My wife, Kate, and I decided to take a long weekend this recent US Labor Day holiday and explore New England a bit. The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT has been on our “must-see” list for a while, so that was our first stop. It’s the oldest art museum in the USA and is one of America’s hidden gems. The museum was founded in 1842 by Daniel Wadsworth and the museum’s first building, built in the Gothic Revival style, was completed in 1844 – 17 years before America’s Civil War.
The museum was quiet on the Friday morning that we arrived and it felt like we had the entire collection to ourselves. The first gallery one enters in filled with beautiful Renaissance paintings and one in particular caught my eye, Portrait of A Man In Armor by Sebastiano del Piombo.
As I stood in front of this Renaissance painting from 1512, admiring its details, I heard a voice from behind me say, “How many faces do you see in the painting?”
I turned, thinking that a docent was engaging me in a conversation but was surprised to discover that a security guard, Mr. Angel Cortes, was standing there smiling at me. “One,” I answered. “No, there are two faces in this painting,” Mr. Cortes said. He then proceeded to show me the very faint, barely visible, second face – “the ghost” as it’s known – over the right shoulder of the Man In Armor. (BTW, the “ghost” is not visible in this print of the painting. You’ll need to visit the museum to see him.)
Angel also explained that during the Renaissance painting materials were expensive and at times difficult to come by, and that works were often painted over. Humidity, temperature change and most importantly, natural aging will sometimes reveal partial works underneath. The “ghost” in this case is thought to be the Man In Armor’s page who was subsequently painted over during the process of creating the final work.
Although our interaction lasted just a few minutes, what impressed me most about Mr. Cortes was his genuine enthusiasm and helpfulness. Unlike most security guards that I’ve encountered over the years, he truly cared about his work and the works he was there to protect. He had not only spent time learning about the paintings in the Wadsworth’s galleries but he enthusiastically shared his knowledge with patrons of the museum. His smile, his warm manner and his knowledge of the works went far beyond the standard job description of a security guard.
What Angel had added to his job description was customer service! His genuine enthusiasm made my wife and I feel special. And, as I left the museum, I wondered what it would be like if more people, regardless of their position or role in an organization, behaved the way Angel Cortes does.
About Christopher Kogler
Covering the great breadth of the USA, Chris is based on the East Coast and brings his Emmy award winning film and television experience to help leaders find and tell their stories.