Frick docent finds her calling showing visitors through history
July 6, 2014 12:00 AM
Jamie Blatter, docent for the Clayton House of the greater Frick Museum, poses in the dining room of the Clayton House.
By Emma S. Brown / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jamie Blatter was 43 when she found her calling. She was a Realtor for Howard Hanna when the company took a trip to Pittsburgh‘s Frick Art and Historical Center. It was there that Mrs. Blatter first set eyes on Clayton, the 23-room chateau-style mansion of the Henry Clay Frick family.
“I looked around and said to myself, ’I am going to do this, one day,‘” she recalled about being a guide.
This month, Mrs. Blatter, 65, of Mount Washington, will have served as a docent at Clayton for 19 years. She spends her days guiding small groups of visitors through the three stories, using a flashlight to explain each room’s wallpaper and draw attention to the perfectly preserved dining sets. Having grown up in the mansion’s Point Breeze neighborhood, she remembers asking her mother why nobody lived in the then-rundown house. Today, she educates hoards of visitors on its history.
“My children always say, ‘You can’t get the Frick out of her,‘ ” laughed Mrs. Blatter. “When we go on vacation, I‘ll find an old house and insist on going there.”
Each day, the docent interacts with an eclectic assortment of people. Some are art lovers, others fellow history fanatics. But regardless of background, Mrs. Blatter cites a common visitor fascination with the house’s story. Oddly, many ask about the supernatural background of the house. Over nearly two decades of serving as a docent, she has learned to read her audience.
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“Some groups are most interested in art, so I might tailor a tour to that. You‘d think they would be challenging, but I find teenagers relatively easy,” acknowledged Mrs. Blatter. “You can always relate something to them, pull them in.”
As a former flight attendant turned Realtor turned historian, her appreciation for other people is immediately apparent.
“When I come to work here every day, I actually have to pinch myself,” said Mrs. Blatter. “I feel so lucky to be imparting knowledge and giving people a feel for what our city was all about.”
She is definitely the one to do it. As a Pittsburgh native, Mrs. Blatter knows every inch of the city. She cites the Phipps Conservatory, the Heinz History Center, and the “mini-Georgetown” of Shadyside as favorite spots. Mrs. Blatter chose to live on Mount Washington because it offered the best bird’s-eye view of her city.
Mrs. Blatter ultimately credits patience, flexibility and a bit of good timing.
“Sometimes you find your passion later in life. When I got here, I knew that I was made for this,” she said. “I had a re-awakening about what I loved.”
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