The Barnes has lots of volunteers working behind the scenes and with the public, who mostly go unheralded. We have just had a great bunch of summer interns, and I see volunteers helping visitors navigate the Barnes every day; our Development, Publications, and Family Programs departments all benefit from time donated by talented volunteers.
The most specialized and highly trained volunteers are our docents, and they do an amazing job of educating our visitors about the collection. I recently heard one of our docents give a tour in Spanish to a very appreciative Mexican family. After the tour I struck up a conversation with the docent in question, Jonas Brachfeld.
Born in Holland, Jonas fled Europe just before the outbreak of World War II, relocating to Mexico City as a freshman in high school. He picked up Spanish quickly, adding that language to the French, German, and English he already spoke. After high school Jonas attended Cal Tech and went on to become a cardiologist with a practice in New Jersey.
All of our docents are required to complete two years of Barnes coursework before they can begin docent training, and Jonas and his wife both took classes with Violette de Mazia back in 1968. Although he told me that those classes changed his life, and that his interest in and appreciation of art burgeoned as a result, he had nothing more to do with the Barnes until he saw an opening for docents in 2011.
Jonas has a particular interest in French art and literature, and in his tours he likes to introduce the Barnes collection of modern art in the context of French culture of the time. When I asked him his favorite part about being a docent, he equated it to being a physician treating a patient, since “Art, like illness, can be imposing and intimidating. By providing information and context, I put visitors at ease so they can enjoy the experience. I like to make people feel better.”
Learn more about becoming a volunteer at the Barnes online or by calling 215.278.7216.