Longtime docent Paulette Rackow helping visitors enjoy exhibitions at the Barnes Foundation

Thursday, November 16, 2023
Longtime docent helping visitors enjoy Barnes Foundation exhibitions
Longtime docent Paulette Rackow has been helping visitors enjoy exhibitions at the Barnes Foundation for over a decade.

PHILADELPHIA -- If you're unsure about art, Paulette Rackow can literally walk you through it. She has been a docent at the Barnes Foundation for 13 years.

"So now I give tours," says Rackow. "But I have been studying at the Barnes on and off since 1980."

She says she had no art background before she started taking classes at the Barnes Foundation.

"It introduced me to the art world," she says.

Rackow retired from a teaching career in 2002 and returned to the Barnes for more art courses, leading to her current role.

She calls her position as a docent "kind of a perfect match," since it allows her to continue teaching others.

"I love it," she says.

Docents help the Barnes Foundation achieve their mission.

Pamela Birmingham, the Director of Docents and Tour Programs at the Barnes Foundation, says part of their mission is "to help people appreciate art, education and horticulture."

"We have currently about 85 active docents," she says.

They also help visitors connect with the art there. Birmingham says the "human-to-human contact" that docents provide plays an important role in that connection.

She says one of their goals is to have guests "leave feeling like they learned something, but also they participated in the conversation."

"I enjoy passing along the genius of Dr. Barnes, and his theories and his way of teaching," says Rackow.

Rackow gives collection tours, as well as tours of the special exhibitions, like the current one on view called Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris.

"This world of women created by women, for women," says Birmingham.

Rackow says in some of Laurencin's work, visitors can see "she is finding her voice" and "showing you what's inside of her" by displaying it.

"It's exciting, because it's shining a light on a woman that was very popular in her time, and well known, and then sort of fell off the radar," says Birmingham.

Rackow also mentors other docents, like Hope Comisky.

"She's very unassuming," says Birmingham. "It's the same for Paulette, no matter who's in the audience - just very warm and engaging."

Rackow says she works hard at it, pouring her passion for the arts into her educational tours.

"I'm almost 82 and I'll keep doing this as long as I can," she says. "I just feel so lucky."

For more information:

The Barnes Foundation

Classes at the Barnes Foundation

The Barnes Foundation exhibitions - Marie Laurencin: Sapphic Paris