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Posted on July 12, 2020 at 2:00 PM by Brooke Rogers

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

University Museums depends upon a group of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and skilled group of docents to give tours of exhibitions and collections to students, faculty and staff, children on school field trips, and the many visitors to the Iowa State campus. They are a vital part of University Museums’ mission of “fostering understanding and delight in the visual arts.” Roberta Vann is an excellent example of how docents bring unique perspectives and skills to our team. Prior to becoming a docent, Roberta was a professor of English and completed research in Applied Linguistics, while her personal hobbies including reading, visiting art museums and learning about art history as well as historic preservation. Eventually this interest lead to Roberta serving two terms on the Ames Historic Preservation Commission. Shortly after her retirement from Iowa State Roberta began to devote more time to learning about art and sharing that interest with others which led her to the University Museums.

It’s difficult to make a short list of artworks for visitors to see when they come to Iowa State for the first time, but one of Vann’s favorites in the Art on Campus collection is Transformations. When asked to elaborate Vann mentions that “Transformationsis a piece I keep coming back to.  Initially, I wasn’t a fan, but over the years, as I looked at Paley’s work in other locations, from New York City, New York to Perry, Iowa and learned more about the him and his work, it has now become one of my favorite pieces in our collection. I love hearing students talk about what they see –- scrambled jewelry, a jigsaw puzzle, or commenting on the welding.”

Vann also finds creativity in the numerous artist included in the University Museums’ collection. “I am fascinated by Ralph Helmick’s Floating World and would love to spend a day with him learning more about the details involved in creating this piece for Iowa State as well as what he is working on now” However, for first time visitors Vann suggest that they start with looking at Christian Petersen’s works to start since he plays in important role as the first artist-in-residence on a U.S Campus.” If extra time in the tour schedule allows Vann encourages visitors to see more recent acquisitions such as Boarder Crossing by Luis Jimenez. Overall Vann believes that the collection at Iowa State includes “spectacular works by internationally known artist that connect to the Iowa State aesthetic tradition is diverse ways”.

When reflecting on her role as a docent Vann has found that she has “learned so much about the art on campus in an intellectually stimulating way that I never had time to fully appreciate when I was working.”

Without the help of docents, University Museums could not fully nurture knowledge and appreciation of the collections, museum spaces and education resource for the university. Thank you, Roberta, for your generosity of time, spirit and passion for learning and teaching about the art in our collection!

Floating World, 2014 by Ralph Helmick. Located in the Biorenewables Complex. An Iowa Art in State Buildings Project. Commissioned by the University Museums and the Department of the Biorenewables Complex. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2014.41a-dd

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