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DIA Volunteer Lunch
DIA Volunteer Lunch

Volunteer Award Winner:
Irving Berg

Docent - 2004

Eleven years a docent, Irving Berg has solidly earned the respect and admiration of many of his comrades. Museum employees and fellow docents know that they can call upon Irving whenever they need his assistance because, if he possibly can do whatever is asked of him, he does so gladly. Complimentary letters have been written and Irving has even had pictures of himself drawn and sent in by delighted students and adult groups after their visit to the museum under his guidance. Both adult and youth groups often call and request Irving Berg by name when scheduling a visit to the DIA.

A native Detroiter, (born on the kitchen table on Hastings Street, as he himself declares) Irving has spent most of his life working and studying in the Detroit Metropolitan area. Since his youth, his world has revolved around Detroit institutions. Irving attended Pershing High School and Wayne State University, earning first a Bachelor of Science degree in Art and a Master's of Education. For many years, he taught art and sculpture at Cass Tech High School and worked as a successful artist in his own right. Summers were devoted to his role of Artist-in-Residence at Camp Tamarack. Irving and his wife Harriet have resided in the Park Shelton Apartments across from the DIA since 1985.

Feeling at home at the DIA comes naturally to Irving. During his days at Cass Tech, using photography as one artistic medium, Irving spent hours shooting much of the DIA's collection; in one instance he photographed a complete history of art, utilizing the DIA holdings as fully as possible. Many of his photographs are now being used as teaching tools in schools around the metro Detroit area. For years he came “for the free dinner” when his wife played Queen Elizabeth in the Wassail Feasts. He became a Gallery Service volunteer for a short time prior to applying to the docent program. Today, when not giving a tour, he is often called upon to greet and act as host to corporate and educational groups who book the galleries for evening events. During each economic challenge faced by the DIA, Irving has been a vocal supporter of the museum, with letters regularly published in the Detroit News and Free Press. Most recently, he has voiced his support for Proposal K, explaining how important Arts, Parks, and Kids really are to the area.

Asked just how and why Irving decided to become a docent, one can see in his demeanor and expression just how very much he loves this role. Claiming that he began spending even more time at the museum after retirement because of the crème caramel then being served in the cafeteria, Irving also tells about how he just “comes to life” when working with a group of responsive kids or adults.

Irving explains that he came into art history by the “back door” – he implemented a History of Sculpture class at Cass Tech which encouraged him to study. Since then, he has expanded his knowledge through classes, travels, and research. In the past few years, Irving has conducted many different tours: Exploring the Museum, public tours, Rivera Court, European and Italian to name a few. His favorite work is the Gracehoper sculpture on the lawn and his favorite area to tour was the old German 15th century gallery. Third and fourth graders are his group of choice and he loves to explore the museum with them, finding the most recent teaching method, Visual Thinking Strategy, to be a wonderful tool to work with.

Irving Berg's name has arisen regularly at the docent Annual Meeting as one who has greatly exceeded the required number of tours. With a goal of 20 tours to be given by each active docent, Irving has so far this year amassed double that – 40 tours when last checked! Last year, Irving served the committee by reporting monthly on the changes taking place in the collections as construction work continued. This year he created a bulletin board highlighting the work of docents who are also artists.

The Docent Committee thanks Irving Berg most sincerely for all he has done for us and the DIA!


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