Art

Sometimes you just need a guide

Taos Art Museum's docent program offers visitors a deeper dive into local art history

By Tamra Testerman
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 11/26/19

A museum's docent program, usually staffed by volunteers, helps visitors explore and connect with the exhibits and collections.

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Art

Sometimes you just need a guide

Taos Art Museum's docent program offers visitors a deeper dive into local art history

Posted

A museum's docent program, usually staffed by volunteers, helps visitors explore and connect with the exhibits and collections. Executive Director of The Taos Art Museum Christy Schoedinger-Coleman said "docents are an integral part of the Taos Art Museum as they enhance the visitor experience by providing a deeper understanding and greater appreciation of the Fechin House and its exhibitions through interpretation and creative inquiry, sparking visitor curiosity and imagination."

She continued, "There are no educational requirements. We're looking for enthusiastic, cheerful and outgoing people willing to learn, enjoy working with diverse audiences and appreciate the Fechin House, art and history."

Docent Lin Johnson McGaw said it's a "yummy assignment. It is such a joy to share details about the Fechin House and fascinating stories about the Fechin family with enthusiastic individuals. Visitors never fail to enjoy the tour and they appreciate that a docent makes it so much more meaningful for them."

Head docent Cindy Atkins said she had a love for the Fechin House before moving to Taos 10 years ago. One of the first things she did was show up at the museum and ask how she could get involved.

She found the Nicolai Fechin story "still relevant in so many ways today - his life included the American immigrant story, a true rags-to-riches story [about] many examples of overcoming great obstacles to fulfill a dream, the importance of art both culturally and in the artist's own life."

She added, "But, my real joy has been in learning so much about the house and having the ability to spend so much time in it. I love this place so much that I have lectured about Fechin and the house both to organizations here in Taos and outside town."

Atkins said there are five docents in the program, and "there is training needed but the training is straightforward. The trainee will be sent a history of Nicolai Fechin and an overview of the house to read and become familiar with. Then, they will be asked to observe several docents-led tours. They are then welcome to a trial-run tour with me or one of the other docents. And they are ready to go.

"The only qualifications are that a docent needs is a real passion for Fechin's story and for this beautiful home, the willingness to donate a few hours a month to sharing that passion with our visitors and the joy of talking to our visitors." Atkins said a "true passion for this place becomes contagious and helps our visitors see what a special treasure the house is and how lucky they are to get to see it like Nicolai intended."

Atkins said that "doing tours of the Fechin House is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Young or old, local or tourist … Everyone falls in love with the Fechin House. It is a rare tour when it doesn't end with our visitors commenting on how amazing the experience is and being so grateful for being introduced to this amazing history."

She continued, "There are so many audiences that come to the house - many do not understand who Fechin was or know anything about the architectural treasure they are walking into. ... Those are fun tours because it is such a surprise for them and so fun for the docent to see the wonder come across their faces as the tour progresses.

"We get many visitors who come to Taos on a pilgrimage to see the house. Painters who have studied Fechin for years, woodworkers and carvers and furniture makers who have heard about the treasures the house holds, architects who still revel in the master's designs. Then there are the visitors who come to see the exhibitions in the house, unaware that they are housed in a masterpiece of a different ilk and thrilled to see that a trip to the Fechin House is a two-for-one, the exhibitions and the house."

She said one of her favorite docent stories was a tour that included a college-aged man. "He was an architecture student and enraptured with the house. After the tour, I overheard him on his cellphone telling someone who turned out to be his girlfriend who had stayed back at the hotel that she 'had to come over right away and see this place.' A few minutes later, he met her at the door to the museum. He took her hand and said, 'Babe, get ready to fall in love.'

"That was my reaction upon first seeing the house and I loved seeing that same sense of rapture being felt by a younger generation."

The Taos Art Museum is located at 227 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Hours of operation are Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information about the docent program, call the museum at (575) 758-2690.

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