A guide to Zimmerli exhibits
Archived article from Mar 22, 2002
By Margaret Sullivan
Take a tour of the Zimmerli Museum, and you're likely to encounter one of the 24 volunteer docents. These enthusiastic women and one man lead some 1,000 visitors through the exhibits each year.
"The Zimmerli has such a diverse collection," says docent Andy Skislak, "and it keeps changing all the time. It makes for an exciting and stimulating environment for people who enjoy art."
Skislak, a retired engineer and a docent since 1999, is an amateur watercolorist. He particularly enjoys the way each exhibit ties together art, culture and history.
Another docent, Margaret Zullinger, a former third-grade teacher in Highland Park and a museum volunteer since 1992, is particularly drawn to the George Riabov collection of traditional Russian art, having traveled in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and, more recently, in Russia with a group from the Zimmerli.
"Being exposed to the art of many cultures and being able to share it with people is the best thing about working as a docent," Zullinger declares.
Laureen Trainer, the Zimmerli's education coordinator, explains that the process of becoming a docent is rigorous. Those interested in joining the team must first submit a resume and cover letter and then complete an interview process.
Once accepted into the program, docents must attend training meetings 10 times a year. At most of these sessions, docents meet with curators who do hourlong walk-throughs of exhibits. Handouts are distributed, and there are docent notebooks available at the reception desk so volunteers can study the finer points of each exhibit.
Two or three times a year, docents are required to prepare lesson plans that are shared with the group. Trainer says this comes easily to them, since most of the volunteers are retired teachers. "It's up to each docent to prepare personalized information after the walk-through. They are left to design their own tour of each exhibit, so it's good that they're self-sufficient."
Sometimes, these preparations lead in some unexpected directions. For instance, while preparing to lead tours of the Russian nonconformist art exhibit, Skislak discovered a link to his mother's family name that went back to the 12th century.
Skislak especially enjoys giving tours to children. Kids, he says, are not afraid to express their opinions about art or to respond to what they see. Zullinger, on the other hand, prefers the adult groups. Having spent her entire career teaching elementary school students, she enjoys the change.
"Our docent program is a major benefit to the museum," says Trainer. "We rely on our volunteers to provide services that we otherwise could not afford. The public benefits, the docents benefit and the museum benefits."