembled on the floor with the students at Orangefield Elementary School. One docent said she never pictured herself doing something like that but it was also so much fun.

One docent said they have to learn their work well and they feel like a teacher. The docents said they meet very interesting people and they enjoy working with their fellow docents. One worked for the West Orange-Cove CISD for 24 years. Several others worked as teachers or in customer service.

Many said it’s fun to receive visitors who have never lived in the area, visit the museum and see all of the Western treasures hidden in Southeast Texas and they love the reactions from children because they are eager to learn and they want to soak up much more information. The children also see something in the paintings the docents haven’t seen before.

The senior citizens tours are rewarding as well. The museum offers senior art classes where even the men become involved and get into the art. They joke they can make something to put on their kid’s refrigerator.

Restauri said the docents also play a “very hands-on role” at the museum and serve as assistants in the studio. One said you never really learn something well until you can teach it. For example, exploring the Newcombe Pottery display and learning the stories behind the art of a trading post in New Mexico.

She said with the quantity of their collection, the staff couldn’t do their jobs without the docents’ help.

“We have 774 kids come through in one week and 4,000 last spring,” Restauri said. “We work together. We use five galleries and move around.”

School tours are also tied to the schools’ curriculum which is tied back to the classroom. The museum sometimes makes it possible if the school didn’t have art education available.

Several docents said they are excited about teaching critical thinking skills through art. They do research on cognitive learning too.

“We have worked so hard on cognitive learning and pedagogy. We’re always learning about learning. Learning in different ways,” Restauri said. “Sarah (Boehme), our curator, goes over our research.”

One docent said the Stark Museum is a wonderful organization because of the people and the material. She started as a docent several years ago when her second child was an infant. She was a stay at home mom and she wanted to get out of the house and experience the “adult world.”

She was an art major in college and being a docent is the perfect job for her. It also helps the museum is walking distance from her home.

Many of the docents have either an art or a history background. In fact, a knowledge of history is a very important part of the job they all agreed.

Restauri added Judy Taylor’s background in science is particularly helpful.

“We have a wide range of backgrounds,” Restauri said.

Many said they like the flexible schedules their jobs offer

Restauri said the docents must be accepting of different opinions because there’s no right answers.

“We talk about it and why or why not we like it or don’t like it,” she said. “It’s wonderful when the children create some of their own art. It’s all inter-related. It builds their creative confidence.”

There is also a junior high school group and a high school group that debates art. The first group tells why someone should buy the art and the second group says no to the first group and a judge renders a decision.

“They’ll say, ‘Are you sure we are really going to take this?’ versus ‘We couldn’t take it back because the other students wouldn’t allow it,'” she said.

Restauri said each of the docents have their own particular favorite works of art and projects that are moved out may be moved back into the collection after time.

Some of the research projects that stand out to some docents were the Minverva Teichert- Mormon Art project and the Edmonia Lewis project for Black History Month.

A full-time librarian also assists by pulling out material for the docents to study.

Lecturers and artists also come to the museum and give presentations.

One docent said she was at a museum at Brigham Young University in Utah and recognized a Stark Museum piece on loan to that museum.

The docents said they develop a sense of ownership of the exhibits and they all have their favorites.

In return, the docents said the experience Restauri brings to the table is invaluable. They say she is exceptionally bright and organized and her enthusiasm is contagious.

“We are so lucky to have her. Casey (Goldman) and Annmarie (Ventura) too,” they said. “We get new interns too and we miss them when they leave.”

Restauri said they all have a strong working relationship which makes working together so much more fun.