South Charlotte

Helping out the Mint Museum for 30 years

When it comes to volunteerism, there's dedication, and then there is Gwen Bland.

Bland's service to the Mint Museum redefines dedication.

The museum just celebrated its 75th anniversary, and Bland can say she's been a docent, or volunteer tour guide, for nearly 30 of those years, beginning about 1982.

Bland had returned from a docent training class when she sat down at her Kingswood home recently to reminisce about her volunteer career.

At the time she started at the Mint, she had no arts background other than previously being a docent for a Winston-Salem art museum.

In fact, a passion for history almost tempted her to look for opportunities at a history museum.

A youthful hobby of fashioning paper doll clothes had prompted early aspirations of being a dress designer - until she heard it meant she'd have to sew. That was as close as Bland had gotten to the arts.

It was her attendance at a meeting of Friends of the Mint, a Mint affiliate that supports the arts, which first set wheels turning.

"I was very impressed," said Bland. She soon began learning art history and the museum's collections.

An English teacher by profession, Bland initially intended to return to the classroom. She found volunteer work suited family life better, though, and teaching others about the museum allowed her to remain connected with education.

"Once I discovered volunteer work, I never looked back," she said.

She observed the contrasting approaches of two veteran docents she encountered. One was a teacher like herself and detail-oriented. The other, an artist, had a less facts-and-figures style. Bland decided to forge her own middle way.

"When I joined the Mint, I was somewhat in awe of some of the experienced docents who weren't necessarily any older than I but had been at this for a while longer or had done it in other places. I was in awe of them and very nervous," said Bland, 76.

Does it seem like so many years have passed?

"No," said Bland. "It's flown.

She's witnessed changes among docents: There are more men now, and there also have been newcomers to Charlotte who became docents.

The docents are diverse in characteristics. "They are just a lovely mix," said Bland.

Bland said she enjoys people she meets while leading tours.

"I like high school students for the challenge, because if they come in and they're rolling their eyes and they're bored to death before they even start, it becomes a challenge to get them to talk," she said.

"If you get one student or two students that you sort of see something happen - you see a spark somewhere - then you've had a good day. You've had a good tour."

She's adamant she's no artist herself, but she's developed an admiration for artwork.

"My trouble with being an artist was I wanted everything to be just so," she said.

So she volunteers instead - and the museum is the richer for it.