16 – workspace

I’d love to work in a museum. I regret that I never really took advantage of the fact that I was a Getty intern. I had unfettered access to all of the Getty Museum’s collections – yes, even the collections that were not on display – yet, I never really strolled the galleries often. Instead, I’d go and look at Van Gogh’s “Irises” every now and then and walk quickly through the galleries that interested me.

I think my dream job would be to work in a museum with a rotating collection. I’d get bored if the displays never changed.

I wouldn’t know what I’d do in a museum though. When I was a Getty intern, I worked in the Conservation Department, specifically, within the Science Group. I created lab samples, performed powder diffraction scans and x-ray spectroscopy, updated provenance papers, and took pictures of newly-acquired pieces. My mentor was old school and insisted on using B&W film (which I had to develop myself in a converted closet)…and he was crazy. Literally. He was a crazy, bearded, British scientist with a Ph.D. in chemistry. But, he was brilliant.

My mentor was *the* patina expert. He wrote books on patina and he was world-renowned for his knowledge on corrosion and being able to recreate it. Yes, recreate a layer of corrosion on something that was 2,000 years old – and recreate it not just for aesthetic appearance, but also in chemical composition. But, there’s a fine line between genius and insanity.

Our lab was often toured by other visiting scientists and occasionally, groups of visitors were given a “behind-the-scenes” tour of the Getty. Since we worked with chemicals, we had several fume hoods in our lab and usually, there would be a graduate intern concocting something using a bunsen burner and a strange brew of very corrosive chemicals.

Anyway, my mentor (remember, he’s British) liked to drink his daily tea from a beaker that he never washed. Usually, he would keep this beaker at his desk on a hot plate, but before a tour group would come around, he’d put his beaker in the fume hood on a bunsen burner. When the tour group would come in, he would give his usual spiel then allow the group to tour the lab quietly. When the group would go around, he’d reach in the fume hood, grab his beaker, and take long, slow sips of tea.

Gasps would often follow and the tour guide would then urge the group to leave.


That little sip of tea would keep tours quick and we’d all be able to return to work. I can honestly say that if I learned anything that wasn’t art or science-related from my internship at the Getty, I learned to be a great practical joker.

Anyway, the picture above is from the “fishbowl lab” from the Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. I’d never be able to work there.

I hate it *and* love it when people watch me work. ‘Nuff said.


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