My Time at the National Gallery of Art…. The Story Part 1
This is the final part (not really) to my post dated April 7, 2013, titled MyTime 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