The Time When I Made Museum Security Nervous…

Young Woman with a Water Jug by Johannes Vermeer

One of my favorite paintings is Young Woman with a Water Jug by the 17th century Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.  In fact, I love it so much that a small 8x10 print of it has hung by my kitchen window for almost 20 years now.  And a number of years ago, I had an experience that made this painting even more special to me.

But before I tell you my story, I thought I'd better let you see this wonderful painting for yourself. (Thankfully, it's in the public domain so I can include it in this post.)

For reasons I don't remember, I got to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with only a half hour left before the museum was going to close.  (I think it was a night they closed at 5:00 pm and I didn't know that until I got there.)  Thirty minutes to visit the Met?!  Are you kidding?

Needless to say, I almost didn't pay my admission, thinking it would be a waste.  But then I remembered that one of my favorite Vermeer paintings, Young Woman with a Water Jug, made its home here at the Met and the last time I had been in New York and tried to see it, it wasn't on display.  But this was a total gamble.  There was no way to know if it was back on display now...

As I stood there on the massive stone steps that led to the front doors, deciding what to do as people moved up and down around me, I had a split-second flashback.  Years earlier as an undergrad student in my Teaching Art in the Elementary School class, my professor had started that day by holding up a poster-sized print of a painting.  Standing there in silence for a moment with a sly grin on her face, she then coached us through an exercise that I will never forget.  An exercise that I now had the opportunity to recreate.  So I raced up the remaining steps, paid my fee, and promptly made my way to the European paintings.  

And there it was with twenty-five glorious minutes to spare!  My favorite, beloved Vermeer!  So I made myself ready as I planted myself directly in front of it, took my heavy purse off my shoulder and put it on the floor beneath my feet, (unfortunately, I was by myself and there was no other place to put it), placed my hands at my side, and started to study.  

My first thought was one of surprise that this original was really quite small- I had envisioned such a grander size in my head.  Then I began to notice details that had been washed out in the print hanging in my kitchen, like the intricate patterns in the tapestry-like tablecloth.  As I looked closer, I was even more awestruck to discover the reflection of that tablecloth that Vermeer had so painstakingly painted (yes, painted!) on the side of the brass bowl!...

I kept studying, kept seeking, determined to make every minute count.  I became enamored with the details of the map on the wall and marveled at how her fingers looked different through the panes of glass. I noticed the lifelike folds and wrinkles in her headpiece and the numerous nuances of blue in her skirt...

Sooner than I expected, the announcement was made over the intercom that the museum would be closing. And that's when I noticed them. As I turned around to leave, I noticed three museum employees with badges around their necks, standing at strategic places in the room, watching me.

You see, they didn't know what I had been trying to recreate.  So many years ago in that art class when my teacher had held up that art poster, she started asking questions:  questions that made us wonder, questions that made us think, even questions that made us question.  And with those questions, she accomplished her objective, which was to guide us to make relevant comments about the artwork for an entire ten minutes!  

What had at first been a bit frustrating quickly became an engaging challenge.  This exercise taught me a valuable lesson because it allowed me to become still enough and observant enough to notice even the smallest details that I would have otherwise missed.  Details that made that artwork even more meaningful, even more important.  And that was what I had attempted to recreate that day at the Met.

But of course museum security didn't know that so I promptly picked up my purse from off the floor, gave them a quick smile, and headed for the exit.  I guess most people don't come to the Met to study just one painting.  They don't know what they're missing...

(Young Woman with a Water Jug by Johannes Vermeer taken from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Johannes_Vermeer_-_Young_Woman_with_a_Water_Jug_-_WGA24662.jpg)

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About the Author... 

Leah Stallard is the creator of Playing2Learn.com and HomeschoolMomsHub.com and is a teacher, entrepreneur, performer, and speaker. She helps homeschool parents teach more effectively by showing them how to discover and support their children's natural learning abilities. This eliminates contention, whining, and complaining, leading to a love of learning and their children's desire to become self-motivated, mission driven adults with a world class education.

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