Janice W. Harwood

Longtime Walters Art Museum Docent Loved Sharing Her Knowledge And Helped Start An Elderhostel Program

July 17, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Janice W. Harwood, who brought a love of art and plenty of enthusiasm to her work as a Walters Art Museum docent and educator, died of heart failure Sunday at Holly Hill Manor, a Towson nursing and rehabilitation facility. She was 74.

Janice R. Wagner, the daughter of an industrial arts teacher and homemaker, was born and raised in Canton, Ohio.

She earned a bachelor's degree in fine arts from Bowling Green State University in 1957, and a master's degree in studio and art history in 1960 from what is now Case Western Reserve University.

Mrs. Harwood completed the course work for a doctorate in art history from Case Western Reserve University while working as a staff member in the education department of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

In 1961, she married Herbert H. Harwood Jr., who worked in the finance and marketing departments of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and later the Chessie System. The couple moved to Baltimore two years later.

Mrs. Harwood joined the education department of what was then the Walters Art Gallery in 1963 and began a more than 40-year association with the Mount Vernon Place museum.

While raising her two sons, Mrs. Harwood became a museum docent; she also became an instructor in the Peabody Elderhostel program and established a senior citizen art history program that was sponsored by what is now the Essex campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.

Mrs. Harwood also forged strong links among the Walters, Peabody Elderhostel and Essex programs, giving senior-citizen students an opportunity to tour and become acquainted with the museum's collections.

"Jan had boundless energy and was just a terrific person," said Gary Vikan, who is director of the Walters.

"In my mind's eye, she was never still and always animated. She went way beyond what a docent is on paper in being a docent. Only a very few do that," Mr. Vikan said. "She had both energy and elan, and was a great connecting agent for people coming to the museum."

John J. Shields, manager of docent and internship programs at the Walters, was a longtime friend.

"Jan was a member of our first docent class when it started in 1974, and when I got here, she was very instrumental in familiarizing me with the museum's permanent collection. Her knowledge was encyclopedic, and she was so much a part of the Walters," Mr. Shields said.

"She loved the arts of Asia and loved promoting the Asian collection in the museum's Hackerman House," he said.

He praised Mrs. Harwood's "people skills" and ease in putting visitors on an "emotional level with the art" they encountered during their visits.

"With her red hair, wonderful complexion and smile, she was a welcoming and glowing presence, and our Walters' guests and groups instantly warmed up to her," Mr. Shields recalled. "In fact, she was so popular, that returning groups would often ask for her. That's how much she was loved and respected."

Mr. Shields added: "She was a model volunteer that any institution would love to have."

Molly Edgar, a North Roland Park resident and now a part-time Walter's docent, got to know Mrs. Harwood in the mid-1980s.

"The Peabody Elderhostel program that she created is still going on. It will be Jan's legacy," Ms. Edgar said yesterday. "She even kept in touch with some of her elderhostel students."

She said her friend "loved to learn and share her knowledge."

"I have reams and reams of notes from her regarding the collection," Ms. Edgar said. "When she took people into the gallery, it was very hands-on, and with her great smile, she made people want to learn."

Mrs. Harwood retired from the Walters Art Museum about a decade ago.

Mrs. Harwood, who had an interest in holistic medicine, was a member of the New Life Clinic Church at Mount Washington United Methodist Church.

"Her heart was very close to the surface, and she was a very engaging person," Mr. Vikan said. "She was always sharing meditation tapes with me."

Mr. Shields recalled the comfort she brought him when his father was dying.

"Jan believed in alternative therapies and gave me a series of exercises on certain pressure points, which gave me a great deal of emotional relief."

A longtime Wiltondale resident, Mrs. Harwood enjoyed painting in her earlier years and liked writing poetry.

"She was a unique and remarkable person," said her husband, who is also a rail historian and author. "She leaves a strong afterglow."

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete Thursday.

Also surviving are two sons, George W. Harwood of Baltimore and Geoffrey L. Harwood of Barcelona, Spain; two brothers, John Wagner of Salisbury and Dr. James Wagner of Point Pleasant, W.Va.; and a sister, Marjorie Styer of Barberton, Ohio.

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