The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In the Line of Beauty

Chances are, the closest you’ll come to working alongside a legendary artist is sharing a cubicle with Vincent van Goes to the Occasional Pottery Class. Those tasked with protecting the artwork at D.C.’s museums and galleries, on the other hand, are in the presence of greatness every day. Though neither an interest in art nor a familiarity with the pieces they monitor is a job requirement, the sentinels we spoke with at local museums and galleries can’t help but form connections with the masterpieces that surround them. As museum season revs up, why not solicit the thoughts of those in charge of protecting all that greatness?

Berhanu Taffa

Museum: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW; 202-639-1700, (Farragut West)
Title: Security officer    Years on the job: 10
Relationship to art: “Before working here, I thought art was only paintings and sculptures. I didn’t know about the impressionist movement, the expressionist movement. I knew a love for art was in me.”
Favorite painting in the museum: “Niagara,” by Frederic Edwin Church (1857)
Why it’s his favorite: “I love landscapes. Church was in the Hudson River School [a 19th-century American art movement]. You don’t see a foreground where people can stand, so you feel like you are inside the water. And it is huge; it is enormous. The message to me is about manifest destiny, that America is destined to discover the entire America from north to south. I am not an artist, but I love it.”

Marlene Tucker

Museum: National Gallery of Art, 4th Street and Constitution Avenue NW; 202-737-4215, (Archives)
Title: Guard (lieutenant)   Years on the job: 30
Relationship to art: “I cannot draw a lick. If I drew a stick person, you wouldn’t know what it was. When I first came here, I was very particular about where I wanted to be [stationed in the museum], but I enjoy all of it now. When I go anywhere I’m very conscious of the design. I look up and see the ceiling. Working here has really opened my eyes to art.”
Favorite work of art in the museum: “The Bridge at Argenteuil,” by Claude Monet (1874)
Why it’s her favorite: “The name of the painting is ‘The Bridge at Argenteuil,’ but I always focus on the sailboat. It makes you feel like you’re on it and you’re about to go under the bridge. The impressionists always uplift me. They’re bright and airy and like a picture taken at that moment. Though I’m not in the picture, I feel like I am.”

Meghan Schindler

Museum: Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW;
202-387-2151, (Dupont Circle)
Title: Museum supervisor, security department   Years on the job: Three
Relationship to art: “I studied history and fine arts at St. Lawrence University, and after college I got an internship at another gallery doing conservation work. I wanted to continue in museums, so I’m now here at the Phillips.”
Favorite work of art in the museum: “Rocks at Mouthier,” by Gustave Courbet (circa 1855)
Why it’s her favorite: “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, wow, that’s a great rock,’ the first time I saw the painting. But after weeks went by, I realized there’s a body of water in front that I always thought was a grassy knoll. I also learned that the artist, Courbet, was arrested for being a socialist. He was kind of a rebellious dude. I like it because he was very peaceful to me, but he was this political activist at the same time.”