Springfield’s Hartman Rock Garden seeking docents for guided tours

Kevin Rose with the Hartman Rock Garden conducts a tour of the grounds Tuesday March 20, 2018. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

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Kevin Rose with the Hartman Rock Garden conducts a tour of the grounds Tuesday March 20, 2018. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

A local nonprofit is seeking docents to guide tours at a historic Springfield site, the Hartman Rock Garden.

The rock garden will host training next month for people interested in guiding tours at “one of the nation’s revered visionary art environments,” Springfield historian Kevin Rose said.

PHOTO GALLERY: Hartman Rock Garden restoration

In the past, tours were provided by volunteers and interns to groups at the garden, 1905 Russell Ave., but the Friends of Hartman Rock Garden — a local nonprofit that maintains the property — have never offered formal training for docents, he said.

“We’re looking at having more of a professional (tour),” Rose said. “When people come in, they don’t get the same tour. That’s the beauty of the docent tour but they’re at least getting a similar tour.”

The program might lead to the garden having more regular hours once a week for guided tours during the summer months, Rose said. The organization is working on a partnership with the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, the garden’s contact for residents and visitors to the community, he said.

“We’re still working on the details,” Rose said.

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In 2008, the Wisconsin-based Kohler Foundation — which rescues large-scale sculptural work by so-called outsider artists and then bestows the work back on the community as a gift — bought the property and restored the Depression-era handiwork of Springfield’s H.G. “Ben” Hartman.

Hartman lost his job in 1932 as an iron molder, and set out to relieve his boredom by constructing in his yard stone and concrete replicas of the White House, Independence Hall and other landmarks. He also built a 12-foot-tall stone castle, and populated the entire yard with gnomes and other homemade lawn ornaments until his death in 1944.

Today the local Friends of the Hartman Rock Garden cares for the property. They’ve been working on the concept of having volunteers provide guided tours to the public for a few years, Rose said.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “Any time you do a docent training, you learn from it and perfect it.”

The training will include learning about the rock garden and other areas behind the scenes where Hartman found many of his rocks and stones, such as a nearby stream, Rose said.

MORE: Hartman Rock Garden gaining solid ground as tourist draw

No experience is needed and the time commitment is expected to be about one to six hours per week.

Most people taking tours will be from across the country, Rose said. Many will likely take in multiple Springfield sites in one day, including the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Westcott House, he said.

The rock garden has always been popular, Rose said. Several large tour groups are expected to travel to the garden this summer from across the country, he said.

“We as a community are just now realizing how popular it is and what an asset it is,” Rose said.

The docents also help keep people in the community, he said, recommending restaurants and other attractions.

“They’re ultimately sales people for our community,” Rose said. “By interacting with a person, we feel they’re going to come to our community and spend more time and have a better experience in Springfield.”

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