Tea Time For Docent Emeriti

Sharing Sweets and the Successes of Colby's Docents

On Saturday, June 10, the Colby College Museum of Art recognized and celebrated retired volunteer docents with a formal tea in the Parker-Reed Room of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center. Active docents, professors from Colby’s Art Department, and Museum staff were in attendance to share memories and honor this newly formed group of Docent Emeriti.

In 1989, Lynn Marsden-Atlass became Hugh Gourley’s assistant and the Museum registrar. It was then that, Marsden-Atlass established the Museum’s volunteer docent program. This program included over thirty community members who visited local schools to discuss works in the collection and gave tours of the museum. The group was led by Hilary Ervin until her retirement in 2006. Ervin, Gourley, and later Alice Fitzgerald are credited with forming a volunteer program that has become a crucial aspect of the museum’s education and outreach efforts to the community. Ervin and Fitzgerald were two of the many docents whose hard work was recognized and appreciated at the Docent Emeritus Tea.

Linde Family Foundation Coordinator of School and Teacher Programs Margaret Aiken shared the following remarks:

From left: Phoebe Corwin (emeritus), Carol Welch (emeritus), Lisa Wheeler (current), Sylvanne Pontin (emeritus).

We are here today to honor the volunteers who began and continued the docent program at the Colby College Museum of Art. Without their dedicated contributions, especially those of Hilary Ervin and Alice Fitzgerald, I am sure the Museum programs we know and love today would not exist. The foundation you built continues to inspire and guide us.

So where are we today? While I have only had the pleasure of leading the Colby Docent Program for approximately two years, my primary goal is to continue the tradition your group began by teaching docents how to engage students’ minds and hearts when looking at and talking about art. As docents, what we all really hope is that students make a personal connection with a work of art, that we break down barriers for entering an art museum, and that they enjoyed the experience enough to return with friends or family.

Regarding teachers, we have built on the relationships you established with local schools. Our goals are still to make the school-visit experience easy to schedule, a pleasure for teachers, chaperones and students to attend, and a learning experience that they can incorporate into the curricula they are teaching back in their schools. In an effort to be more relevant to the students’ studies and to strengthen relationships with local teachers, something we call “Field Trip Experiences” were developed over the past year and launched this fall.

Field Trip Experiences are thematic tours, studio workshops, and pre- and post-visit activities created for Maine teachers, by Maine teachers based on Maine Learning Results, classroom curricula, and the museum’s collection. On these tours, students use paintings and sculptures as primary documents to learn more about topics such as the Civil War, Maine’s economy, landscapes and the environment, and the ways artists use elements of art to tell stories. Last fall, we began asking a few new post-visit survey questions including “Was the tour helpful in reinforcing what your students are studying in school?” Of the sixteen respondents, thirteen said “yes.” , One educator wrote, “Yes, this is a reinforcement of critical thinking and how students’ thinking or point of view meshes with big societal questions/conversations.”

Student docent Ling Ding, ’18, leading young students on a tour.

The current docent corps has spent hours learning and practicing pedagogy, studying not just information about what works are on the tour, but also how to communicate, ways to meet the specific needs of young visitors, and carry out the expectations of the teacher who planned the visit. This year alone, the Museum had 4,003 school visitors, and docents led 280 school tours! On top of that, they performed 113 hours of public tours. We are thankful that our docent ranks have grown to almost forty docents, as the continued success of our school-visits program and making art accessible to K-12 students in Maine is almost entirely dependent upon their energy and willingness to volunteer.

Some of the other highlights of the past two years, and exciting new ways docents have been involved, are:

  • Assisting with the new PreK program, Art+Storytelling, two Saturdays a month during the school year;
  • Assisting with Lively Spaces for half day, and conducting art/dance/writing summer camp at the museum;
  • Developing the Field Trip Experience Tours with our Educator Advisory Board;
  • Providing Fear No Art talks, where docents place themselves outside of their comfort zone by having them research, write, and talk about an artwork that they dislike;
  • Providing tours for Skowhegan high schoolers to critically examine representations of Native Americans in art;
  • Leading groups of 30 students into the Schupf Wing to draw using sketching prompts.


Due to the docents efforts and dedication, the school-visits program has been able to expand beyond the scope of just a tour at the Museum. Last year we professionalized the Teaching Artist position. As a result 76 percent of groups last school year, and 72 percent of groups this school year, participated in a hands-on studio workshop as part of their visit. In an evaluation an educator wrote, “It was very helpful for students to see first-hand some of the ways artists communicate ideas.  It was also important for them to see some of the connections between their work and the work of the artists through the studio experience.”

I am so proud of the work we do here at the Colby College Museum of Art. Not only is it a world-class institution with amazing art, but it is supported by an unparalleled group of volunteer docents both past and present. There’s real camaraderie among the docents, and their willingness to learn and grow is energizing and refreshing. It is truly a pleasure to be a part of this group to work with. Thank you to all of the docents for being a part of the Colby Museum of Art and for helping us to continue its mission to be “an open door to art” here in Central Maine.

The Docent body consists of the following members:

Docent Emeriti

  • Mary Benzinger
  • Bonnie Bishop
  • Joyce Bushey
  • Phoebe Corwin
  • Carol Durkee
  • Hilary Ervin
  • Alice Fitzgerald
  • Holly Johnson
  • Lisa Lessard
  • Virginia Merritt
  • Janet Mitchell
  • Ed Morrissey
  • Germaine Orloff
  • Sylvane Pontin
  • Dr. Peter Rosenberg
  • Rona Rosenthal
  • Shiro Phyllis
  • Judy Silver
  • Carol Souviney
  • Natalie Spangler
  • Carol Welch
  • Meg Wickes


Current Docents

  • Alice Anderman
  • Jean Bird
  • Kathy Castonguay
  • Bonnie Chamberlain
  • Donna Conkling
  • Joan Cook
  • Suzanne Culver
  • Jack Dirkman
  • Steve Eccher
  • Cindy Eccher
  • Cliftine Fortin
  • Nancy Gallagher
  • Liz Geller
  • Pam Gemery
  • Susan Gross
  • Peggy Hamilton
  • Robert P. Hernandez
  • Sumaira Imam
  • Bill Lagerstrom
  • Althea Lathrop
  • Natty Lazarian
  • Vaughn LeBlanc
  • Heidi Locke
  • Kathy McKay
  • Laurie McReel
  • Jean Oplinger
  • Marie Palluotto
  • Kathy Smith
  • Jan Stringos
  • Patricia Theriault
  • Deb Thurston
  • Theresa Violette
  • Ned Warner
  • Lisa Wheeler
  • Lee White
  • Glenda Winn
  • Leslie Woods