Meet the Volunteers

Ulli Arendt, Museum Shop Volunteer/Docent Volunteer

I believe it was in 1994; our son was still away at the university and I went to the UPS center to send him a package.  Leaving there, I was curious about what was behind that “fancy” gate.  “It must be the well-kept garden of someone very important and rich” I thought.  Timidly I drove into the Grounds for Sculpture, parked and entered the Museum Building.  Nobody was there, but I took a brochure, walked through the building and into the park.  I believed I had entered Eden.  Luscious greenery, beautifully kept rose bushes, trees and sculptures, right there in the open!

Sitting on a bench amidst the roses I took in the peacefulness and beauty.  Often during the next six years I would come there on my lunch breaks, find “my” bench, sit there and write.  I also started to explore the sculptures and fell so much in love with this beautiful piece of land that, on my retirement in 2000, I asked to become a volunteer.  I really wanted to give back at least something to this place that had given me so much joy and always managed to calm me when the “rat-race” was getting to me.

Since then, working as a museum shop volunteer, at the desk or as a docent, I have learned so much and feel GFS hasopened my eyes to a new dimension.  Not only is the entire staff is great, but getting to meet the artists, become friends with them and being able to share all we learn with patrons is wonderful.  Being a part of something so special is rare and priceless.

Volker Arendt, Docent Volunteer

I have to admit it is a love story that I am going to tell. Please forgive me.

This goes back to 1991, 1992, or so. I was on my way to send off a parcel at the United Parcel Service on Fairground Lane when my eye caught a nicely fenced in property which seemed to protect a lot of trash, rusty steel beams and other building material. This did not make much sense to me. Why such a modern fence?

The next time when I had to pass the fence on my way to UPS my curiosity was caught again. This time the mess was gone and lines of fruit trees had been planted. I concluded that a nursery would open up soon. I became interested!

Only a short while later when another parcel had to be sent during my lunch hour, I looked forward to seeing what had developed at the nursery. To my surprise this day the gate was open and nobody seemed to mind the store. I decided to drive in. Right or wrong; invited or not. I will never forget the transformation that I experienced when driving through the gate, leaving warehouses behind and being surprised by a clean parking lot, a manicured lawn and a huge sculpture staring at me. I had met Grossman’s Leucantha standing in front of the museum.

I got out of my car and started to explore. There was nobody around to call me back. It was so quiet and peaceful. There were trees, not concrete walls surrounding me. The world seemed unreal, but I enjoyed every minute of it. It was like a dream. I had to see more. I did not want to go back to work. I played hooky. I had fallen in love. It was not a nursery; it was the Grounds for Sculpture that I had found.

What happens when we are in love?

Everything that brings us back to our love becomes important and that is what happened to me. I wanted to become part of this marvelous park. Circumstances were favorable. I was close to retirement and the Grounds were ready to welcome new volunteers. I wanted to show others the beauty of this garden and share what is known about the sculptures. That is why I became a docent. This decision has paid me back a million times because I learned much more than the meaning of art. I enjoyed the communication with people hearing what they thought about the park. It made me listen with delight to their “Ahs” and “Ohms”. Or it made me listen with curiosity to their more humorous reactions. I will close with a comment of a visitor about Newman’s Skyhook sculpture that I found quite funny: “If THAT was standing in my neighborhood I would go around with a petition to have it removed,” she said with a smile. It was a forgiving smile.

David Burchell with Seward Johnson's King Lear. Photo by Mike Lariccia.

David Burchell, Docent Volunteer

Serving as a docent at Grounds For Sculpture has been the essential catalyst for my appreciation of contemporary art.  It has allowed me to understand the work of a diverse array of creative artists and has brought me into direct contact with artists, their works and ideas that I had never considered before.  I have had the pleasure of meeting and discussing sculpture with the artists themselves as well as with other members of the GFS volunteer community.

Being a GFS docent makes me eager to explore other art forms and expands my aesthetic horizons.    It has also helped me overcome the self-consciousness that I once felt when viewing some types of art.  After retiring from thirty years in public school secondary education, I have found this wonderful new place to learn and share the love of sculpture with others.

As part of the GFS family of volunteers I look forward to meeting more new artists, seeing their works and sharing my enthusiasm with the many visitors of all ages that I accompany on my docent tours.

