Dashing docent

Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 10:05pm

In the docent field, there are skilled wordsmiths, retired academicians and the random eccentric types. 

And there is Mancil Ezell. 

The unofficial face of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts each Wednesday afternoon, Ezell engages museum visitors with his dignified bearing, keen intellect, playful wit and dashing sartorial style. Frist visitors seem to enjoy watching the veteran leader of guided tours as much as the facility’s impressive art. 

On April 7, Ezell will add the Belmont Mansion — with its more than 1,200 artworks — to his docent resume. No doubt, the university will benefit from having a master in the house. 

“I feel most fortunate being included in two of Nashville’s premier ‘art industries’ and having the joy of connecting visitors with the power and ecstasy of visual art,” Ezell said. 

Ezell, who grew up on an Alabama farm and has a bachelor’s degree in art, came to the Frist after an almost 40-year education-related career with one firm. He has conducted teacher education and leadership training workshops in all 50 states and in Germany. 

“You perhaps see that the galleries at the Frist Center are really my continuing classrooms for teaching [and] training visitors about art,” he said. 

Ezell brings a pleasant, affable persona to his work. Likewise, he expects the museum’s tour guests to offer at least some interest and enthusiasm. 

“A tour group was gathering when one among them pulled apart from the group, came over to me, stood uncomfortably close, and asked, ‘Before I decide whether or not I want to take this tour, may I ask, Do you have any ideas about this exhibit?’ ” he recalled. “Thank god for the power of restraint.” 

Mark Brown, executive director at the Belmont Mansion, said Ezell’s knowledge and expertise “will enable us to look at the collection in a new and different light.”

At Belmont, Ezell will offer his art tours on the first and third Thursdays of each month, starting at 2 p.m. 

A $10 ticket fee is a small price to pay for the opportunity to accompany a local treasure as he shares his inimitable knowledge of his craft.