Every museum needs volunteers but at the American Museum in Britain, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011, it is the visitors’ encounters with these unsung heroes that literally bring the rooms to life. It was the intention of the founders, Dallas Pratt and John Judkyn, to provide an experience for visitors that was quite different from other English country houses. Today, visitors still find a real person in each Period Room, talking about the objects, providing context and enriching the visitor’s experience.
The collection of over 151,000 objects spans US history from its early settlers to the 20th century, portraying the complexity and depth of American culture. The rooms are devoted to Shaker and Federal furniture, the 19th-century China trade, and the Museum’s world-class collection of textiles, including the famous quilts collection. They were “occupied” by modest people who lived industrious lives, often in harsh conditions, and who valued the work of the skilled craftsmen and women who produced their furniture, clocks, and textiles.
The success of the American Museum, which attracted 30,000 visitors in 2012, is largely due to its team of over 100 enthusiastic volunteers who guide visitors in the Museum, give tours, assist with special events, work in the gardens, herb shop, and the library.
A comprehensive training programme has been designed for the Museum’s volunteers who act as guides in the Period Rooms. The training, orKnowledge Sharing, consists of a series of Period Room study sessions led by knowledgeable tour guides, as well as talks on related topics such as The Printing of the Declaration of Independence given by the Museum’s Director, Dr Richard Wendorf, The History of Claverton Manor by Dr Cathryn Spence, Head of Communication and Research, and Late 17th century to mid 19th century American History by Dr Catherine Armstrong of Manchester Metropolitan University. There are also themed Museum tours focusing on art, furniture, textiles and American history.
The Museum is a wonderful place to work where you can meet new people, learn new skills, and contribute to the community. The training programme is extremely popular and attended not only by would-be, but also by existing, volunteers. Why not give it a whirl – with your new-found knowledge, the pub quiz will never be the same again!
Becoming a Volunteer
Contact the Volunteer Coordinator on 01225 823017 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Benefits include: reimbursement of travel expenses, refreshments, discounts in the Museum shops and Café, use of the library by appointment, coffee mornings and knowledge-sharing talks, annual outing and Christmas party, complimentary Museum tickets for family and friends, copies of Museum publications and free entry to the American Museum as a visitor.