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Longtime docents Joan Scheinholtz and Mary Jean Stephen
What they support:
Lifetime giving to Carnegie Museum of Art
Why it matters:
“The museums are a precious thing to have and I don’t know that they’re appreciated enough.” – Mary Jean Stephen
When Joan Scheinholtz and Mary Jean Stephen moved to Pittsburgh from Wilkes-Barre and Chicago, respectively, they each had an interest in art and a desire to get to know their new city.
Mary Jean arrived in the mid-1970s, just after Carnegie Museum of Art had opened its Scaife wing, tripling the size of its gallery space. The museum was enlisting volunteer docents to help educate the public about the art that filled the new Scaife Galleries, and Joan, who was drawn to the museum through its lecture series, had already joined the second class of docents. A fellow volunteer recruited Mary Jean, who would become part of the fourth class and go on to serve as a docent for a remarkable 35 years.
“I loved every minute of learning,” says Mary Jean, who is also an artist and at around the same time started taking on commissions to draw and paint people’s homes. “I had never studied art history per se. It was new to me and I gobbled it up. I love that building. I walk in and I feel at home.”
With a two-year training program consisting of weekly art-history lectures highlighting the museum’s collections, essay writing, and developing the in-gallery skills to engage visitors of all ages, being a docent was a big commitment.
But both women loved continually learning something new, and then sharing that knowledge with curious visitors, especially the thousands of schoolchildren they introduced to art and the museum. Joan notes that, saved in a drawer with mementos from her grandchildren, she keeps three decades-old letters from grade-schoolers sent to her by their teachers. One said she had a great personality. “Now, if they didn’t say nice things, I wouldn’t have kept them,” she says, laughing. “One of my favorite things to do with the kids was to get them to want to come back to the museum and bring family. One of the letters said just that, and the little girl knew exactly what work she wanted to show them, Mary Cassatt’s Young Women Picking Fruit.”
Mary Jean worked hard at helping young people see how they could use art in their everyday lives. “I helped them learn what to look for, the special details, how to draw out the stories artists might be telling,” she says.
Part of their shared hope, previously as docents and today as longtime donors to the museum, is to help provide experiences that lead to meaningful connections—to artwork, to the museum, and to the shared Pittsburgh community. Joan, for example, says she formed some of the most meaningful friendships of her adult life through the museum. She and other docents became traveling buddies, exploring museums in the United States and abroad. “We all had something in common; it was a rich experience,” she says, noting that she also raised three museumgoers. “The museums are something families and friends can enjoy and discover together.”
Over the years, Joan earned a special appreciation for Japanese prints, having heard James B. Austin, a U.S. Steel executive who donated his outstanding collection to the Museum of Art, give a lecture at the museum. Mary Jean says she truly “loved it all” and, even today, many of her bookshelves are filled with biographies of artists.
Both women still visit the Oakland museums, just much less frequently. But they’ve never stopped supporting the museums as donors. “I believe in it,” says Joan. “It’s a real asset for the city. It needs our support.”
Mary Jean and her husband, John, made a planned gift to Carnegie Museums. “The museums are a precious thing to have and I don’t know that they’re appreciated enough,” says Mary Jean. “I’ve enjoyed and gained so much from the museums. It’s a natural thing to want to give.”
Not being native Pittsburghers, the pair says getting to know Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History and their vast collections was a new and fulfilling adventure. “That’s what the museums do best,” adds Mary Jean. “They keep us learning and experiencing new things.”
To learn more about giving opportunities at Carnegie Museums, contact Beth Brown at email@example.com or 412.622.8859.
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