When Dan Dowd guards William Wegman’s exhibit at the Bowdoin Museum of Art, he is keeping watch over some of his own work as well.
Dowd is one of five museum security guards who are also artists. A photographer and sculptor, he works primarily with wood and galvanized metal. He moved to Maine in 2001 and has spent the last five years balancing his work at the Museum with his artistic pursuits.
This past summer, Dowd got the chance to contribute to Bowdoin’s William Wegman: Hello Nature exhibit. He says he approached his boss last spring to discuss how the pieces would be displayed and offered to paint extensions of some of Wegman’s work on the museum walls to better integrate the exhibit into the space.
“It was a great opportunity to be trusted with my artistic ability,” said Dowd. “Especially since I’m not really known as a painter.”
When asked about how working at the museum has influenced his own artwork, Dowd said that though he has not seen his work change as a direct result of the job, the museum is a “great environment for employees to learn about artists and artistic movements.”
Steven Perkins, has been working as a guard at the Museum for three years and painting landscapes for 20. After moving to Maine in 2000, Perkins says he frequented the museum as a patron before eventually applying to the security office.
Before starting at the museum, Perkins worked as a gallery artist and last year, he became a Maine Master Naturalist. As part of this network of volunteers, he teaches about Maine’s natural history and works to encourage the preservation of the state’s natural resources. Perkins says this pursuit has led him to take up botanical drawing, a change from his past focus on painting.
Echoing Dowd, Perkins noted that working in the museum has not significantly affected his own artwork, though he appreciates the opportunity to study the artwork.
“Spending long hours with artwork each day has given me a better understanding of the artistic process, but no, I don’t think it has changed the way I approach my own work,” he said.
In addition to artists, the Museum employs an author, Bob Chapman. Originally a social worker and writer for the Lewiston Sun Journal, Chapman has worked as a guard at the Museum since 2006 and has published two novels, “A Certain Fall” and “Spider Lake.” A third book, “Mother Night and Water,” is set to be released this year. He says the theme of childhood neglect has figured heavily into all three books. Chapman has also written three screenplays, none of which have yet been produced.
Chapman said that his job at the Museum has helped him develop as an author. He noted that writers have long found inspiration in the visual arts, citing Ernest Hemingway as an example.
“This has been a great job. It encourages my writing, and it is inspiring for artists and creative minds alike,” Chapman said. He also noted that working part-time gives him plenty of time to write.
The Museum also employs guards Stephen Watt, an accomplished guitar player, and Chris Gager, another painter. Neither Watt nor Gager were available to comment.
Although Suzanne Bergeron, asssitant director for communications at the Museum, says she does not seek guards who are artists, Museum Security Supervisor Tim Hanson said their presence is appreciated.
“I think it’s great to have [artists] in the museum as security personnel because they are interested in the cultural property,” he wrote in an email to The Orient.