By Sophia Ricco
In his 13 years as a docent at the Heckscher Museum of Art, Tom Campbell delved into the history of art and even found himself among the artwork on the walls.
His retirement follows years of engaging conversations, self-taught knowledge of artists and exhibits, and a resolute dedication to being a volunteer docent. His responsibility was to educate and speak with patrons about the pieces of art; informing them on the artist, the conflicts they faced while working, and styles utilized.
“A docent is the face of the museum, to the visitor,” Campbell said. “As a result, you are the host or hostess, so everyone that comes into the museum, you should make an attempt to introduce yourself and talk to them about the exhibition.”
Campbell feels that artists are “of their time and place,” expressed in their thoughts and feelings towards contemporary issues in their art. For hour-long tours, Campbell was responsible for explaining the story of 15-20 pieces.
“The first couple weeks an exhibit is up, there’s still a lot to get used to,” Campbell said. “When you see an image for the first time, regardless of any background given, it is a different entity.”
His favorite part of being a docent was, “telling the story of what images were and talking to people.” Campbell found each person has a different perspective toward a piece, based on their own life.
“I loved to get people to talk about the pieces and what they see in it,” Campbell said. “A visual image is how you are responding to it. I can have one response and come from an entirely different background, than yours.”
Campbell loved engaging his audience, which inspired student artist, Grant Fryc to use Campbell’s image for a mixed-media work.
“I happened to be doing a presentation of a bust of George Washington and I see this young man taking photographs and I wonder, ‘What is this guy doing? If he wants a picture of the bust, he could wait until I’m done.’ I slowly came to a realization that he was taking pictures of me,” Campbell said.
Fryc was on a mission to find a piece of art in a local museum that inspired them for the Long Island’s Best: Young Artists competition. In Campbell, Fryc saw his vision.
“I guess him and the young lady were impressed by the fact that, of the four museums they had gone to, I was the only docent who really paid attention to them,” Campbell said.
Campbell felt he was just doing his duty and wasn’t even aware Fryc took his image to create a piece justly titled, “Erudite”, until the exhibit came to Heckscher. When Campbell gave tours of the exhibit, patrons would be shocked and delighted to see their docent in the artwork. The piece would later win the U.S. Congressional Art Competition and hang in the U.S. Capitol for a year.
“Everytime I look at it, I’m impressed,” Campbell said. “Having someone paint your portrait is for famous people.”