Docent

Felician alumni Robin Grounds Clem (’05) has always been fascinated in the study of fine arts, a passion she credits to her time spent in her art classes at the College.

Now, she has taken that passion to another level.

In addition to teaching full time, Robin is a tour guide at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a prestigious position that requires more than just a casual knowledge of painting and sculpture.

“I went through almost two years of training and tons of research before I was allowed to give a tour on my own,” said Robin, who lives in Hasbrouck Heights and is a second-grade teacher at Corpus Christi Elementary School in the same town.

All the training, however, wasn’t as rigorous as the application process itself, she explained. The museum only fills the positions for a docent (what a guide in a museum or art gallery is called) as the need arises. Robin was too late in filing an application the first time, so she had to wait three years before trying again. The initial screening was intense, she said, and included a written portion on why she wanted the position. An hour-long phone interview followed, then an in-person meeting with museum personnel. Finally, an acceptance letter arrived several months later.

By the way, Robin added, being a docent is a volunteer position.

“None of us get paid but I truly love it,” she said, adding that each docent chooses 10 items he or she would like to include on the tour, which requires museum approval before going forth. And, of course, the docent needs to be an ace on each object.

Robin’s tour includes objects from different periods and cultures, including “Eros Sleeping” from ancient Greece, a sculpture from African Congo society called the “Mangaaka Power Figure,” a modern art painting, and a Bernini statue entitled “Faun Being Teased by Children.”

“I talk a little about composition and how each piece was made, but I also focus on the story behind each piece, and the culture that influenced it,” Robin said. The tours, which typically last about an hour, require Robin to speak about 4-5 minutes on each object.

“For each of those 4 or 5 minutes, I must have 50 pages of research,” Robin said, adding that it’s a continual learning process.

“The museum is the size of three football fields in area, has two levels, and holds more than 2 million objects from more than 5,000 years of history,” she said, noting that “it’s not humanly possible” to be knowledgeable on everything in the Met, which she referred to as an encyclopedia museum.

Robin is currently doing additional research on the subject of “arms and armor,” which she hopes will be her next tour focus.

“I have to study for about a year and then be approved to give a collection tour on that topic,” she said. “But I love being there, and I love learning so it’s definitely worth all the work.”