Claude Harding lists Alberto Giacometti, Joan Miro and Victor Vasarely among his special work friends, even though he’s never met any of them.
Harding, 56, is surrounded by these artists’ work and many others in his part-time job as a gallery attendant at Charlotte’s Bechtler Museum of Modern Art.
The University City-area resident has made it his mission to help visitors experience the same joy and pleasure he has found in the museum’s offerings since he began work there in 2010. He began his art-filled journey as a security guard at Blumenthal Performing Arts on assignment to the Bechtler. Harding then took on his current role in October after the Bechtler established its gallery attendant program.
Harding, a Philadelphia native, relocated to Charlotte in 1998 as part of the CoreStates/First Union Bank consolidation. Today, he works two other jobs. Still, he finds time to learn about the art and artists whose work surrounds him.
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“I look forward to sharing my knowledge of the art, the museum and the Bechtler family back story with the visitors that come to the museum,” he said. “The absolute best part of my job is the people and helping them enjoy the treasures we have here. The Bechtler is really a gem, and it’s my pleasure to help show it off.”
The most intriguing aspect of the job, Harding said, is the diversity of people he meets.
“We get people visiting who are on long layover from the airport,” said Harding. “One day we had the ambassador and council general from Myanmar visit the museum.
“During our Giacometti exhibit I recall seeing a gentleman in the gallery for the entire morning and then again after lunch.”
It turned out that the man had driven from Cincinnati at the behest of his art professor.
“It’s really special for me when I see people engage and enjoy what we offer,” he said.
Harding has an unassuming style that helps to demystify exhibitions for casual visitors. He said he gives people “permission” to develop their own interpretations of the works they see.
He is particularly fascinated when schoolchildren interact with the art.
“During a recent school group visit, I noticed one child lagging behind the others, mesmerized by and intently focused on a particular piece,” Harding said. “I approached him and asked how long he’d been drawing. I knew he was an artist by the way he studied the work. I told his teacher that visiting the museum was a great way to get him where he lives – I truly believe that.”
Harding’s advice for those who have never visited the Bechtler:
“Just come and try one program, one exhibit or one visit,” he said. “You’ll be hooked.”