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Thomas Chase

Museum docent and chairman
Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art

Dr. Thomas M. Chase is a museum docent and chair of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art Advisory Board. After graduating Auburn University in 1962 and medical school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1966, Chase spent six years in the U.S. Navy, including two years as a physician aboard a nuclear submarine. He has retired from his practice with Lee Obstetrics and Gynecology in Opelika where he enjoyed 40 years of medical practice. He resides in Auburn.

1. How did you become a physician aboard a nuclear submarine?

At the time of my medical school graduation, I was unsure as to which branch of medicine I preferred; so, I wanted to do a rotating internship. Internships were beginning to be more specialty oriented, and one should have a planned course. During the time of Vietnam and the Cold War, the armed services had excellent rotating internships. I chose the U.S. Navy as having the better duty stations, completed an excellent internship in Portsmouth, Va., and then had to decide on active duty. Vietnam or nuclear submarine services were my two choices. Actually, six months of submarine medicine and then two 70-day patrols were most enlightening. Those officers aboard the submarine held a global view of all matters.

By the completion of my internship, I knew my plans were to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. While serving as a general medical officer aboard U.S.S. James Madison, I was often called on to explain messages which the men received from home from their wives. They were amused at their M.D. planning Ob-Gyn.

2. As an alumnus, why is volunteerism important to you?

As an alumnus, I wanted to become involved with some university need suitable for my interests. For me, that opportunity came in the form of our university art museum. One wants to share with others the benefits of his or her experiences—like a mentor—who through the enthusiasm and appreciation of what the organization has to offer, hopefully inspires others to become involved and active in the organization. Mentoring as a volunteer has great rewards and offer great benefits to the visitor.

3. What type of training is involved to become a docent?

Each fall, beginning docents join a class moderated by JCSM education curator, Andrew Henley. Our weekly meetings to discuss art, as well as the art of conversation, are very enjoyable. By spring, the new docent is ready to mentor a tour. Our docents, some who have been active since the museum opened in 2003, give small group tours to about 2,500 people a year, including elementary and high school students, college students, community groups and visitors to Auburn.

The role of a docent has progressed from giving a one-sided lecture about art, to the idea that a tour is an opportunity for a conversation with visitors about what he or she feels about a certain work. Tours are meant to be a creative visit centered on the visitor, and that makes it meaningful for the docent as well. The museum also has resources for self-guided tours if you decide to come on your own.

4. What types of artwork do you find most inspire visitors?

The museum exhibitions change three to four times a year, rotating between the museum's permanent collections and traveling exhibitions. The wide range of works provides something of interest to everyone. If the selection seems to tell a story or have an unwritten narrative, then the visitor can let the imagination create, and when discussed with others, the narrative can be most interesting. This semester, the museum is exhibiting a world-renowned photography collection, outdoor sculpture and turn-of-the-century paintings.

5. What do you think having an accredited museum says about your alma mater?

Accreditation in any department at a university is important. For JCSM, accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums means that we meet and maintain a status of the finest museums in the country. Of the more than 17,000 museums in the country, only around 1,000 are accredited. In the state of Alabama, Auburn is home to the only accredited university art museum. Among our regional peers are art museums in Birmingham and Atlanta; our national peers include the Smithsonian, the Getty and the Met. Professional accreditation was one of our main goals during our first 10 years—it is a statement that JCSM will continue to meet instruction, outreach, and operational standards, which benefit the university and the community.

Between March 25 and 28, JCSM is offering 10% off the annual membership, with a spring drive social on Wednesday, March 26, which includes a reception by Ursula's Catering and music with Scooter McGavin band on the terrace.

March 3, 2014