My Time at the National Gallery of Art…. The Story Part 1

08 Apr

This is the final part (not really) to my post dated April 7, 2013, titled My Time at the National Gallery of Art.  It started off as a simple post on my favorite job during my almost 40 years of service to the US of America. But being my normal wordy self, I managed to make a post out of just getting the job. I have no intention of rehashing how I got the job, so if you’re interested in that please refer to my April 7 post.

On Monday, March 27, 1978, I resumed my federal career by reporting to my new job as a GS-1, step 1 Security Guard for the National Gallery of Art (NGA). I arrived at the NGA at the appointed time, and began the process of being a federal civilian employee.  Even then I knew I would spend the rest of my working life being employed by the government, I truly liked the thought of continuing serving my country, even in this capacity.  But I had no idea the bumps and turns my career would make over the next almost 40 years.

Originally I took the 3 by 5 card at the Virginia Employment Commission to avoid the mountain of paperwork required to draw unemployment even for a brief period.  Imagine my surprise when I reported to work.  The first hour was pretty much telling us what our working hours were, where the break rooms where and most importantly where the bathrooms (the ones we were allowed to use) were located. LMAO it was like being inducted back into the Navy.  All the paperwork I had avoided looking for a job was dumped on me when I got a job.  Forms for taxes, forms for benefits, forms for health insurance, forms for disability (should I need it), more forms for different taxes, forms for life insurance, forms for payment of death benefits to name a few of the forms.  Then I had to read and sign acknowledgement statements.  Yes I read this, that or the other, yes I understood what I read, no I promise I won’t do that statements, and on and on.  Then I was issued my NGA Guard Uniform, yuk, my Navy dress blues were so much sharper. This was all accomplished before lunch that Monday morning.  There were 5 or 6 of us new guards that  morning, during lunch we kinda huddled together going over the morning process, we had all some level of military experience, and pretty much bitched like a bunch of enlisted men during lunch.  After lunch we were scheduled for four hours of intense classroom training, about being a guard, what our role was, how we were to act in the Galleries, who could we talk to, when could we talk, the locations of the bathrooms the patrons used, where the cafeteria and gift shops were located, and the closest metro stop.  But clearly the single most important thing we were taught was that NO ONE was allowed to touch the paintings or other art work except for employees of NGA’s curators shop or picture hanging shop.  Yes the NGA had employees whose main job was to hang pictures.   I worked for NGA for over 2 years and NEVER touched a piece of artwork.  Thus ended day one of the greatest job I ever had.

On Tuesday the new guards were given their 1st day in a gallery.  Being newbies we were put with older established guards that knew the ropes, we were told where to stand, what to look for, when to shift positions to another spot in the gallery.  We were given maps of the gallery and what exhibits were located in which gallery.  We were partnered up with an older established guard for the remainder of the week, and our schedules were established. Thus the end of day 2.  I promise I will not outline each of the 900 + days I worked for NGA.

One of the most interesting things I learned during that 1st week of instruction was that almost every painting in the building had a narrative.  And in each gallery there were 3 or 4 bins, each bin had the narrative for 4 or 5 painting.  These narratives provided the artist’s name, when he lived, his nationality, where he lived when that particular work was completed, the name of the painting, the genera of the painting, and any painting specific tidbit the average patron would find interesting.  I studied those pieces of paper, I read and reread them, I asked some questions (but apparently guards weren’t supposed to ask a lot of questions) about the artwork.  Within 3 months if a patron were to walk into the gallery I was guarding and asked about a painting, without fail I could parrot the information on those fact pages.  If I were asked what painting I liked best, I could be specific and I could tell them were to go…. to see that  painting LOL.  During those first 3 months, I learned more about art and artists than I did the entire 30 years prior to getting that job, and the 30 years since leaving that job. This alone would make it the greatest job I ever held, but there is more, and I will share it in the next installment.

Folks, clearly I am extremely wordy, and I put way too much of myself into some of my posts.  When I started writing this I figured one real long post or 2 shorter posts.  Well here I am closing in on a 1000 words in this post, and still have at least that much more to go.  Thank you for your patience.

As always your thoughts, questions, and comments are truly appreciated. Take care, Bill


Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Humor, Ramblings


Tags: , , , , , ,

7 responses to “My Time at the National Gallery of Art…. The Story Part 1

  1. The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

    April 8, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    That must have been such a great place to work. Like what you wrote about every painting having a narrative. I love the story behind things. Great post here. 🙂 Paulete

    • FlaHam

      April 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Paulette, I had this job over 30 years ago, and it still causes me to smile when I reflect upon it, and what I got from that job. Thank you for reading it and enjoying it, also thank you so so much for you continued encouragement. Take care, Bill

  2. jmgoyder

    April 8, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    What a dream job!

    • FlaHam

      April 9, 2013 at 12:04 am

      Julie, Thank you for your continued support and always sweet words. It was the best job I ever had, and I will actually address why in the next and final chapter LOL LOL (I hope). Take care, Bill

  3. Wanda

    April 10, 2013 at 6:15 pm

    My career path is similar to yours in many ways, except I’ve taken a couple of “civilian” gigs between government jobs. I got out of the Navy in mid-1979, used my GI bill to get an associate’s degree, and found employment that, simultaneously, helped pay the bills and let me be a part-time stay-at-home mom. Once Art retired from the Navy (at 75% pay without perks), it became obvious that I needed to find full-time work in a hurry. So, with veteran’s preference, etc., I set about finding a government job. I was fortunate, landing a GS-4 entry level position, which over the course of the next 17 years matured into a GS-12 position and a fully subsidized master’s degree. I enjoyed some aspects of my government career (pay and TSP included) but my last few years were more high pressure than I think I could have sustained until retirement. I’ve said, time and time again, that joining the Navy was the single best decision I ever made. Speaking chronologically, marrying Art is easily the second best. Leaving Federal service to move to Florida is probably the decision that saved my sanity.

    • FlaHam

      April 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Wanda, Soft smile, when I got out of the Navy all I wanted was to be employed. Yes I wanted to continue my service to our government, but had the other job offered panned out, who knows I might have spent 30 years working for Interstate Van Lines. I am so glad that offered didn’t work out. — Take care, Bill

  4. Guest

    September 30, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    FlaHAM I enjoy reading your blog, funny coincidence though I am also a Vet and getting ready to start working as a Guard at the NGA.


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