Participating in the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art docent program has opened quite a few doors this summer for Hamilton students including at the Smithsonian, Guggenheim, American Museum of Natural History, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Institute of Contemporary (ICA) Art in Boston. “My experiences at the Wellin … was one of the reasons I was offered an internship at the [Smithsonian’s] Freer|Sackler galleries,” said Nanaka Suzuki ’20. Matthew Tom ’20, who is at the ICA, similarly attested, “Working at the Wellin … was crucial not only to my interview process but the work that I’m doing this summer.”
The docent program offers intensive training in many facets of the Wellin Museum. Students begin in the program by greeting and orienting incoming visitors and expand into various areas of the museum’s operation including assisting in development and execution of K-12, community, and College tours; putting together exhibition checklists, researching and cataloging artworks in the permanent collection; researching artists and pieces of art; planning educational events; creating teaching samples; and assisting in digital campaign development, research and content creation; and poster design.
The Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art combines advances in interdisciplinary approaches with object-based learning. It features a large visible archive and open storage, allowing for unprecedented access to a collection of cross-cultural art and artifacts that span millennia.
“My prior experience at the Wellin obviously came up in my interview, but I think what set me apart was the breadth of work I had done at the Wellin,” said Tom. “Because the Wellin is a small campus museum, I’ve been exposed to not only the marketing aspects of the museum but the curatorial and educational aspects as well. … to work at a medium-sized museum [this summer] with a much larger operation has made me appreciate the Wellin staff even more.”
Amber Geary, the museum educator who directs the program, designs custom programs, when appropriate, to match individual docents’ expressed interests. Annie Canning ’19, who is currently an intern at the Guggenheim, was particularly interested in pursuing museum education. Geary developed a research project for her to review what others had done in the Wellin Kids program to collect best practices and to oversee all of the past year’s children’s events.
“I really drew upon my experiences as a student docent at the Wellin Museum throughout the application process and during my first few weeks as an intern at the Guggenheim Museum,” wrote Canning. “At the Wellin, I learned a lot about museum education and how museums connect with the community. Those experiences not only prompted me to apply for the museum's school and youth programs but also helped me to discuss my career goals and interest in museum education more precisely.”
Geary, who has run the five-year-old program for the last three years, continues to revise the docent curriculum, surveying students at the end of each year. To enhance her own skills in team-building and training, Geary is enrolled in a program this summer at the Disney Institute focused on employee engagement. She plans to integrate what she learns into the docent training next year. “By this time next year we are going to be sitting on something amazing. We are offering students tools to make them feel confident and grow through experience. We are offering not just great tour guide experience but we are pushing them through what they want to experience in life. We are focused on the growth of the student, not on perfecting the tour-givers. We want to make our visitors comfortable in our space and feel valued.”
Abby Uehling’s internship at the American Museum of Natural History cataloging a large collection of marine invertebrate fossils might not immediately seem to correlate with her experience at the Wellin. She reports, however, that at the Wellin she learned the importance of being extremely careful around artwork and maintaining all the appropriate information while moving pieces. “This internship along with working at Wellin has cemented my belief in educating through museum collections. I love seeing little kids from all over the world excited to learn about different artifacts or natural history collections.”
Julia Dailey ’18, who is working in the education department at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, wrote, “The Wellin absolutely prepared me for this work as far as learning how to talk about art and teach art with children. I learned visual thinking strategies, which are a go-to for teaching art to children. I learned that the majority of the lesson has to come from the kids themselves, and the best way to teach art is by asking open-ended questions that encourage children to observe.”
Equally exciting is what these interns may share with their fellow docents next year. “I am having a tremendous experience here this summer, and I can't wait to bring some of the knowledge that I have gained here back to the Wellin,” wrote Suzuki.