Working: Fred Cullen

By Patrisha McLean | May 24, 2009

Rockland — Fred Cullen learned to appreciate art while keeping the public a respectable distance from it. This happened, in part, because “I got to know Andrew,” Fred said.

Until Andrew Wyeth’s death in January he was a regular visitor to the galleries of the Farnsworth Art Museum and Fred has patrolled those galleries as a security guard for close to five years. Fred said the artist “stuck out his hand and came and greeted me” on their first meeting, and in each encounter after that, “he had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips.”

Museum visitors would “ask me about his paintings and when he came in, I’d ask him,” Fred said. Regarding a landscape with a dog in the distance titled "The Intruder," Fred said, “People would say, ‘Who’s the intruder?’ I would say, ‘You are.’ I asked Andy about it and he said, 'Tell them the artist is.'”

Fred also gleaned from Wyeth that in the painting "George’s Place," which features a pumpkin on a post, “George is the chipmunk.”

Before Fred wore a white shirt and tie to work, he was a plumber, like his father, his brother and son. He earned master’s plumbing licenses in five states and installed pipes and motor pumps in Boston’s Prudential Center. He said that after 50 years, “it was time to quit. Just getting too old to push that stuff around.” Wanting to “get out of city traffic,” he returned home to Rockland.

His museum job has one connection to his former one: “Where the bathrooms are, that’s one of the biggest questions we have,” he said. A more art-related question is, “What’s tempera?”

“I tell them what Andy told me," Fred said. "It’s distilled water, egg yolk and pigment of colors.”

Fred’s mission at work is: “Protect the paintings.” The enemy is anything that can damage artwork: “Food, drink, umbrellas,” as well as hands and fingers. He said husbands and wives, not children, are the worst offenders here. “One will show the other something and get too close,” he said.

The key to overseeing five galleries at a time, according to Fred, is “just keep moving.” He alternates from upstairs to downstairs with another guard every half hour, and during the summer a day at the Wyeth Center down the street is added into the mix.

“Variety is nice," he said. "You get to see different things.” While he looks forward to new exhibits he said he never tires of the permanent one. “I could look at a picture 25 times and see something different each time.”

The museum job introduced him to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, through a docent-led trip last year, and filled the home he shares with his wife, Anita, with art, courtesy of purchases at the Farnsworth gift shop. He said he is partial to his print of Andrew Wyeth’s "Below Dover" "because it’s a Friendship sloop. My great-great-grandfather designed the very first one.”

But his favorite Wyeth print is by the son, and depicts a cap stand. “The original was on the wall and I was on guard duty and Jamie was explaining it to the docent," Fred said. "He told where he got [the scene] from and it was my uncle’s boat shop in Thomaston that I used to play in as a kid.”

Fred looks forward to summer at the museum because “you’re busy and time goes faster,” he said. But because summer was when the museum’s iconic artist paid his visits, this year it will be bittersweet. “I’ll miss Andy,” Fred said.
Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.