Christina Ely, Volunteer

In May 2010, I left my position as the Education Program Manager at Grounds For Sculpture  to move back “home” to Upstate New York. During my tenure, one project I initiated was the EXPRESSIONS blog which grew out of a volunteer and staff publication established in 2007 to replace NEWSCASTING, a newsletter that had been in existence for many years.  EXPRESSIONS was organized, edited and printed by a volunteer committee, and the blog is now a collaboration of six staff and volunteer members.  Before my departure, realizing that I wanted to continue my involvement with the organization from afar, I asked to continue as an administrator of the blog.  What a great way to keep up with all the new initiatives, events, exhibitions and new sculpture additions at Grounds For Sculpture! I hope that all our readers enjoy the fruits of the blog committee’s labor in compiling interesting stories, videos, and news within the local arts community in an accessible forum.

I have continued my Museum career working at The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown, NY as the Assistant Registrar, digitizing the organizations’ new 19th and 20th century photography collection, as well as working in the Education Department at the Fenimore Art Museum. (These two Museums are sister organizations located across the street from each other.)

I often miss being able to walk the grounds at GFS with fellow volunteers and staff, enjoying the surprises each season brings to the Park.  I am fortunate that I am still able to be involved in the community of Grounds For Sculpture through the blog, and the wonderful emails I still receive.

Roger Haight , Docent Volunteer

I often tell my docent groups this story– that I had heard about Grounds For Sculpture through local newspaper articles, and had wanted to visit the park for about two years before I finally made a trip in 1997.  After I toured outside, I came to the Museum Building.  I was reading some of the available literature at the museum desk at that time, and came across something that said GFS was looking for volunteers.  I was so impressed with the park that I immediately asked at the desk for a volunteer application form.  I don’t remember who was sitting behind the desk, but she looked through the paperwork and found one, and I filled it out right then and there and handed it back to her.  So, I don’t really consider myself ever “not being a volunteer”, from the very first time I came here in 1997.

A lot of growth and change has occurred, but for me it’s been such a fun thirteen years at GFS that my wife and I decided to have our rehearsal dinner at Rat’s the night before our wedding.  It was a splurge for us, but everything was beautifully appointed at Rat’s.  It was a wonderful evening prelude to our wedding day– an evening and dinner that we will always remember!

Arianne Kassof with Autin Wright's Free Form III. Photo by Mike Lariccia.

Arianne Kassof, Docent Volunteer

My Life

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia and studied commercial art briefly at the University of Cincinnati until concluding that my standards would always far exceed my abilities as a visual artist. I transferred to Penn and majored in sociology, but my interest in the arts never waned.  By the time I discovered Grounds For Sculpture in the 1990s, my family had lived in Princeton for more than thirty years.  I had raised three (creative) daughters and had served as part-time mother to two of our six grandkids.  I established a drop-in center for the mentally ill, and volunteered at the Princeton University International Center which I’d helped found years before.  In the 1990s I was curator of a small gallery at Soufflé Catering headed by Shawn Lawson who was then Seward Johnson’s personal caterer.  Through him I discovered Grounds For Sculpture, and I became a docent in 2000.  Since then I have enjoyed not only leading tours but also hosting bus tours to other venues, editing newsletters and Expressions, serving on the Volunteer Committee, interviewing prospective volunteers, and “mentoring” new docents.

Jody Kendall with Itzik Benshalom, Facing Couple. Photo by Mike Lariccia.

Jody Kendall, Docent Volunteer

Someone had told me about this wondrous place in Hamilton that I would surely love.  So, on the day after retirement, April 2, 1999, I “finally” visited Grounds For Sculpture for the first time.  Even though this was before Damascus Gate (Walter Dusenberry) was installed, I felt the transformation and welcome.  I hugged Fluxus (Christoph Spath), fondled Aluna (Robert Ressler) and rang Jimmy’s (James Colavita) Bell with abandon and reconnected to my true self.

Walking through the Museum Building on the way out, I filled in a volunteer application, offering any kind of service that might be helpful in any way, and it was my good fortune to be part of the docent class of the year 2000.  Each year brings new opportunities to discover, to learn, to appreciate in new ways, to celebrate and to share.  For me, Grounds For Sculpture is a breath of life.  I am ever grateful to Mr. Johnson for following his dream and sharing it with all of us.

