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Profile: Docent Rae Reilly

Posted on May 18, 2020 at 1:00 PM by Brooke Rogers

Docent/ dōsənt/noun: a person who acts as a guide, typically on a voluntary basis, in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.

Docent Rae Reilly has been donating her time to University Museums since 2000. After leaving her faculty position with the Textiles and Clothing Department (now Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management), she wanted to volunteer and stay connected. Initially her projects for the University Museums included assisting on the Acquisitions Committee and the Art in State Buildings Committee for the expansion of the Chemical and Biological Engineering building. Now Rae assists the education team in providing tours to Iowa State students and faculty as well as groups of all ages and abilities that visit the museums! 

Rae says the most rewarding aspects of being a docent include: witnessing the “AHA!” moment for a student when they figure out something profound about an artwork (especially when she hadn’t considered that thought before the student’s observation), meeting groups that respond to questions and are engaged in the discovery process, having participants fill in her missing areas of knowledge when it comes to agriculture, and finally, learning about art in the collection and exhibitions and sharing it with others to enjoy. Additionally, Rae has found more confidence in herself as she explores new works of art using the University Museums’ visual literacy techniques. She’s found herself jumping into “docent mode” when she visits other museums and galleries.

After giving countless hours and tours to the University Museums and visitors, Rae has collected a number of wonderful stories. One of her fondest memories is giving a tour to the National Association of Priest Pilots. The association was having its annual meeting in Ames and Father Ev Hemann thought some members would enjoy a tour of Christian Petersen’s works of art since a number of them were familiar with him, his art and his wife Charlotte. On this tour, Rae learned that one of the priests had witnessed the 1997 transport of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a limestone sculpture by Petersen, as it made the 5-day journey on a flat-bed truck from St. Bernard Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa to its new home in front of St. Bernard Church in Breda in south central Iowa!

Although Rae has a number of favorite tour routes that she uses to highlight works of art in the Art on Campus Collection, she recommends new visitors to campus walk around on a beautiful day and take the following journey: start at the Memorial Union, walk around outside of Gerdin Business Building, then make your way to Food Sciences to see the History of Dairying mural by Christian Petersen, next go to Agronomy to see Janis Agri Altar by Beverly Pepper (her absolute favorite sculpture as it speaks to the importance of agriculture at Iowa State and beyond) and finish across the road at the Seed Sciences Building to see George Washington Carver by Christian PetersenRae is happy to point out that the beauty of Iowa State is enhanced by the art found nearly everywhere on campus and all routes will lead you to somewhere artful!

The University Museums is lucky to have docents like Rae who not only share their time and experiences but also enjoy challenging themselves by working to create meaningful experiences for our visitors. Rae has helped the University Museums to increase awareness, understanding and enjoyment of art for people of all ages by providing support to educational programs. Thank you for your years of service Rae!

ABOVE: Docent Rae Reilly describes George Washington Carver by Christian Petersen during a recent campus Art Walk.

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