SAN ANTONIO – They call themselves “art elves,” hustling and bustling behind the scenes to make every visitor’s museum experience magical.
So when the McNay Art Museum
is closed on Mondays, the staff is still hard at work to get everything ready for the week ahead.
Priceless works of art stand proudly inside the Mediterranean villa.
"We're cleaning the house,” chief preparer Ethel Shipton says.
And it is a house – an art collector once lived here. New residents have moved in, of course, but some things are tradition.
"We're getting ready for our guests,” Shipton says. "Shows come in, shows go out, putting them up, putting them down."
She roams the galleries, her eyes noticing every detail.
"You'll see something out of sorts and you'll get it fixed,” Shipton says.
From touching up paint and fixing uneven frames (“It’s level,” Shipton says) to cleaning the carpets and tending the garden – no surface goes unloved.
"I'm dusting the frames of the paintings,” staff member Sid St. Onge says.
At first glance, it looks like he’s using the same tool as the artists themselves.
"Actually it's not a paintbrush,” St. Onge says. “It's a brush for dusting art."
It’s a job he takes pride in, working before an audience of masters.
"I feel lucky,” St. Onge says. “I mean, there's no other person in San Antonio who gets to do what I do every week. Nobody. I'm the only one."
And in a nearby gallery, Shipton calmly and carefully uses her tool – a drill bit – to make sure a painting hangs securely on the wall.
"We sometimes change the hanging system. As you can see, it's got a wire,” she says. "If we see something that we can improve as far as the safety of the artwork, we do it."
Some Mondays, the whole museum is transformed.
"We filled the lobby full of her boxes and started unpacking,” Shipton says pointing to a wall-sized installation of colorful paper and objects.
It took a full day to install the piece and get the lighting just right.
"There is an awe factor in the art,” Shipton says. “If you knew how it all happens it might not be as awe-taking."
So the doors are locked, the lights turned off and everything is in its place, waiting to be admired.
"That's what we do on Mondays,” Shipton says.
And of course, the McNay reopens every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. It’s latest show, Real/Surreal
, is on display through May.