Linda Pickering, Docent Volunteer

Linda Pickering. Photo by Mike Lariccia.

One of my first dates with Arthur was a visit to Grounds For Sculpture.  I didn’t live in the area then, and had never been to the Grounds before.  That was in the autumn of 2002, and I couldn’t wait to see it after a snow fall.  Mother Nature cooperated; we were back at the Grounds in February and saw the landscape and the sculptures under several inches of the white stuff.  Here’s a photo of Arthur “inviting” me to dine near the lake….

Many visits, a few years, and a household move later, a friend told me that GFS was seeking volunteers for a new docent training class.

In addition to the sheer delight of frequent visits to the Grounds, volunteering there enriches on many levels: we learn about the sculptures and those who created them; we view the arboretum and its many specimen plantings over the seasons; we enjoy the camaraderie among volunteers and staff and share all we know with visitors.

Patty Hojer O’Neill, Museum Shop Volunteer

My parents and I first came to Grounds For Sculpture in April 2000. It was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed the sculptures and the grounds, but my father was suddenly hungry. We went to the café and while on line started talking with a middle-aged man. He was very friendly and talked with us about the food there, and gave us his recommendations.

After he left, my mother said she thought he looked familiar, and we realized it was Seward Johnson!  The reason we were sure was that we had an article on Grounds For Sculpture with us. His picture was in the article, and he had talked about his artwork.

What a great first visit.

Louise Witonsky, Docent Volunteer

Growing up on a small truck farm in south Jersey, I had a lot of “alone” time to follow my interests.  Besides helping my mother in the flower and vegetable gardens, drawing, playing music, reading, writing and dreaming of traveling filled the hours.

Rodin was my father’s favorite artist, and I learned about him when I was very young.  We would visit the Rodin Museum whenever we were in that part of Philadelphia. Discovering Vincent Van Gogh and the incredible emotional experience on seeing reproductions of his works is still fresh in my memory. Today I wonder if Seward Johnson’s choice of doing the Impressionists’ works stems from a similar emotional experience when he first saw their paintings.

Along with an appreciation of art, my parents taught me the concept of “Tzedakeh.” Though this Hebrew word is commonly translated today as “charity,” it is more than that; it includes giving time and effort as well as money to help others. The first opportunity I had to do Tzedakeh was when I was ten; the principal of our school asked my best friend and me to teach another ten-year old girl who had just arrived in our tiny town from Poland after WWII to speak and read English. I have been a volunteer for one or more organizations ever since then.

In college, I took some studio art classes and was encouraged to become an art major. Becoming an artist sounded wonderful, but pragmatism won out. Even though art was not the career choice, I loved to visit art museums and, fortunately, met a man who enjoyed doing that as much as I did. After we married we were lucky and had many opportunities to visit art museums around the Western world and see pieces we had learned about in those art history classes. I liked to check off works I saw like putting a notch on a belt or recording the birds sighted.

Going to the Rodin museum in Paris in a way fulfilled my father’s dream. But of course we visited the Louvre, too (one has to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo before one dies); art in the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel (before and after it was cleaned) and the Pieta (before and after it was damaged), Venice and the Peggy Guggenheim collection, Florence (yes, I definitely think Michelangelo’s David is the handsomest man I have ever seen but he didn’t have eyes for me Sigh!!!!!)

Close to home, a favorite outing for my husband and me was to visit the Princeton University Art Museum and, once Grounds for Sculpture opened, it became another favorite nearby destination. After I lost my husband, I decided to volunteer in this magical place that we both adored. It has many of my loves: art, beautiful grounds and sometimes music as well as great food. At long last I was accepted in a docent training class given by Aylin Green, and so I am now a docent.

My dream of becoming an artist was passed on to my daughter who is presently teaching art and creating ceramics in Manhattan. Whenever there is an art event in the tristate area, we are sure to attend. We saw the recent wonderful ceramics show at the Newark Museum where a special room in the permanent collection is devoted to Toshiko Takaezu’s ceramics.

I continue following the interests developed as a child: reading (The Letters of Vincent van Gogh), gardening (I’m an active Master Gardener of Mercer County), music (member of the Princeton Recorder Society and presently the President), writing (see my garden blog at And I continue to practice Tzedakeh wherever and whenever I can.



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