Become a Volunteer
Thank you for your interest in volunteering with the Wharton Esherick Museum! Our primary volunteer need is for individuals to join our museum docent team.
What is a docent?
Docents are tour guides specially trained to educate and interact with Wharton Esherick Museum visitors of all ages. Volunteer tour guides are passionate about the Museum and eager to share their love and knowledge of art while connecting visitors with Wharton Esherick’s unconventional life and iconic home studio.
Docents share the complex life and legacy of artist Wharton Esherick, commonly considered a major figure in twentieth-century art, craft, architecture, and design and the father of the Studio Furniture Movement. They do this work through interpreting the rich resources of the Wharton Esherick Museum, which range from a robust collection of artworks by Esherick; Esherick’s idiosyncratic home and studio; archives, photography, and ephemera relevant to Esherick’s story; and exhibitions and programs that emphasize Esherick’s ongoing relevance to contemporary artists and art lovers.
Why volunteer to be a docent?
Docents are an essential part of the Museum’s team, enhancing the visitor experience and enabling the museum to welcome more visitors through its doors. Through our docents, we are better able to share Esherick’s rich legacy with interested audiences. Our docents are an incredible team of Esherick enthusiasts with a special connection to this place. You will have access to our library and an open door to talk with staff about archives, stories, or questions. We routinely gather together for ongoing trainings, to share ideas and feedback, enjoy each other’s company and even take field trips!
Who can be a docent?
Anyone may apply. Successful docents have a passion for the Museum and enjoy sharing that with people of all backgrounds. Prior teaching experience and knowledge of art history is helpful but not required. Applicants should be comfortable with public speaking and available to lead at least one tour a week.
What do WEM docents say?
Read some testimonials from our volunteer tour guides:
I enjoy sharing the Esherick Studio and Esherick’s story because of how visitors react. The tour is beyond entertaining or informative; people are deeply touched by the experience. In thirty plus years of conducting tours, I truly know I have witnessed life-changing moments.
I first arrived to WEM in 2014, as a volunteer docent with a passion for the arts and history…and a crippling fear of public speaking. I was relieved to be welcomed into a vibrant and warm community unlike any I had ever known. Before long, I was accumulating fascinating stories about this fascinating man who led such a rich and compelling life.
My fear of public speaking melted away and I delighted in sharing this local treasure that never ceases to inspire visitors from around the world. Working at WEM has been truly life changing and I cannot recommend joining this incredible community enough!
I was so impressed with my first visit to the Studio, arranged by Larry Stauffer (electrician for the museum) that I bought a picture of the spiral staircase and made a “live edge” frame for it. I returned and signed up for the newsletter. When I learned that docents were needed, I applied… and then followed 8 different docent tours.
The energy and knowledge imparted by the docents and the enjoyment displayed on the faces of the attendees made it easy to share the Studio with my own tours.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a half hour with Bob Bascom and to visit the Dannenbergs. I usually combine some of their stories into my tours.
It is so much fun to watch the amazement of new visitors as they listen to the life, history. and work of WE. I thoroughly enjoy giving tours to the various guests and they never fail to show their appreciation.
It never gets tiring!
Why I love volunteering at WEM!
Being a docent at the WEM has been very positive. Most importantly, I love the museum. Being inside the studio is a very special experience. Learning about Wharton and walking among his treasures is a never-ending joy. Visitors are amazed at what they see, so that alone is a gratifying experience. The staff is an important part of the positive experience. From the day I started as a docent, I’ve been treated with respect, and never taken for granted. No staff member has ever been too busy to help me find answers to whatever questions come up. The resources for information are readily available to all the docents. I was a volunteer docent at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for 22 years, and this small museum and it’s staff are as professional as any I’ve had the pleasure of working with.
Since discovering WEM sometime late ‘70s, and taking every out-of-town guest for a tour there ever since (no questions asked), I’d long thought I should get meaningfully engaged. In post-retirement 2019 I did, becoming a docent. Leading weekly tours, I play off each group, discover what brought them here, and, as best I can, marry them to the wizardly man, his sublime body of work and this magical locale. Among my varied volunteering “jobs,” this one, born of passion, never gets stale or old. As every visitor who puts up with me quickly learns, how could it!?!
The pleasure and privilege of sharing the unique and innovative physical environment that Esherick carefully built with new and returning visitors and hopefully enhancing their understanding of his creative significant and influence.
I toured the Wharton Esherick Museum for the first time with my family several years ago and simply fell in love with Wharton and his genius. My dad, who has passed away, was a carpenter and woodworker. Being in the studio, experiencing Wharton, somehow made me feel close to my dad. I knew immediately after that first tour ended, I had to become a docent and help others to find or feel the magic of the studio and experience its transcending capabilities. I love sharing Wharton with my tour groups and watch their faces show amazement as they learn of the wonder that is him.
Serving as a docent at the Wharton Esherick Museum has been one of my most personally and intellectually enriching experiences. I love hearing the awestruck gasps of visitors as they enter the studio, sharing my love of Wharton’s work with the public, and learning about the family’s legacy more deeply from our incredibly knowledgeable and caring staff. My time with the Esherick Museum has been most rewarding, and I can hardly think of a place I would rather spend my time.
As a brand new docent of WEM, I’d be happy to share with you my experience. I am very happy to have found an amazing community of kind, energetic, and dedicated people to work with. I strongly believe in giving back to our community through volunteering and service, so when an opportunity arose to volunteer as a docent for WEM, I made the decision to get involved. WEM has given me the opportunity to meet with many visitors, all of whom have been super interesting. I feel like I’ve learned more from them than they from me. WEM is one of those rare, magical places. I am loving my experience here!
When I retired I thought I could finally put my college degree in art history to good use by volunteering as a tour guide at an art museum. I live near the Wharton Esherick Museum so I thought I should volunteer as a docent. I was welcomed with great enthusiasm. Little did I know then that I would become so dedicated to Wharton’s home and studio. I have been able to lead guests through Wharton’s creation by telling stories about Wharton and how he created this unique self-portrait, not just by reciting dates. The WEM staff encouraged me to tell the story my way; I didn’t have to follow a strict script. That freed me to connect the man to his creation in a more personal way. It is so thrilling to watch someone as they view the studio for the first time. Just the look on their faces tells me they will be amazed. They so often ask questions and make comments that help me to view Wharton’s creation in a new way. The WEM staff continues to provide additional insights. And, they bring docents together so we can keep our tours fresh and engaging. This has been an even better experience than I thought possible!
Originally I wanted to support the Wharton Esherick Museum, a place that was so special to me for its creativity in wood. I inquired about volunteering and eventually chose to train to become a docent. Sharing Wharton’s life and art has been so incredibly enjoyable, fun, and fulfilling for me. I enjoy the visitors to the Museum, the committed and personable staff and volunteers, and being able to spend time in Wharton’s studio/home, surrounded by his sculpted wood environment.
How can I become a WEM docent?
The Museum provides engaging training with written materials, discussion, and shadowing current docents and staff as they lead tours. Training can take about two months to successfully prepare to serve as a docent, and we ask that docents make a two-year commitment after completing their training. Just complete and submit the application below!
While the majority of our volunteer needs are for Museum docents to lead tours of the Studio, we also have opportunities for volunteers interested in gardening and landscaping, and assisting with other Museum activities. Please email out to [email protected] if you are interested in volunteering in another capacity.