My Time at the National Gallery of Art…. The Story …. Final Part
This is the final part (finally) to my post dated April 7, 2013, titled MyTime at the National Gallery of Art. This is really a story about my first two years as a civilian working for the Federal Government. 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 now hope to wrap this up before it becomes a better book stop than read.
For those that want to skip all the detail and find out why I thought this was the greatest job I ever had, here are the prime reasons. 1)I learned more about art and artists during this time than I did my entire 30 years prior to getting the job at NGA, and the 30+ years since leaving that job. This alone makes it the greatest job I ever held. 2) I got to meet and talk (for about 4 minutes) to Farrah Fawcett Majors while she was still “Angels” hot. 3) Once on the night shift I got to study for 4 hours a night at the sitting posts. 4) I got to take the Secret Service Security Detail around the East Building in preparations for a visit and luncheon by then 1st Lady, RosalynnCarter. 5) As a night shift guard I could take friends and family on unique tours (during my off time) of the Gallery. 6) I got to see up close and very personal some of the most beautiful works of art known to man. 7) I got to participate in the opening of the new East Building of NGA, for as classical as the old building was in style, structure, and construction, the new East Building was modern.
Three months after starting at the NGA I had an opportunity to move to the night shift (11pm to 7am), so I jumped on it. This got me additional monies for working that shift, it paid extra because now I could arrest people and I was required to carry a gun. The shift also had access to a significant number of overtime hours, something that would really come in handy. It also entailed additional week of legal and firearms training. I aced the legal training, and qualified as a sharpshooter with a 38.
Just like when I started, you were partnered up the first week on the night shift. You were given a watch key, and shown the routes. Between the East and West Buildings of the National Gallery of Art there are 9 different walking patrols, and 6 sitting guard positions. During a normal night shift you could be expected to have 4 walking and 4 sitting posts. Rarely did you do the same thing 2 nights in a row. Each walking patrol had at a minimum 7 stops. At each stop was a watch box, as a patrol man you had to turn the watch box within a specific timeframe each hour or all hell breaks loose. During the week you are partnered, you walk each of the routes learning the way. The routes thru the galleries were relatively simply and the destination was normally in sight, and it was difficult to get lost. But these were only 3 of the nine routes. The other 6 routes took you thru the basements, above the galleries, thru the tunnels that had the building infrastructure, and outside the 2 building. The West building of the NGA takes up a real large city block. Beneath the galleries are tons of office space, then a basement storage area, and finally the tunnels. The basement and tunnels were poorly light, and creepy as hell. The tunnels have approximately 1.5 miles of patrolling area, and there were normally more than one guard walking the tunnels any given hour. I could write an entire post on just walking the tunnels, but this isn’t the time for that.
Above I gave 7 reasons why this was the greatest job I ever had, and now I intend on taking a moment of your time to speak to each.
1) I learned more about art and artists during this time than I did my entire 30 years prior to getting the job at NGA, and the 30+ years since leaving that job. This alone makes it the greatest job I ever held. — For a redneck just getting out of the Navy, and having grown up in Kentucky, this was an eye-opening experience. It allowed me into a world I didn’t know existed, it allowed me access to some of the most beautiful things in the world, and it allowed me to learn about it in a pace that was fun and acceptable to me.
2) I got to meet and talk (for about 4 minutes) to Farrah Fawcett Majors while she was still “Angels” hot. Farrah Fawcett Majors was possible the hottest, sexiest, coolest woman of the mid to late 70’s. Her position as a celebrity allowed her special treatment. One evening she was allowed to tour the galleries on her own after hours, because having her there during normal hours would have caused a major scene. She came into the gallery I was guarding, walked around briefly and then turned to me and a question about the piece of art she was viewing. Smiling, I had already committed the narrative information to memory, and I rattled it off like I knew what I was talking about. When asked, I also told her my favorites were the French Impressionists (Monet, Renior, Cassett, and Cezanne) and directed her to the gallery where these painting were.
3) Once on the night shift I got to study for 4 hours a night at the sitting posts. While working at the NGA I was attending college, the 4 sitting posts I generally had each night allowed me to sit and study for 4 hours each night. Besides making me a better student, this freed up time during the day to be a good dad, and help out around the house.
4) I got to take the Secret Service Security Detail around the East Building in preparations for a visit and luncheon by then 1st Lady, Rosalynn Carter. Shortly after the opening of the East Building of the NGA, Rosalyn Carter decided to host a luncheon for the wives of some important political figures of the time. I got to guide her advance security team around both the East and West Building, from the tunnels to the rooftops, showing access points, and answering questions. I guess the reality of it was that I got to take the security team “wherever” they wanted to go without question. Then I got to stand-off to the side while they talked among themselves. But on the day of the Luncheon I was on the roof of the East Building looking down on the 1st lady and her guests. Though the security team didn’t let me carry my 38 that day. And I am glad they didn’t.
5) As a night shift guard I could take friends and family on unique tours (during my off time) of the Gallery. It was just cool to go to the gallery get great parking in the basement garage and then be allowed access to take my friends and family on small tours of the building. Unlike Farrah I had to take my friends and family during normal working hours.
6) I got to see up close and very personal some of the most beautiful works of art known to man. I was allowed to stand and stare at painting as long as I wanted (when not working). And the curators would answer questions and offer insight. God was that cool. Again this goes back to me learning so much about art and artists in such a short period of time.
7) I got to participate in the opening of the new East Building of NGA, for as classical as the old building was in style, structure, and construction, the new East Building was modern. The 1st special exhibit in the new East Building was The Splendor of Dresden it was an exhibit of five centuries of art collecting from the German Democratic Republic, I got to walk the exhibit as it was being put together. And to give it it’s due I am going to write an addendum to this post that speaks specifically to this exhibit. But also I was there for the preparation of the galleries for the Small French Paintings, and Edvard Munch Symbols and Images.
I have already decided that I will have one more post on this subject just to speak about walking the tunnels, and the Splendor of Dresden exhibit. There won’t be anything dramatic or earth-shaking just memories of those times, feeling I had, at the time, and the creepiness of the place.
Folks, I know this has gone on and on, but I have enjoyed sharing these experiences with you. If you have comments or questions please feel free to ask. Please take care, Bill