What is a Docent?

In a museum, docent is a title given to those who volunteer to educate and guide visitors.

The origin of the work comes from the Latin word docéns which translates to the verb to lecture and to teach. The first records of docents trace back all the way the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt when lower caste scribes would meet up in the temples. It was not until the Greco-Roman era when amateur guides, whose purpose it was to interpret art and architecture, began to appear in temples.

How do you become a docent?

Prospective docents will go through a training period where they study a manual, learn about basic art vocabulary and history of Steffen Thomas’s life. They will be assigned a mentor who will meet with them several times during their transition period. Before they can call themselves docents, they will have to design and give a tour to the senior docents and museum staff. Our docent training usually begins in the fall. If you are interested in joining or next docent class, please contact the museum at 706-342-7557 for more information on this important and rewarding program.

Interested in becoming a docent? Want to volunteer another way? Get in touch! We’re happy to answer all of your questions about what it means to be an STMA Volunteer.

Volunteer at STMA

How did the docent program at STMA come about?

The Steffen Thomas Museum of Art Docent Program was initiated in 2002 by STMA Board of Directors member, Laquita Pimm. Laquita was a former educator and was trained as a docent at the Georgia Museum of Art. She lived part of her life in England and traveled extensively, visiting many of the great museums in Europe while on her travels. She brought back photographs and stories of the art she saw, which she often shared with the STMA docents.

Laquita and Museum Director Lisa Conner compiled the original STMA Docent Handbook, which was based on handbooks used by other art museums. Using this handbook, Laquitta and Lisa trained the first group of docents at the Steffen Thomas Museum in the fall of 2002. These first docents bonded quickly and formed a core support group for the museum’s programs. They were always eager to give guided tours for visiting groups and often helped with the museum’s outreach programs.

Since this initial group was trained, STMA staff and senior docents updated the Board Handbook in 2008 and have taught several more courses, continuing to prepare new docents, who serve as volunteers and invaluable adjunct staff for the museum. STMA offers docents training courses every few years for new candidates.

Senior Docents

Lisa Conner

Interim Museum Director/Former Docent

“Being a docent gives me an opportunity to share my knowledge of Steffen Thomas, his art and STMA’s commitment to art education with visitors to STMA. The hope is that budding artists of all ages will be inspired and uplifted by the art. It gives me joy to share this knowledge.” Lisa’s favorite memory was when an elderly gentleman visited with his wife. After walking through the museum on his own, he asked Lisa to walk with him and tell him more about his favorite pieces. Very soon he turned to Lisa with tears in his eyes and said he had never been so emotionally moved by a visit to a museum. This is what Steffen Thomas wanted to communicate through his art—deep emotional messages that touch people. Lisa’s favorite piece is “Horse and Jockeys” that hangs in the main gallery. This mahogany work is one that she never tires of seeing. “The movement and grace of the horses in motion and how the riders are in sync with the horses creates a great sense of action and unity. The artist’s control of the material is impressive in this piece, I think, since he carved away so much of the background leaving the intricate outlines of the animals and figures.”

Recent Docent Trips:

MOCA GA and Timothy Tew Galleries, Atlanta, GA

Recently, the STMA docents had a wonderful day of gallery visits in Atlanta. Even the rain couldn’t slow us down! After climbing into the van (and picking up a few more docents along the way!) we headed into Atlanta, beginning our day with a driving tour of Steffen Thomas sights throughout midtown including his studio and former residence, as well as the Trilon fountain in Colony Square. Everyone enjoyed a fabulous lunch at Houston’s, and then it was time to visit some galleries. First, we visited MOCA GA (Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia), going on a docent led tour through their galleries and vaults. Then it was off to the Timothy Tew galleries, to see works by Los Angeles artist America Martin as well as Steffen Thomas. Selected works of Steffen Thomas’s will also be on display later this month at the Timothy Tew gallery beginning June 17. What a busy and exciting day!

Holy Spirit Monastery, Conyers, GA

The Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, GA

After climbing into the bus, the STMA docents headed off to Augusta to visit Morris Museum of Art but not before lunching at the Cotton Weevil Café. Everyone enjoyed their hearty soups, delectable sandwiches and lovely salads but it was the deserts that won over everyone’s hearts. The docents then enjoyed their short stroll on the river walk to the museum where they met their own docent for the day. Having the chance to not only enjoy the wonderful southern art as well as learning a bit about the Morris’s docent program gave everyone the opportunity to challenge their intellectual as well as artistic sides. The docents cannot wait to take their new knowledge and apply it to their next tour.

When looking back on the trip, Karen Strelecki said “I always enjoy the fellowship of our docent trips. Even though I had visited the Morris in the past, it was a joy to spend time again in their permanent galleries, “communing” with their wonderful Southern collection. I learned that they are a Sister Museum to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. And the Alfred Hutty exhibit was superlative! His black and white work was very moving. And of course, their museum shop is choc full of wonderful treasures!”

Lisa Conner, who also had been to the Morris before thought “Phyllis Richards, our docent, did an excellent job of telling the stories of the paintings. I particularly like the large curved painting of the Confederate soldiers skinny dipping and getting caught off guard by the enemy troops. I also like the way the designers of the building created different shapes for the various galleries.”