Watching the Watchman

Okay, y’all….a bona fide miracle has occurred.

After many months, I have managed to create a poem….or something that might pass for one after several rounds of intense editing and good bit of tooth gnashing. I went to the High Museum here in Atlanta on the last day of the member preview of the new exhibit—Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis. It’s awesome to be able to enjoy the special exhibit with fewer people around. It was busy, but it wasn’t the bone-crushing crowd one usually finds there on a Saturday. I believe an individual membership is $65 or so. Totally worth it.

As always, the High has done a great job with this touring exhibit, and the big draw–Vermeer’s enigmatic masterpiece–has a room of her own. (It might not be exactly what Virginia Woolf had in mind, but I think she’d be pleased nonetheless.)  Yes, an entire chamber of the special exhibit area is reserved for a painting no longer than my left arm. To me, it felt like she wasn’t so much on display as she was holding court, receiving a steady stream of visitors who wish to request an audience. The only other painting I’ve ever seen receive that kind of treatment is the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Fitting, since Vermeer’s lady has earned the nickname “The Dutch Mona Lisa” for her enigmatic gaze and mysterious backstory.

However, there are thirty-five other paintings to enjoy–everything from landscapes to portraits and tronies. I took my time perusing them, wanting to savor the quiet time in the museum and to examine each painting myself before listening to the audio clips on the virtual tour. I found myself looping back around to examine several paintings, none more so than the two works by Pieter Claesz, both Memento Mori pieces. I was particularly fascinated by the accuracy of the items in Vanitas (see below). I kept staring at the overturned glass thinking, “How in the heck do you paint GLASS? How do you use pigments to create something transparent?” Stunning stuff.

Imagine from

Eventually, I made my way around the corner and saw Vermeer’s only work in the collection, and it was positioned for full dramatic effect. Before it, viewers are educated in the art of Dutch portrait painting and the use of a Camera Obscura, and both Vermeer and his subject have brief bios posted for all to read.

But it all leads to the final room–a muted green sanctuary that houses just one painting. I must have spent twenty minutes examining it, and when my back and feet reminded me it was time to sit down, I plunked down happily on a padded bench at the back of the room. It was then that I noticed the lone guard. There were four or five more positioned throughout the exhibit, but he was the only one near the Vermeer painting. And I found myself fascinated by him. I wondered, “What’s it like to be the guard tasked with keeping a masterwork safe and unmolested by the world? He’s someone no one notices because they’re too busy looking at the thing he’s protecting.”

Image from

Well, that musing led to the poem I mentioned several paragraphs prior. Again, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve penned verse, so don’t expect too much. There’s still a lot of rust to shake off, but it felt good to be using that part of my brain again.

WordPress isn’t the best place to post poetry, so I’ve found that screen shots work. If this is hard to read, click on it. You should get a slightly larger version to peruse. Let me know your thoughts. And if you’ve already seen the exhibit, tell me what you thought!


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