Docent Musings By Tom Hart

Today’s post is by Museum docent Tom Hart

In 1984, my employer, a regional bank, transferred me to Corning.  To introduce me to the community, the bank arranged a day-long series of  events, including a guided tour at the Museum.  I had not been in the Museum since 1952!  The docent absolutely fascinated me—she had so much knowledge and was so charismatic.  At the time I thought I might enjoy giving tours but soon forgot about it.  Flash forward to March 2001.  I had been retired three months, had gotten all the long-neglected chores done, and was looking out at my front yard that was covered in about two feet of snow.  All but one of the neighbors were either working or vacationing.  At that moment I remembered my 1984 Museum tour and had my “aha” moment.  I then called the Museum to offer my services.

Tom Hart

Docent Tom Hart discusses his favorite object,
George Woodall’s Moorish Bathers

I started giving tours in January 2002, about three weeks after completing the docent training program.

When I first expressed interest in becoming a docent (we were then called “guides”) I had a vague notion that sand had something to do with glassmaking.  Little did I know how much I had to learn! I quickly became fascinated with the history of glass and how the material has affected and enhanced civilizations from ancient Mesopotamia to modern optical fiber and the Space Shuttle windows.  At the end of docent training I had the opportunity to blow a Christmas ornament—mine weighs about three-quarters of a pound and is a really gross color of green (‘my bad’), but it is truly “one of a kind.”

I have no recollection of my first tour except that I was nervous and really relieved to get it over with.  The second tour was a church group of mixed ages—they sent me a thank you note, so I had the sense that I must have done something right. The third tour was kindergarteners—the last time I had dealt with this age group they were my classmates and Harry Truman was President!  The docent program manager was a bit nervous about how this tour would go, so she joined me about 30 minutes into the tour.  The kids were grinning and were really animated.  I said, “I guess it’s working!”

Smallpox Virus and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

Smallpox Virus and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), Luke Jerram (British, b. 1974), 2010.

As a retired person living in rural Upstate New York, I cannot believe the rich experiences that “docenting” has given me.  I have escorted high school students from Finland, business executives from Korea, a Japanese professor from the Tsunami-ravaged area of Japan, and a family from Israel.  Most recently I hosted a group of virologists who were meeting at nearby Cornell University. Yikes, what was I going to do with these folks?  I took them to the 2010 Rakow Commission, Smallpox Virus and HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and they were able to identify the glass models of the viruses blown-up one million times larger without reading the label.  Wow! All of this sounds exotic and it really is, but most of the tours involve our neighbors and their children.  The regional schools see the Museum as a wonderful field trip.

I became so interested in the nature of glass that, in the early years, I took a ten-week glassblowing class at The Studio.  I will never be a good glassblower—I did produce some really unique paperweights, cream and sugars that are grossly different in size, and some really heavy drinking glasses—but I learned about how glassmaking feels.

I am really hooked!

Interested in becoming a Docent?  Docents (volunteer guides) provide valuable service to the Museum and to the wider community by volunteering their time to give tours to adults, families and school groups. They engage, educate and inspire visitors from around the world as they share their knowledge of 35 centuries of glass art, history and science.

For information, please contact [email protected] or visit

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