The Ringling Museum is not only an icon of Sarasota, but home to one of the most distinguished art collections in the United States. Designated as the State Art Museum of Florida, The Ringling offers 31 galleries within the Museum of Art, including its new Center for Asian Art, in addition to the Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, the Historic Asolo Theater, the Ringling Art Library, the Circus Museum and Tibbals Learning Center, and 66 acres of Bayfront Gardens.
Each year, The Ringling attracts visitors from around the world, reporting more than 400,000 visitors in the 2014-15 fiscal year. That same year, guests represented every state in the U.S. and several foreign countries, with Canada, Great Britain, and Germany having the highest visitation. Like many local organizations, The Ringling largely depends on its more than 500 generous volunteers who serve in a variety of roles — many of whom can be found right here at Plymouth Harbor.
Resident Sue Johnson, who has been a docent for nearly 16 years, is a prime example. In this position, she has helped provide tours in the Museum of Art, Ca’ d’Zan Mansion, Circus Museum, Bayfront Gardens, and special exhibitions. As a docent, Sue was required to take part in an initial detailed training course, in which she learned the ins and outs of each piece of art. She also participated in a continuing education program and provided at least 75 hours of service annually. “It’s a wonderful continued education for me. Leading tours is so illuminating,” she says. “You learn as much from your visitors as they do from you.” Today, Sue is taking a step back to become more involved in other organizations, but still plans to serve on an as-needed basis.
Nancy Cook, and her late husband Senator Marlow Cook, became involved nearly 21 years ago. After coming to Sarasota, Senator Cook was invited to serve on The Ringling Board of Directors due to his expertise in politics, business, and finance. He served several years, some of which were as chairman, and was involved in the negotiation and transition of the museum’s governance to Florida State University in 2000. At the same time, Nancy worked with the then-Ringling Member’s Council. Along with fellow residents Nancy Gross and Marian Kessler, the group assisted the museum in any way possible — which included membership, special events, and the 1996 renovation of the Ca’ d’Zan. “Whatever needed to be done, we did it,” she remembers. Marian Kessler and Nancy Gross still serve at The Ringling today. Nancy spends her Saturdays as an ambassador in the Tibbals Learning Center, in addition to working as an usher in the Historic Asolo Theater. Both Nancy and Marian serve on an as-needed basis for special events and openings.
Many residents have also served terms on The Ringling Board of Directors. Alice Rau, a longtime supporter and volunteer, served on the board for a number of years, both as a member and as chairman. A volunteer since 1992, Ina Schnell is currently serving her seventh year on the board. “The Ringling Museum to me is one of those special places that has influenced my time in Sarasota,” she says. “After living for 47 years in Manhattan and giving tours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was thrilled to find such an outstanding museum in my new home community.”
The Ringling has had supporters at Plymouth Harbor in other capacities as well. In affiliation with the Sarasota Garden Club, Betsy Bagby and Betty Hendry put their gardening skills to work when they restored Mable Ringling’s Secret Garden more than 15 years ago. Through her work with the Founders Garden Club of Sarasota, Molly Moffat has assisted in the restoration of the Rose Garden, courtyard, and more. This organization is also responsible for the donation of 10 Cuban Royal Palm trees to the Ca’ d’Zan’s entrance.
“The Ringling is such an asset to this community,” says Marian Kessler. “It’s a treasure, attracting so many people and offering something different to each one.” To learn more, visit www.Ringling.org.