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Guiding You Through The Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Hill at Whitemarsh resident Patty Beck has been working as a volunteer guide at the Philadelphia Art Museum for over 20 years. If you ask her to provide you with some insider tips to visiting the museum, she’ll tell you not to feel pressured to see everything in one day and to absolutely sign up for a guided tour.

“Guides can really make the art come alive for people,” says Patty.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art, which has the third-largest collection of art in the country, just after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago, also prides itself on a robust volunteer program. There are currently over 500 active volunteers of all ages working throughout every department at the Museum and providing essential services to visitors on a daily basis.

Patty started working as a weekend volunteer guide while she was still working full-time as a Sales Manager at a real estate company. When she eventually retired and moved to The Hill at Whitemarsh, she decided to switch over to become a weekday guide—the idea of no longer being a Museum guide had not occurred to her.

“I love the flexibility that comes along with being a guide,” says Patty. “When I was making the decision to move to The Hill, my main concern was maintaining intellectual stimulation. In addition to all the educational opportunities I have through The Hill, I still get the added bonus of spending a good chunk of my time at the Art Museum.”

Luckily, when Patty made the move to The Hill at Whitemarsh, she didn’t have a long commute to get to “work.” The Hill, which is in Lafayette Hill, is about 14 miles away from the Museum, or a 30-minute drive.

One of the perks of being a Museum guide is attending educational sessions in order to learn about new exhibits. Seasoned guides even have the opportunity to coordinate trainings for other guides.

“I look forward to the new exhibits because it’s just so wonderful to learn something new,” says Patty. “Sometimes I’m most eager to learn about artists that I don’t really like, because once I learn more about them I have a much greater appreciation for their work.”

One of the more interesting exhibits that Patty has had the opportunity to be involved in happens to be one of the most recent. “Old Masters Now: Celebrating The Johnson Collection,” was a unique exhibit that featured pieces of European art gifted to the City of Philadelphia in 1917 by John G. Johnson, a renowned lawyer. The full collection gifted to the city includes over 1,000 pieces of art. In honor of the 100th anniversary of the gift, the Art Museum allowed visitors to take a closer look inside the collection, complete with new discoveries that had been made about certain pieces.

“This collection featured eight specific pieces from the main Johnson collection and highlights how art can change—both with knowledge and restoration,” says Patty. “One painting, by Dutch artist Judith Leyster, was found to have been painted over, most likely by a dealer. The portion of the painting that had been painted over revealed a skeleton holding a skull, a guttering candle and an hourglass, which change the whole meaning of the painting.”

Other eye-opening discoveries included in the exhibit appeared in works by Botticelli, Bosch, Titian, and Rembrandt, to name a few. The exhibit ran through February 19, 2018, although many of the pieces from the original Johnson Collection are part of permanent exhibits at the museum.

Guides at the Art Museum have the ability to bring art into their communities via slide lectures. As a veteran guide, Patty has hosted a series of lectures for fellow residents at The Hill, most recently giving a presentation on watercolors featuring the works of John Singer Sargent and Winslow Homer.

“Art has played such an important role in my life,” says Patty. “Learning about art opens up the whole world to you. And working at the Museum and learning about all different types of artists, you can learn so much about the world, history and different cultures. It really links everything together.”