South Charlotte

Docents a valuable treasure for Charlotte's Mint Museum

If you've experienced a group tour of the Mint Museum on Randolph Road or Mint Museum Uptown, you may have met some of the Mint's most priceless acquisition: the docents.

Docents are volunteer educators who conduct tours for students, senior citizens, book clubs and businesses, and assist with special events.

"The docents give the most hours of any of our volunteer groups. They're just incredible," said Cheryl Palmer, the Mint's director of education. "And they're very much an extension of staff."

Docents need not be artists or art majors; they come from diverse backgrounds, including attorneys, chemists and teachers. Some are still working; others have retired.

Palmer said the common bond is passion for art and a desire to keep learning and giving back.

The Randolph location in Eastover recently hosted exhibits on everything from Chinese court robes to platform shoes.

Palmer, 61, studied art history. She joined the Peace Corps in West Africa in the 1970s as an artist/illustrator and took part in visual literacy projects to mitigate economic, health and sanitation problems.

The illiteracy rate among farmers meant they were at a disadvantage in financial transactions, and health-related myths persisted in the region. Palmer created posters to convey information using pictures and symbols.

"I learned so much more than I ever contributed to the people that I worked with," said Palmer.

Palmer has been employed by the Mint Museum since 1978. Her job title has changed, but she's always headed the education department, watching it grow from a department of one to a staff of nine.

Her husband, Frank Tucker, once played trumpet for the Charlotte Symphony.

Between 100 and 150 active docents help the museum, Palmer said. Some speak French, Italian or Spanish, making it possible to offer tours to diverse groups.

Gwen Bland is a veteran docent who lives in the SouthPark area and has served for nearly 30 years.

"No matter how experienced, you learn constantly from tours, especially with young people," said Bland via email. "It is a great way to meet interesting people and nourish your spirit. I am not an artist, but I certainly take pleasure in showing the genius of those who are to others."

Laura Everett will come to the museum this summer as the new adult programs coordinator and will handle docent training, Palmer said. Classes with daytime and evening options for recruits launch yearly. The next class will be offered in January.

Palmer said it's not too soon to consider applying.

By late June or the first part of July, Everett should be prepared to accept early applications. Interviews will be held September-October to ensure the right fit and make sure applicants understand the two-year commitment required, and assure people have the necessary skills.

Docents must be museum members, pay annual dues and buy a handbook. They are responsible for parking costs in uptown Charlotte; parking at the Randolph location is free.

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