This April Emmett McNeill will likely be reminiscing about an April nearly 30 years ago when he witnessed the NCMA’s transformative move from a cramped government office building downtown to brand-new galleries on what was then the outskirts of town. It was the biggest transition the Museum had ever undergone—until now.
As the Museum’s longest-employed staff member (35 years!), Emmett has worked in nearly every corner of the NCMA. Sit down with the Raleigh native for a few minutes, and you’re privileged to hear the history of the Museum unfold before you from a different perspective.
Emmett’s tenure at the Museum began with an interview with Director Charles Stanford in spring 1974. “Seems like 100 years ago, but I guess it was just 35,” he says. Emmett worked as a security guard at the front entrance of the Museum for 10 years.
He rattles off names of staff members that many can’t recall or never worked with. “We have a good team here—a museum family,” he said.
Emmett remembers making trips through the Morgan Street building every morning to inspect the lights. At the time, security guards were in charge of lighting in the galleries. When a bulb needed changing, a guard took to the ladder. “Now the lighting crew—part of the Design team—takes care of that,” he explained.
Ask Emmett about the “attempted break-in by deer.” Upon arrival at work one Saturday morning, Emmett was startled to find the front entrance blanketed with shattered glass. He later discovered the wily perpetrator was a distressed deer.
He has seen the Museum’s 50th Anniversary Gala, blockbuster shows including the Rodin exhibition and Monet in Normandy, the opening of the Museum Park and Amphitheater, and among other things, an almost-heist by a four-legged mammal. And come April 2010, Emmett will add perhaps the most exciting chapter yet to his own personal history of life at the North Carolina Museum of Art.