Docent Dialogue: The Marvelous Ms. Marlene

Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education

FWMoA Docent Marlene Cooper stands in front of her favorite work currently on display, a photograph by Kirsty Mitchell that shows a woman surrounded by flowers.
Docent Marlene Cooper talking about her current favorite work in the art museum: The Secret Locked in the Roots of a Kingdom by Kirsty Mitchell. Photo courtesy of FWMoA. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for a video!

With the start of the school year also comes the start of our docent training for the year. What better time to get to know another of our wonderful docents, Marlene Cooper! Marlene’s enthusiasm for and love of art is infectious. Read on, and watch a short video, to see why FWMoA is her happy place and the children she gives tours to are her favorite people.

What is your background outside of being a docent?

I volunteer at Easter Seals Arc and at the YMCA in the kids department. My whole focus is art and kids. Most adults I find boring—sorry! So, because of that I also volunteer at Lutheran Hospital in the kids department. I worked for Tristate Maintenance for about ten years, which is a cleaning company and I was a salesperson. I’ve been a salesperson my whole life. I stopped working there last year. I started in sales in Philadelphia working for Blue Cross. They gave me the opportunity to develop a department by myself, and I had no idea what I was doing. So, I developed a department for seniors and hired the most amazing senior people—that of course I am today—but then I was forty. So I hired a retired military general, a retired deli owner…six people worked for me, and we went around and talked about healthcare. I moved to Fort Wayne in 1990 and have been here ever since!

When did you become a docent?

I don’t remember, it’s been a couple years! [We think it was 2013.]

I left my full time job and was talking to my daughter who lives in Chicago, which is home for us. I said to her, “I don’t know what to do,” and she said, “Well, you love kids and you love art, why don’t you go to the art museum and volunteer?” And so, thank you, Sharon, I found my second home!

Actually, this is the place I come to if I need quiet, if I need to think, if I want to be happy. This is my place. When I lived in Chicago, it was the Art Institute, only that was a big trip because I lived on the West Side of Chicago and I’d have to go downtown, but art has always been the place I’ve run to for safety.

Why do you think that is?

I find solace in it. I find it interesting. It makes me feel comfortable. It’s unusual, generally. A lot of people are boring! I’m a little crazy—I need stimuli in my life, and I find art stimulating and interesting.

What is your favorite part of being a docent?

Having the opportunity to take kids around, not adults, and tell them whatever they’re thinking is okay, because people don’t tell them that! People tell them, “Don’t go out of the lines.” And I say to them, whatever you’re thinking is okay! Let’s be creative! Give me your wildest dreams! And I never tell them no. I love it! It just fills me with joy! I give them permission to say what they’re feeling and not shame them.

FWMoA Docent Marlene Cooper stands in front of an abstract painting, a hand on her head, in response to a student tour.
Docent Marlene Cooper interacting with a school tour at FWMoA. School tours are discussion based, giving students a chance to ask questions and share their opinions on art. They don’t have to like it, but they do have to tell us why! Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

We also asked Marlene to choose a piece of art on display to share with us. On a recent visit to the museum, she found herself enthralled by the process videos in Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland. Here she is discussing two works from the exhibition, The Secret Locked in the Roots of a Kingdom and She’ll Wait for you in the Shadows of Summer.

Want to learn more about being a docent? Join us, and Marlene, at FWMoA on Monday, August 20th for an informational meeting. Please contact Alyssa Dumire for details: or at 260.422.6467. Don’t forget to check out Kirsty Mitchell’s photography in Wonderland before it closes on September 2, 2018.

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