In 1955 my grandparents moved into a custom-built home overlooking Chehalis, Washington, a town located about half way between Seattle and Portland. They drove to Seattle specifically in search of a work of art to hang above their stately fireplace, the focal point of the brick house. The only one they could agree on reminded them of summer vacations spent with their four small children at Lake Chelan in Eastern Washington State. It was a relatively inexpensive reproduction of an oil on canvas, with “Marin 45” scrawled in black in the lower right corner. Over time that “painting” came to symbolize home for the whole family, but knowing very little about art, we didn’t know who the artist was, what year it was painted, its title, or how to find those things. In 2006, when my grandmother followed my grandfather in passing, at the reading of the will the grandchildren were given an opportunity to select a work of art from their collection to keep for ourselves. Instead of one of my grandfather’s high-value Japanese prints I chose the tobacco-stained reproduction above the fireplace as a remembrance of them, and of the countless good times we spent together in that house. My sister had it wrapped and boxed, and she shipped it to me in San Francisco, where I lived at the time. It was too big to hang in my tiny apartment, and so I left my sentimental treasure boxed and secured under my bed.
In the fall of 2007, in my seventh year working in membership at the de Young and Legion of Honor, I was informed by a friend that a small museum in Washington, D.C., was looking for a new membership manager. I looked into it and realized that it was a great opportunity for me. Already planning a trip to Baltimore to join fellow Naval Academy alumni at the Army-Navy football game, I submitted my resume and cover letter and scored an interview at The Phillips Collection. After a long day of cross-country travel, I woke early the next morning and put on my best suit before making my way to Dupont Circle. My interview went better than I expected: after two hours of meetings with senior Development staff members, the hiring manager asked me to join her on a stroll through the museum. Although I was blown away by the incredible paintings at the Phillips – van Gogh! Renoir! Rothko! Degas! – I had a surreal epiphany when we stepped into Gallery D on the second floor of the house. There, on the wall, above the fireplace, was the original work of art I had known and loved for as long as I could remember, created by an artist named John Marin in 1945: Tunk Mountains, Autumn, Maine.
A week later, when I was offered the position, there was no doubt in my mind what my answer would be.
Jeff Petrie, Membership Manager