Ann Holtschlag loves those eye-opening moments when a museum guest comes to appreciate the beauty of a certain work of art.
Holtschlag is a long-time docent at the Columbia Museum of Art and the immediate past president of the Docent Corp. As the museum prepares for its next round of docent training later this month, Holtschlag shared some of the joys of the job and her hope that more Midlands residents will join the ranks.
Is your love of the arts something that has developed over time?
Holtschlag: “I’ve always had an interest in art. I taught high school English and humanities courses in Seattle when I finished college. While I love the paintings and sculptural pieces dearly, the context in which they were created has always been what I enjoy learning about. And communicating that to others is a selfish pleasure.”
What is one of the best kept secrets about the museum’s docent program you wish more people knew about?
Holtschlag: “The best kept secret about the CMA Docents is no secret to us. We are all members of a mutual admiration society and have a great spirit of collaboration and collegiality. Our backgrounds are diverse and amazing and we bring those to bear on our mission to educate while we enrich our own knowledge base. A good tour group gives us as much as we give them. There is a selfish component in that we learn as much as we teach. We don’t lecture. We have conversations with our visitors and you know how much fun that can be. We take the input from our visitors and use that to make the next tour even better.”
What do you consider one of the most important roles of docents?
Holtschlag: “A docent may be the first face a visitor sees. The first impression of CMA often comes from us. We consider this a big responsibility. One has to love the museum and all it has to offer to be a good docent. Our enthusiasm has to be contagious to be effective. We are well trained and constantly supported by staff in our quest to always expand our knowledge.”
So what are some of your personal highlights of the job?
Holtschlag: “We enjoy activities outside of the tours we do. We have fun. These are my friends. This past September we cleaned out the museum’s basement and had a tag sale for the public that enriched our scholarship fund. Wouldn’t anyone love the opportunity to rummage through a museum basement?
“Technology is terrific and certainly enriches our lives, but you can’t get the emotional reaction from a screen that comes when you stand in front of a work of art. Art is food for the soul and it sends you a message every time you look at it.”
What are some of your favorite pieces at the museum?
Holtschlag: “I love the ‘ah-ha’ moment when a visitor spies our big Murano glass chandelier in the upstairs gallery. It kind of hides behind the doorway and then smacks your retina with the way it’s lit. There is a wonderful story behind it and it was not on public view until CMA moved into the current facility. Maybe I also like it because someone else has to dust it. There is a great tie-in with the Chihuly chandelier in the lobby, even though there are many years between them.”
So is docent training intimidating?
Holtschlag: “If you follow one of our docent-led tours you may think our training regimen is intimidating. It’s intense and thorough because that is the way we want it to be. When you go into the gallery with guests you are well prepared, and the butterflies that pop up only increase your determination to do a good job. A docent who listens and responds to a tour group always leaves the gallery with material that there wasn’t time to cover. We hope that just encourages our visitors to come back. Being a docent is something you do for your own head and when you experience that communicative spark with someone else’s head, there is nothing better.”
The Columbia Museum of Art will begin a new 12-week docent training class Jan. 28. Docents lead tours of the museum’s collection and traveling exhibitions and help with other museum tasks. The training classes will be 10 a.m. on Mondays through Jan. 29. For more information, call (803) 343-216.
Reach Rantin at (803) 771-8306.