A Chat with Cheekwood Docent Carol Dashiff - Cheekwood
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Are you an avid gardener, an admirer of the arts, or intrigued by Nashville’s rich history? Do you enjoy sharing your interests and knowledge with your community? If so, you may be interested in Cheekwood’s Docent Program! Join us for our spring docent recruitment beginning Monday, February 17. Simply register for the training by contacting Abby Carlson at 615.353.6980 or
[email protected].

What made you decide you wanted to volunteer?I was a docent previously at two botanical gardens in Birmingham, AL (Birmingham Botanical Garden and Aldridge Garden) and enjoyed the opportunities to interact with people of all ages, cultures, and ethnicities in a natural setting and assisting with events centered on the arts.
How did you hear about Cheekwood’s Docent program?When I moved to Nashville I was familiar with Cheekwood as my daughter-in-law, Melissa, had her bridesmaids’ luncheon in the Pineapple Room. I was interested in volunteering with a botanical garden here, and looked up the opportunities on the Cheekwood website.

What experience, background, circumstance, etc. led you to become a Cheekwood docent?I love gardening, the arts (painting, drawing, photography), teaching, and interacting with all age and cultural groups, especially children and elders. I was a master gardener, have a doctorate in human development, taught young and middle aged adults, and worked with children, adolescents, and families in a variety of clinical settings. Being a docent gives me an opportunity to combine and use what I have learned and also to continue learning through the educational programs that Cheekwood has for docents. Most enriching, however, is learning from the many visitors I get to interact with as a docent.

What sort of training is required to become a Cheekwood Docent?I think a basic love of interacting with others and learning is key. As far as training, the training program provides the docent with specific knowledge about Cheekwood. There are many training opportunities to learn more about the garden, the Historic Mansion & Museum, and the various art exhibits. A docent can chose to concentrate where his or her interest and talents are strongest. My personal favorites are tours of the gardens and the art exhibits, but there are docents who prefer giving tours of the mansion.

When did you begin volunteering at Cheekwood?

Describe a typical tour:One of my favorite tours is the school group tour. A school will bring a group of students to Cheekwood to tour the gardens, the mansion, an exhibit, or some combination of these. The tour can last 30 minutes to an hour for a small group (from 8 to 16 students). I usually start by asking about the interests of the group or what they might be expecting and then I concentrate on that. I pay close attention to the comments and questions as these usually are the springboard for what will engage the students and make the tour a memorable experience they can draw upon repeatedly.

Color GardenOn a visit last summer, the group of children said they were interested in insects and flowers so when we went to the perennial garden I asked the group to look for insects. The children spotted many bees and shared what they knew about bees, and I added a bit to that concentrating on the interdependence of the bees and the flowers. I was able to see over the tops of plants…which they could not…and spotted a gigantic grasshopper resting in the sun on the large leaf of a castor bean plant, pointed it out and took them quietly to it. They had not seen a grasshopper before and did not know about castor bean plants, so there was an opportunity to teach about the plant, what it was used for, why the grasshopper might have picked that plant, and, in general, provoke further curiosity about grasshoppers.

What is your favorite thing about the Docent Program at Cheekwood?I like being given the tools/knowledge and then being allowed to be creative and adjust based on the needs of the groups who are visiting. I also love meeting and interacting with people, ie other docents, visitors from across the United States and other countries, and youth from all over Nashville.

What are you most excited for at Cheekwood in the coming year?  The reopening of the Carell Trail. It is a wonderful and unusual treasure integrating sculpture with the natural setting of woods. The artists, women and men, represent different cultures/ethnicities and circumstances, and came to their medium of sculpture in diverse ways. I look forward to doing tours on the Carell Trail, finding out what visitors see in the sculptures and telling some stories about the artists that highlights their diversity that might encourage a burgeoning artist.The docent program at Cheekwood offers behind-the-scenes information and training on Cheekwood’s 55 acres of gardens, historical mansion, and art exhibitions. We offer the opportunity for our volunteers to train as a Garden Docent, House and History Docent, and Exhibition Docent. As important members of our team, docents act as volunteer teachers and tour guides while sharing their passion for Cheekwood’s permanent and temporary exhibitions, gardens, and historical residence with visitors of all ages.

We recently sat down with Carol Dashiff to ask questions about her experience as a Cheekwood Docent.

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