| 11 February 2010
Shortly after I started to work as a Reader’s Digest receptionist in the early 1970s, I was asked to lead the tours of The Digest art collection. I had definite doubts. Art history had never been stressed during my school days. In fact, Vincent Van Gogh was the only artist’s name I really knew -- and that was only because he’d been described to me as the “nut” that cut off his own ear. But I was curious and diligent, and soon got myself up to speed on this incredible collection, which it turned out, even included a wonderful painting by Van Gogh.
I came to really love my job—Mrs. Wallace had an eye for some amazing works of art. I loved the Impressionist/Expressionist works that were a key focus of the collection. But one of my absolute favorites was the landscape at L’Estaque by Paul Cezanne. I would just lose myself in that painting. Oftentimes, I felt as if the painting belonged to me. Other employees have told me they had the same proprietary feeling about pieces in the collection. Of course, we had to quickly come back to reality! ...(click Read More above)People came from all over the world and around the country to see The Digest art works—some 3,000 to 4,000 people a year. They often came in large groups arriving in sleek charter buses or in smaller groups by train and car. Generally tours were scheduled to take an hour, but often I could not stop talking about the individual artist or painting and the tours would run longer. I led so many (sometimes even 5 a day) that I can safely say art is truly in the eyes of the beholder—most people either really loved a painting or hated it. I had to keep a watchful eye on all guests. Many tried to touch the works because they could not believe the quality/value of the art hanging within their reach. And despite my fervent warnings, one day a guest actually touched one of the paintings. Of course, the alarm went off and Security was instantly all over the place.
By conducting the tours over many years, I learned more and more about Renoir, Picasso, Monet, Chagall, Bonnard, Giocametti, Modigliani, Gauguin, Matisse, Manet and other greats through my own research and sometimes even from the guests themselves, who ranged from typical tourists to true art aficionados and historians. Being a guide was one of the most delightful experiences of my life and one of the really special services Reader’s Digest offered to the public.
Here are some of the frequent comments from art tour visitors:
“Why do they need all of this space to print such a small magazine?”
“I thought the magazine was printed here.”
“How could just two people start a magazine like this?”
“Were the Wallaces rich?”
“Why didn’t the Wallaces have children?”
“Who is going to get all of this when they die?
“This is one of the best tours I have ever taken. Better than going to a museum.”
“Are all the people in these offices editors?”
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