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Culture Club: A Volunteer’s Perspective on The Hardy Gallery

by Roger Benedict

I am Roger Benedict and a seasonal resident of Door County. In the off-season, my wife and I reside in Rockford, Illinois, where I have extensive docent and art training at the Rockford Art Museum. For years we have been coming to Door County and we always enjoyed visiting The Hardy Gallery. Over the past few years I became more interested in The Hardy organization through Peggy Lott, who encouraged me to volunteer as a docent. That was two years ago, and now I am entering my third year as a Hardy Gallery docent and recently became a member of the Volunteer Resource Committee, which I wish to express what a trip this has been for me – a real “wow” factor!

I wish to talk about my “sense of place,” and the experiences that make a place special and bring me a human connection to local knowledge and good people. Wendell Berry once said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” Thanks to The Hardy Gallery, I know who I am and thankfully the gifts of giving and receiving are the foundation of The Hardy Gallery.

My wife Paula and I have been seasonal residents of Door County for many years and we continue to say hello to The Hardy Gallery. Its quaintness and shoreline beauty gives us joy to view local art. So here I am writing to you, ready to offer the best behind-the-scenes of what the gallery is all about.

I am filled with gratitude of being a Hardy volunteer that is “something bigger than me,” bringing joy to many people – the visitors, tourists, friends and artists. Bringing my docent experience from the Rockford Art Museum has opened my eyes. Every morning a docent transforms the gallery from a quiet building to a robust, friendly house of art to begin a meaningful day of visitors and activity. Looking back, I realize the good feelings among other docents and the staff, all having such a sense of duty and dedication, there is a “wow factor” knowing that I am part of this.

By becoming a Hardy docent, I was surprised at first of the responsibility: an average of 50-75 visitors enter the gallery during a 3.5-hour docent session, and then all the requirements beyond the art works. I could never imagine all the responsibilities being a volunteer – even unlocking the gallery door in the morning, turning on the lights, checking for any building problems from overnight. To be given this responsibility was amazing. Even at the close of a day to repeat everything in reverse and to say good night, it’s a high level of responsibility given to me.

A docent’s effort never ends in greeting visitors. In addition, a docent presents the art exhibit, explains the gallery’s building history, answers questions about Door County, especially Ephraim, and needs to know the many aspects of the art community, which is where the Arts Map comes in handy. The smiles and positive feedback are never ending. Of course, having the “sense of place” about art is another foundation of being a Hardy Gallery docent.

There are several seasonal fundraising projects the docents are part of that raise money and awareness for The Hardy Gallery: the ever-popular Community Mosaic Project, the impressionable Collection Invitational Silent Auction Benefit, and a fundraiser raffle with a well-known Door County artist who is commissioned to make a signature work about The Hardy Gallery. All of these fundraising efforts are there to help The Hardy sustain as a prominent art organization in Door County and the docents are the people who make this happen day in and day out.

The Hardy Gallery is also a place of opportunity as with the Annual Juried Exhibit. Last year I was able to exhibit my two woodcarvings in this exhibit, which was a highlight of my carving activity. I doubted my skills and degree of talent and miraculously both my works were juried in. I now believe in magic in the air, and with some control of chest puffing while being a docent with visitors, I did try to restrain myself from falling over myself when explaining the exhibit.

Generally, I observe visitors noting their interest in art as they walk through the gallery, and when it is obvious an interest is more than casual viewing, I initiate a gallery conversation, even when the visitor has a negative viewpoint of an art piece. Of course I explain that it is OK not to like an art piece, but encourage them to appreciate the effort that an artist has done. I then explain what it is that catches one’s eye – one or a combination of a genre, subject, color, light, shape, symbols – a portrait or landscape all has an impact on the viewer. I encourage visitors to compare the differences of various art pieces, which truly make for interesting gallery talk, and, of course, viewers enjoy hearing about the backgrounds of artist. Overall I want visitors to leave with a sense of art appreciation.

During the slow days I find myself at the front door talking to fishermen, sometimes enjoying the sailboat races, talking to families of where they are from; sometimes they are convinced to walk through the gallery.

For me it’s like “geography of gratitude” with those before me who have built this organization into its art prominence of Door County, and that “sense of place” which continues to keep The Hardy alive and impressionable in the community.

Roger Benedict is a Hardy Gallery volunteer and docent. The Hardy Gallery is always looking for volunteers to assist as gallery docents or with exhibit installation. If you wish to receive more information or are interested in becoming a volunteer for The Hardy, contact Program Coordinator Ann Soderlund at 920.854.2210 or [email protected] More information about volunteer opportunities can be found at thehardy.org.

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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