First year docent experience at the Heard Museum

Jack Rubino

Las Guias (“the guides” in Spanish) is the name of the docent program at the Heard Museum in Phoenix which focuses on American Indian and indigenous peoples art and traditions. I recently completed my first year as a member of this guiding group. The best part has been meeting all the different people who come to visit us. From the field trip by a group of seniors from a retirement home to the energy of some kindergarten kids on their first field trip ever, each group affords an opportunity to present the museum in its best light and make the outing memorable for them and for me. In addition to the interaction with our diverse visitors, being a Las Guias contributes to my continued growth and is a value-added activity for my retirement.

To develop my expertise and understanding of the Native American tribes of the Southwest, I attended classes for four hours every Tuesday from October 2016 to April 2017. From the nomadic Chiricahua Apache tribe of Geronimo to the exquisite engineering of the Hohokam tribe that lived in the Phoenix area, my classmates and I listened to lectures from Native American experts, read original texts and traveled to locations to experience onsite remnants and ruins of these past civilizations. And the art – learning about the evolution of jewelry, pottery, baskets and textiles – has been a totally new experience for me. The backstories on how the Hopi artist Nampeyo and the San Ildefonso Pueblo artist Maria Martinez founded family dynasties of potters are fascinating.

Some of my classmates did not have the prior experience of standing up in front of small groups and conveying information orally. The Heard’s Education Department staff and our experienced Las Guias mentors worked with all of us to draw out our own speaking styles. It helps that the program is structured to avoid a rigid formula of presentation requirements for the tours. As a result, some of us are facts/dates/names presenters, and others mix in a more lyrical/storytelling approach to evoke the museum visitor’s understanding and appreciation for the art and artifacts on display.

As a working member of Las Guias now, my commitment is three hours twice a month. Those of us who are “winter visitors” can take the time away from the museum responsibilities without impacting our status as a guide. From time to time, there is a special “walk-through” presented by the museum’s curators to introduce us to new exhibitions. Experienced mentors are always available to help.

In addition to the work, there are ample opportunities for social engagement with your new friends from the museum. A recent program called “Jeans and Gems” offered a chance to show off your own glitter and learn something about Navajo jewelry-making. Regular presentations by guest artists, while not required for the members of Las Guias, are always a hit and a great reason to spend some time over lunch with your Heard friends after the presentation. And don’t forget the occasional gala event! Every year, the Heard hosts its Moondance museum benefit dinner.

A new Guias class is forming for October 2018. In addition, individual orientation sessions are planned for August 21 at 10:00 a.m. and September 11 at 10:00 a.m., both in the Encanto Room at the Heard Museum (2301 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix). To be a part of that class or for more information, you can send an email to [email protected] or [email protected]