Carolyn Rock

WS: History is heritage for you. Can you tell us a bit about that?  

Rock: In 1840, my great-great-great grandfather William came by covered wagon from New Jersey to the Quad Cities—where I was born and grew up. William’s cousin, James Marshall, kept going all the way to Sacramento, where he was the one who first discovered the gold that began the Gold Rush. My aunt and mother were very involved in the historical society. So, I grew up with the history of the American West.   

WS: How did you come to live in Scottsdale? 

Rock: I studied nursing at the University of Maryland and then moved to Arizona. I met my husband here and raised our family in the beautiful community of Scottsdale. We took our children to museums throughout the United States—but there was never a museum devoted to the history of the West, which is what makes Western Spirit so special, how it gathers that history under one roof. 

WS: You and your husband are both docents at Western Spirit. We don’t often get to hear about what goes into docent training. Can you tell us something about your training and experience? 

Rock: The training at Western Spirit is thorough and extensive. The docents receive training in the permanent exhibitions and then additional training for the special exhibitions. The training for the Curtis exhibition, for example, took weeks. We learned what Curtis accomplished and the hardships he faced. The Director of Education, Wade Weber, who is terrific, brought in collectors of Curtis to speak to us as well as a photographer who went over the entire history of photography and demonstrated techniques. A professional speaker was part of the program.  She taught us how to communicate and connect with an audience. To help us present artworks, like those in Courage and Crossroads, Wade had painter Bill Ahrendt come in to demonstrate the techniques of the early artists.  At the time, he was working on a painting called Bowman, done after a painting called The Scout, by Frank Schoonover, who worked over a century ago. There’s nothing like watching and listening to a master at work. I also have to say that Curator Tricia Loscher is very generous with her expertise; she is a wonderful resource for docents. 

WS: You have done some work for non-profit organizations. What are your thoughts on those who work in the field? 

Rock: With 15 years of professional experience in the non-profit world and countless years as a volunteer, I understand what a labor of love it is, and I value the extraordinary efforts and quality of the staff and volunteers at Western Spirit. A career in the non-profit sector isn’t always financially rewarding but the people who choose it love what they do. I feel they need to be recognized and appreciated.  

WS: Since you know the museum so well, what are some impressions that you’d like to convey to our readers? 

Rock: Western Spirit has a well-defined mission, “To share the history, art, and cultures of the American West.” You walk in the front door and see the beautiful bronze statues and the huge map of migrations and you know you’re going to get a comprehensive experience of the story of the West: who came from where, where they established themselves, and which territories became states. You can always learn something new at Western Spirit.   

WS: Which exhibitions and artworks at Western Spirit stand out for you? 

Rock: Charles Fritz’s sequence of paintings that trace the Lewis and Clark Expedition was incredible. I love John Coleman’s Addih-Hiddisch, Hidatsa Chief, after Bodmer’s original painting and how the top hat, feather, and Jefferson Medal represent the merging of the two cultures. Coleman’s The Greeter also tells the unique story of the sculpture’s subject, the Hidatsa Chief, Black Moccasin, who greeted Lewis and Clark in 1804, and then, 28 years later, when he was over 100 years old, greeted artist George Catlin. I also thoroughly enjoy touring Abe Hays’ remarkable Spirit of the West Collection. 

WS: What are you looking forward to at Western Spirit in 2023? 

Rock:  There are two major events coming to the museum.  First, is the Warhol/Schenck exhibition. I think these two artists have a broad appeal and will attract a large audience. Second, I know it’s early, but I want to put in a plug for Saddle Up IV on October 15th. I am assisting with finding sponsorships from companies and businesses that would benefit from exposure to our Western culture and the Western art market. It’s going to be a wonderful event for Western Spirit and we’re already working hard. I invite everyone to mark their calendars and join us.