A docent is a teacher, serving the Museum and the community in the field of art education. The word “docent” is derived from the Latin word ‘docere,’ meaning ‘to teach.’ Docents are knowledgeable, enthusiastic people who act as liaisons between the Museum and the general public. They are professional volunteer Museum staff members.

Meet Marlene Cummins, who has been a docent at the Muscarelle since 2016.

Marlene in action, providing a tour to a group of high school students in Fall 2022.

Why did you become a docent?
I have always loved museums and art in particular. For nearly fifteen years I was a docent at Colonial Williamsburg and gave both “Garden Tours” and “Behind the Scenes at Bruton Heights Tours” at CW for ten or twelve years. Finally, I decided I wanted to do something different and was drawn to the Muscarelle which I had enjoyed visiting over the years. Probably the Michelangelo exhibition helped convince me to become involved.

What is your favorite part of being a docent at the Muscarelle?
I enjoy interacting with people and trying to educate visitors while making it fun and memorable for them. I like to add special little tidbits about the artists or the work of art so that they may remember it long after they leave. I think there are advantages to a smaller, more intimate setting, which may make it less intimidating to some people. In addition, since the museum is part of William & Mary, I believe it gives it additional credibility. The fact that the Muscarelle also provides art students at the university an opportunity to select and curate an art exhibition each year shows its dedication to the students.

What is your favorite Muscarelle exhibition so far? Do you have a favorite artist or art period?
It is difficult to say which exhibition I liked the best. Different artists and shows appeal to me in different ways. The Botticelli show was certainly impressive and provided an opportunity for me to learn a lot. Because I love French Impressionism, the Degas exhibit was especially enjoyable for me and provided an opportunity to tell fascinating stories to the visitors. The Japanese Woodblock exhibition of the “53 Stations of the Tokaido Road” by Hiroshige was a real thrill because we lived in Japan for 3 years and I took classes on Japanese art and culture while there. The fact that Japanese woodblock prints inspired many of the Impressionists provides a tie-in to Impressionist art.

However, I found the exhibition “Forever Marked by the Day” to be particularly inspiring. The giant photographs provided a real appreciation of what has been done in the last 20 years to rebuild the area while commemorating the many lives lost. I personally found that exhibit to be so moving that my husband and I went to New York City, coming into the World Trade Center transportation hub by subway, to see firsthand the phenomenal Oculus and the other new buildings. I had not been aware of the Oculus with its captivating architecture until the Muscarelle had the exhibit. And while talking to visitors, I found that the Oculus was unknown to most of them, too.

What are your hobbies/interests, outside of being a Muscarelle docent?
I enjoy gardening and flower arranging and have been a member of the Green Spring Garden Club for 25 years. I thoroughly enjoyed working on the Christmas Homes Tours every December. Up until 4 years ago, we had a sailboat. Initially I enjoyed sailing on Lake Ontario for many years until we moved to Williamsburg and then sailed the Chesapeake Bay area for 20 years. Traveling to many parts of the world and learning about those areas also has been a real thrill. I have taken some painting classes in the recent past and hope to give it a try again soon.

Docents contribute to the Muscarelle Museum of Art in several ways:

Touring: Docents serve as tour guides for children and adults visiting the Museum.
Research: Docents prepare background information on the works of art in the collection of the
Museum, special exhibitions, and new acquisitions.
Outreach: Docents give presentations at local schools and community organizations.

Visitor to our 2017 exhibition "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting between the Medici and the Bonfires of the Vanities." Photo by Lex Rowland.

Docents can expect to participate in satisfying experiences working with children, students, and community members. There are many networking opportunities with artists, art professionals, and community leaders. You can also expect to expand your understanding of art and be challenged by new ideas. Being involved with the Docent Program increases involvement with William & Mary and the community at large and promotes academic excellence. The Docents at the Muscarelle Museum of Art are energetic, spirited, enthusiastic, and dedicated to the program.

Museum staff member gives tour

The training program lasts six months. Docent training is offered every other year.

Our next docent training class will begin in September 2023.

Visitor to our 2018 exhibition "In the Light of Caravaggio: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from Southeastern Museums." Photo by Lex Rowland.

From September to April, during the year, Museum professional staff, lecturers, and active docents lead the trainees in several areas including the study of art history, museum education, formal elements of art, as well as the history and collections of the Museum. Provisional Docents develop public speaking skills, research skills, and attend workshops.

Interested people should not feel intimidated by the subject matter studied in the Docent training classes. Muscarelle Museum of Art Docents come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions.

Visitor to our 2018 exhibition "In the Light of Caravaggio: Dutch and Flemish Paintings from Southeastern Museums."

Provisional Docents meet only two hours on the second and fourth Mondays with exception of December, each Monday 9 AM to 11 AM from September through April. Additional hours each week may be required for research, reading assignments, preparation of writing and speaking assignments, and/or observation of Active Docents as they tour in the Museum and speak in the community.

Membership in the Muscarelle Museum of Art Docent Program requires a minimum two-year commitment.

Active Docents are available to volunteer a minimum of eight hours per month and attend training sessions. Active docents usually meet second Monday of the month, 9 AM to 11 AM from September through May except during holiday seasons.

Active Docents are entitled to a number of benefits including a tuition waiver for one class each semester at William & Mary, a library card from Earl Gregg Swem Library with full library privileges, and the opportunity to participate in a number of field trips and special Docent-only events.

You will be required to become a member of the Muscarelle Museum of Art.  Membership information can be found here.

Visitors to our 2017-2018 exhibition "Building on the Legacy." Photo by Andrew Uhrig W&M '20.

Complete the application form. The docent training team will conduct an interview. We are looking for people who have an interest in and a commitment to the Docent Program.

For further information, please contact

SHAN GOSHORN | American, 1957 - 2018 | Laying the Foundation (detail), 2016 | Arches watercolor paper splints printed with archival ink, acrylic paint, gold foil | © Shan Goshorn | Acquired with funds from the Board of Visitors Muscarelle Museum of Art Endowment | 2016.214

Already a Muscarelle Museum of Art Docent?
Access the Docent Portal below.