Barbara has been giving tours for the Milwaukee Art Museum over a half century.
“When I first came to the museum, there were eight employees.”
This January I started my fifty-second year.
I retired when I was 50,
but I’m still going in,
teaching and working
‘cause I don’t want to sit at home.
I train the docents
and they tour about 80.000 people a year.”
She’s taken 75 trips to Europe,
“I counted it all up when I retired.
England was the first country I went to.”
Last year she took her docents to Belgium and Holland.
Being an art museum docent is hard.
“People expect you to know everything.”
When you look at some modern art it can stump you.
“Ellsworth Kelly’s “Red, Yellow, Blue,”
that’s one people have a hard time with.
But you have to understand,
it was hand done,
he mixed the colors, that yellow
is the yellow he wanted,
he copied it from nature,
like a bird he saw,
he didn’t just go out to Menards!
How can I make these people understand?
Their grandchildren can’t do it!
When Kelly was in the war
he asked to be in the camouflage department.
Once in a while I’ll be lucky
and a student will be in
Ellsworth Kelly camo.
I’ve met Ellsworth Kelly several times.
He’s a very kind person,
a little on the shy side.”
What are Barbara’s favorite areas of art to talk on?
“American History and Decorative Arts
furniture, silver, ceramics.
My favorite is probably seventeenth century colonial.”
“Over the years a lot of people have visited Milwaukee
and I’ve taken them around,
Madame Chiang Kai-shek.”
(I hadn’t heard of her, so I looked her up,
former first lady of China, 1948-1975)
“David Hockney, I loved him.
“I loved this young man who is now a rock star, but when I met him he was just coming up, um, I can’t think of his name. It’ll come. He works on China, Africa and America… Kehinde Wiley!
Gilbert and George when they came from England,
I met Andy Worhol. He never talked. My brother had a friend who knew him quite well.
Tony Randall of the Odd Couple,
he knew everything,
he was the smartest man I ever met.
I let him do all the talking and I did the anecdotes.”
Barbara has never watched Star Trek,
but she gave Dr. Spock a tour.
“He gave me a Dr. Spock ear,
I didn’t know what it was or what I was supposed to do with it.
Ray Milland, he never took his hat off because he didn’t have his toupee on,
George Shearing, he’s blind and I got a call from him asking to take him around.
A grandmother had the same thing, I took her around.
and when the Beatles came to Milwaukee the first time,
I held the door to the war memorial open for them.”
“Excellent Broth! I’m going to have it every time I come.
I’ve been begging for broth here.
I like soup very much but,
I don’t like heavy duty,
I like to have broth.
It kinda curbs your appetite,
settles your stomach,
it’s good for your bones,
and I just love hot broth.
Right here at the café counter I met Shaquille O’Neill.
He wasn’t feeling well.
I didn’t know who he was.”
Shaq’s manager worked on a crossword puzzle with Barbara,
and explained who Mr. O’Neill was.
Barbara gave Shaq a ticket to the art museum,
and he went.