A large drawing hangs behind Doreen Bolger's desk, dripping with the words "Forward in all directions."
The phrase, drawn with bleach on dark paper by Baltimore artist Colin Benjamin, has become something of a mantra for Bolger, the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
"I like it for many reasons," Bolger said. "How do you move forward if 'forward' is in five directions?"
Lately, that's just what she's been doing. For nearly two years, she has overseen the renovation of the museum's Contemporary Wing, which reopens this week. It's part of a $24.5 million mission to update the museum by 2014, in time for its 100th anniversary.
When her day at the museum ends, Bolger, 63, begins her second job as the informal matron of Baltimore's brimming arts scene. She attends countless art openings, theater performances and lectures — sometimes five or more in a night — often popping up in the most unexpected places; an earnest, gray-haired lady in a crowd of art-school kids.
In September, Bolger and the BMA were in the news for unexpected reasons: A "lost" Renoir landscape was about to be auctioned until it was discovered that someone stole the painting from the museum in 1951. As of late October, museum and auction house officials were still trying to figure out who legally owns the painting.
My family owned a Jackson Pollock painting, until it was stolen from us in the '50s. I was recently walking through the museum and noticed it on your walls. I'd like it back.
[Laughs] I'm not even going near that. I was about to be so sympathetic.
People must be stunned to see the director of the BMA showing up at, say, a gallery opening in West Baltimore.
There have been funny moments. The first time I went to Single Carrot Theatre, they said, "Oh, we're sorry. We're sold out tonight." So I said, "Well that's fine. It's an hour until the show starts. I'm sure someone won't show up and you'll have an extra seat." After an hour, they felt so sorry for me, they just added another seat and let me sit. They had no idea who I was. We've become very good friends since then.
There are still places I go where people don't know who I am — because there are always new places, always new galleries, artists and theaters. I'm sure they wonder why a white-haired, 63-year-old woman is showing up. They're very patient when they realize.
You collect works by Baltimore artists.
I have a collection that's raging out of control.
How many pieces?
I have no idea. [Laughs] I don't count. Probably in the dozens. I'm having them hung at home — I have an artist who comes over and helps me. I'm always behind. Then I got the idea several months ago to bring some over to my office. That's when I brought [the Colin Benjamin piece] here. It's so large — it would take up half of my dining room.
You, in the past, at least, have drawn?
I drew a lot as a child. Unfortunately, no one told me about art school. I didn't know you could go to art school — I just didn't. So I became an art history major, as soon as I went to college. I'd always loved history and I'd always loved art.
Have you ever thought about going to art school now?
I think probably it's a little too late. But I continue to draw quietly at home and not subject anyone to it.
I read something about you sewing your own curtains. Really?
I love to sew. Both of my grandmothers were seamstresses. As a result, I had early exposure to sewing machines, thread and all kinds of trim — buttons, collections of buttons. I have a sewing machine, and I would say, as time has progressed, I have less time to sew. I'm so busy at the museum and running around the arts scene. But I made the curtains in my living room. How hard is a curtain? It's a bunch of straight lines. That's all it is. That and something that holds it up. When my daughter was younger, I used to sew dresses for her too. But all of that has definitely taken a back seat to what goes on here.
What do people in other cities think of our art scene?
I've had incredible reactions. I had one very nice woman say to me, "I can't believe I still live in Brooklyn — why don't I live here?" That's what I want to hear. Because I was born in Queens, to me, Brooklyn is big. When someone from Brooklyn says they want to live here, I'm really excited.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun