Become a Docent at the Brooks!

Brooks is looking for a few good guides!

Would you like to learn more about art and share your knowledge with others? If yes, please read on!

Founded in 1965, the Brooks Docent Program was established by the Brooks Museum League. Serving thousands of visitors each year, Brooks docents engage their audiences with the artwork on view and foster the development of visual and creative thinking skills, often providing the first contact many children and adults have with the visual arts. We strive to provide a positive, meaningful, and relevant experience with art.

What is a Docent? A docent is a museum-trained volunteer who conducts tours of the permanent collection and special exhibitions for children or adults. The word docent is derived from the Latin word docere, meaning to teach. Volunteers receive a six-month training course in the museum’s permanent collection, art history, and touring techniques. The Brooks Education department is actively recruiting new docents for the next training program this fall beginning September, 2010.

Training consists of two half days per week during the six month program. Once the initial training is complete, each docent is asked to make a two-year commitment and select one day per week, from September through May, to conduct scheduled tours. In addition, attendance at monthly training meetings is required. Qualified candidates are interviewed and selected based on their ability to communicate information knowledgeably and enthusiastically.

Prior experience or an art background is not required. Anyone who has an interest in art and lifelong learning can be a docent. Though Brooks docents are as diverse as the artwork they present, they share the following:

• A love of art
• A passion for learning and teaching
• An ability to communicate effectively
• Enthusiasm, Creativity, and Flexibility


• Opportunities for continuing education and personal growth
• Support of an enthusiastic and dedicated docent peer group
• Ongoing training in teaching and learning theory, art and art history, and special exhibitions
• Art lectures, gallery talks, and curator tours
• Discounts on Museum membership, the Museum Store, and the Brushmark Restaurant
• An opportunity to serve the community—enriching lives and transforming others through the power of art

If you are interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer docent, call 901-544-6215, email or visit the Brooks website and download a docent application today!


FILM and ART: Salute to Tunisian Cinema and Tunisian Mosaics at the Brooks!

FILM: Salute to Tunisian Cinema: Being Here
Thursday, May 6 | 7pm
EXHIBITION: Mosaics from Tunisia
Now through Sunday, May 30

The Memphis in May International Festival, Indie Memphis and the Brooks have teamed up to bring Memphians an insider look at Tunisia. Located in the northernmost point of Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and containing the Sahara Desert, Tunisia is a country to be explored!

Come early and check out our unique Tunisian mosaics exhibition! Tunisia is known for its early history and preserved Roman marble mosaics. Used as pavement decorations during the rebuilding of the city post-invasion, most of the artwork depicts Christian and Mythological themes. You must see them for yourself-they are so old, you can even still see some of the ancient dirt! My personal favorite is the Funerary Orant with birds, roses, and candles from the 5th century! It alludes to resurrection, which is a pretty awesome concept.

Come to the Brooks Thursday, May 6th at 7pm to see the award-winning documentary, Being Here, written by Zran Mohamed. This film will take its viewers on a scenic journey that travels from the past traditions and lifestyles of the ancients into the present-day modern city. Follow real-life portrayals of inhabitants of southern Tunisia and how they live. You are sure to walk away from this event with a wider mind.

Getting to Canaletto by Curator of European and Decorative Art: Stanton Thomas

It’s been four years and about two months since I started working on the Canaletto project. I actually began it before I even arrived in Memphis to take a position at the museum. Our former director, Kaywin Feldman, called me at my home in Cleveland, Ohio, and told me that the Brooks was planning a Canaletto exhibition. And she told me that it was going to be my project, and that I needed to write a portion of a funding grant.

She had sent me files on the Brooks’ great painting by Canaletto, the View of the Grand Canal from the Campo San Vio. I was surprised by how little there was about George Proctor, the man who first owned the picture. So I chose to work on him and the painting’s ownership history.

I love working on ownership history, also known as provenance, it can reveal not just the names of owners, but facets of their lives and information about their families. My research on the ownership of the Canaletto painting began with reading wills. Thanks to the digital age, huge numbers of wills from the 1600s onwards are available online. It was fairly easy to find George Proctor’s, and those of his brother, sister, and nephew. Mr. Proctor outlived his brother, and inherited his property. Neither of them ever married, but devoted their time to developing their shipping business.

They were very successful. Since he had no heirs when Mr. died, he left everything to his sister’s oldest son. The will recorded that various friends and servants were left small things (watches, rings, etc.) and some pensions, but the bulk of the estate went to the nephew on the condition that he change his last name from Beauchamp, to Proctor-Beauchamp. The will also stipulated that the newly minted Mr. Proctor-Beauchamp should go on the Grand Tour with a sober, qualified, and reputable guide. Apparently Mr. Proctor wanted his heir to experience the benefits of travel throughout continental Europe, but only under the watch of a chaperone.

After reading the wills, and learning more about the Proctor and Proctor-Beauchamp families, I headed to Norwich, England. Located in East Anglia, Norwich is famous for its spectacular cathedral and medieval buildings, and the huge country houses scattered about the surrounding countryside.

The wills showed that Mr. Proctor (after retiring) had purchased an enormous estate and country house named Langley Park in East Anglia, and the internet revealed that the structure was still standing. It was an amazing experience to rent a car in Norwich and drive out into the English countryside to see the house. In particular, the rental agency had upgraded me to a “first class, luxury vehicle.” So I found myself suddenly driving on the wrong side of the road in a massive Mercedes.

It was a memorable experience, especially traversing the numerous roundabouts—features which I quickly renamed “moving circles of death.” Langley Park, Mr. Proctor’s house, is located near Loddon, a lovely country village. It is now a private boarding school, but it nonetheless looked much as must have did during Proctor’s time. Even more interesting than wandering through the man’s house was a beautiful portrait of him, still hanging in the west dining room. It showed him around the time he would have visited Venice.

While seeing Proctor’s house was interesting, the most fascinating discoveries about him lay in the Norwich Records Office. This regional archive preserves wills, land grants, inventories, and private papers from families and public institutions throughout East Anglia. It gave me great information about Proctor and his business ventures. I was even able to read his original account books, which recorded his banking transactions and food commodities trading. Even more interesting, the archives preserved his personal daybook–a pocket-sized leather-bound volume filled with his records of daily expenditures. Written in his own hand, it recorded his private purchases, which ranged from chocolate to picture frames, and horses to china. It was strange and wonderful to be able to leaf through pages he had written himself, and to hold a book that he would have carried with him in his coat pockets.

The most interesting information about Proctor came from private inventories preserved in the Norwich Art Museum. These recorded that Proctor commissioned the painting directly from Canaletto while visiting Venice in 1740, along with three other works. Of course, it was also great to visit Norwich. The art museum is located in a converted Norman Castle, and the entire city is largely unchanged from the medieval period.

Learning about George Proctor and his descendants was fascinating, as was the entire trip and indeed, the long, four-year journey to discover more about the history of our Canaletto. In addition to learning about a single painting, I have a much better understanding of daily life in the eighteenth century and the economies of daily life in country house. I am looking forward to applying this knowledge to my next project. And hoping that it won’t be as long as four years before it comes to fruition!

A special thanks to Stanton for his perspective and giving us the insight into a beautiful exhibit from its genesis into its public unveiling. Come check out the Venice in the Age of Canaletto exhibit which is on view until May 9, 2010.

Rare Works on Display in Around TN

Around Tennessee, 1820 – 1920, a new exhibition of rare works from the Midsouth, is opening on Saturday at the Brooks.  I got a chance to go behind the scenes to see the installation of it yesterday.  There are some really beautiful pieces in there, including fine furniture, paintings, quilts, and early silver. 







The Brooks’ Associate Curator Stanton Thomas was telling me that the antebellum silver is especially considered rare because during the Civil War it was often melted down for currency.  One of my favorite items in the exhibition is a silver Mint Julep cup that was owned by the founder of Memphis, Marcus Brutus Winchester!

Other rare objects include the five Sugar Chests on display.  Now, I had never heard of a sugar chest before this exhibition, but apparantly they are among the most unique form of Southern furniture.  As sugar was such a commodity in the 19th c., these sideboards were built so that the sugar could be kept under lock and key. (Read a short history of the sugar chest here.)

Another thing I noticed about these chests is that the area around the lock (the escutcheon) is often a different color of wood from the body of the chest.  The curator told me that in one example it’s because the owners probably lost the key at some point and had to saw the lock out (look for an inverted triangle of different colored wood on one of the pieces in the gallery)!

In this picture of a lock on a sugar chest, however, the design is purposeful.  A lighter colored wood was used to make it easier to find the lock when searching for it in the candlelight.

 Another interesting thing that the curator pointed out was in this quilt here.  The woman who made this piece traced her young child’s hand in the embroidery design.  Can you see the outline of a hand in the center of the picture?  Though it wouldn’t be noticeble to the casual observer, the woman would think of it everytime she saw the quilt.  I thought that was so poingnant.

In addition to the decorative arts, there are also really beautiful paintings, including some by the extrememly popular artist Carl Gutherz.  But this one here immediately caught my eye.  Little is known about the artist (Blanche Elder), but as the painting has remained in the family over the years, we do know that this painting is of her mother (Belle Elder).  She is most likely in mourning, which explains the dress and sorrowful expression, the curator explained.  It’s hard to believe it’s from over a hundred years ago (dated 1889) — you still feel so much empathy for the woman when you see it.

There are so many wonderful items in this exhibition, I could go on and on.  Many of the works have never been exhibited in public before, as they are part of private, family collections.  So this is a rare chance to see them all in one place.  I hope that everyone gets a chance to see it! 

Around Tennessee, 1820-1920 is on view from July 5 to September 7 at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.