OUR STORY THROUGH THEIR EYES:
Gamble House Journey Brings Her the World
By Mary Quinn-Lumsden, Gamble House History Committee
A seasoned docent with a decade of experience at the Getty Villa, Elizabeth Samson was in search of a change. After looking into a museum or two in the L.A. area, she came upon an open house at The Gamble House. Lo and behold, she was quickly enticed by fabulous mentors including then-Director Randell Makinson and Nancy Ullrich—and the spirit of the Gamble House family. A world traveler, Elizabeth liked the scheduling flexibility the House offered as well as the opportunity to tour architectural landmarks far and wide with fellow Docents. The rest is history. Elizabeth, a lovely, articulate, and poised woman, is a trained musician and devotee of many musical organizations. Our conversation took place in the living room of what was originally her parents’ home, just west of the Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, where a piano and organ evidence her passion. When she made the switch to The Gamble House, Class of 1991, the extensive preparation led her on a journey of discovery inside the House’s doors. “I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the training,” she said, which made her a confident and knowledgeable Docent in no time. The skills Elizabeth honed in her professional life as a health-care contract administrator and teacher prepared her well for being a woman in charge, and she soon moved into the Coordinator role.
ON DUTY IN MR. GAMBLE’S DEN
Being the touch point for tours did have its challenges. She recalled that one day they were absolutely swamped when a man came up to her and asked, “Can’t I get on this tour?” They were sold out and Elizabeth, as graciously as she could, replied, “Sorry, no you can’t.” Describing him as “hard-charging,” she said “he got so mad because I wouldn’t let him on the tour and he went off in a huff after asking again to break the rules.” Little did she know he was an actor of some repute. “He wasn’t a big actor like Tom Cruise” but she reported it in case he went up to the top echelon to complain. On another occasion, she observed a young boy running and screaming across the front lawn. When his mother approached, Elizabeth asked politely, “Are you taking your boy on the tour?” The answer came, “Yes, no problem.” To Elizabeth’s surprise, the child was the best-behaved youngster she had ever seen. That lesson is priceless yet today: Don’t judge a tour-goer too quickly. “She was smart to let him get his energy out on the lawn first.” Elizabeth extended her hospitality to House guests as well. She remembered one who came from England to lecture and stayed overnight in the House. “I loaned him my French press [coffeemaker]. He left it on the stove and the whole thing ‘melted’ ” into a uselessness heap. It was a small price to pay for all that the House has brought her way. Elizabeth has served in many positions in addition to Docent and Coordinator. She conducted special tours, sold tickets in the Bookstore, worked on the Speakers Bureau and, under President Violet Kendall, was a liaison with other Docent-staffed museums. This required finding out what was going on with their volunteer programs. A key finding: “We were the only museum that did not have a yearly evaluation of docents.”
We’re all drawn to the House in no small part for the beauty within. Like all Docents, Elizabeth has her favorite spaces. “When I’d go to the upper Guest Bedroom and see that wonderful bank of cabinets, drawers, and then open up that lavatory with the sink cabinet, it was just amazing, so amazing! And all the beams up in the Attic always interested me—how they were shaped and formed, strapped together, how beautiful the corners are.” Another feature that she admires is the indoor window between the Kitchen and the porch where the servants ate. (Many Docents will recall the simple joy of eating in that room before being called for tours.) “It’s a marvel they designed that, with all that light in there.” She is drawn to the Butler’s Pantry, the maple floors, and the wonderful cabinet in the middle of the Kitchen—“the island, as they call them today.” And if docenting came with a parting gift, what would it be? “I guess the Dining Room table. It would look nice in my Dining Room!”
A ROAD TO FAR-FLUNG ADVENTURE
Elizabeth’s love of travel combined perfectly with being a Docent at the House, drawing her to Gamble House-sponsored tours to Carmel, Boston, Rhode Island, Taliesin West near Phoenix, the Adirondacks in New York, along with Budapest, Vienna, and Prague. A bonus was Bob Winter on the England-Scotland trek. “He so inspired me with his ‘Bungalow Song.’ ” What keeps her involved with the House are the many opportunities to tour local architectural wonders—“the things you get to see, private houses you normally don’t get into” such as the Lanterman House in La Cañada Flintridge. She’s also been able to experience The Gamble House in special ways. While President of the Friends of The Gamble House in the early ’90s, Elizabeth took a seat at the Dining Room table for an event hosted by House benefactor-donor Julie Stahl. “The Luncheon Committee did the cooking. Jack Stumpf (Class of 1994) was the wine steward—we did not have red wine. I remember the lighting was very subtle. It was kind of a mind-boggling experience.”
WORDS OF WISDOM
Elizabeth encourages new Docents to get involved in as many activities as possible to meet their fellow volunteers and learn more about the House and its operations. Her experience as a Docent has broadened her knowledge of the Arts and Crafts movement, taught her a great deal, and created a wonderful circle of friends. She made special mention of Randell as a man who knew how to build relationships that benefitted the House. At the Wednesday Luncheons, for example, she recalled how he would be sure to have a short conversation with every person in attendance. In all, he “did so very much.”
Elizabeth Samson has served as Chair of the Organizations Representative and Telephone/Coordinators committees, and as a Coordinator. A member of the Class of 1991, she is celebrating her 25th year as a member of the Docent Council.