RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The guards you see at museums may seem like ciphers, standing silently in their uniforms, only speaking when you ask a question or get too near a work of art. But many are themselves artists and writers. And some who are or recently were guards at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art have published their own literary arts magazine. NPR News's Margot Adler has their story.
MARGOT ADLER: The magazine is called�Sw!pe,�for people who clock in and clock out of their jobs. Jason Eskenazi, a guard at the Met until last November, says one day when he was standing around at his job feeling a bit bored...
Mr. JASON ESKENAZI (Former Guard, New York Metropolitan Museum): I walked over to a coworker and I said, Dave, we should do a magazine called Guards Matter. And Dave said, Yeah, that's a great idea, but where's the apostrophe going to go? Is it apostrophe S or S apostrophe? Is it that the guards matter? Or is it about the matter of the guards? And we thought it's basically about both those things.
ADLER: The magazine sells for $20, and is beautifully produced. It took about four months to collect the artwork after a team of editors and writers was assembled. At the 25CPW Gallery, the artist-guards are showing their work and celebrating the magazine's first issue.
Carlos Delgado has a BA in studio art. He describes his guard job as something like graduate school.
Mr. CARLOS DELGADO (Artist, guard): I look up names. I look up artists. And I go online and I do my research. I feel privileged working there. I feel happy. I'm content.
ADLER: Other guards say it's exhausting to stand for hours, but all say the museum has influenced them. Barry Steeley has a self-portrait hanging in the exhibition. He notes that in many religious paintings there is often a panel behind Mary or Jesus.
I spent a lot of time in the medieval section, he says.
Mr. BARRY STEELEY (Artist, Guard): And I thought, this is very medieval-like, because the panel is here, and this luminous light is coming from behind. And I think perhaps it did creep in because I spent so much time in that section.
ADLER: But Nora Hamilton, a writer who has published a number of stories, often short with a bit horror in them, says she doesn't spend her hours as a guard looking at the paintings; she watches the people from all walks of life.
Ms. NORA HAMILTON (Writer, Guard): Just people's character. I mean, caricatures is maybe even a better word. It just - you sometimes feel such hate, but at the same time you sometimes feel an attraction for certain people. It's a character study, it is a sociological study.
ADLER: I walk over to one wall where there are several portraits of well-known writers Kerouac, for example, and Kurt Vonnegut. Philip Padwe has spent time as a graphic designer, but got his BA in poetry. He loves literature, and Vonnegut is a favorite. A guard for about 2 1/2 years, Padwe says if you're at an art museum for 40 hours a week, it's going to inform what you do. Yet this show, he says, is very special because it reminds people of something that's been lost.
Mr. PHILIP PADWE (Writer, Guard): It reminds me why so many people used to come to New York, which was to carve out their names as artists or poets or writers. You just don't get that anymore, New York has become - it's just become expensive, and you can't really afford to create and work nonstop.
So I think this is a wonderful, wonderful show of people who are working - and I mean working for a living - and making wonderful art in New York the way New York I think was meant to be experienced.
ADLER: On the back cover of the magazine is a copy of a letter written to�The New York Times�in 1915, talking about the unnecessary cruelty of making the guards stand for hours during the day. It's something you don't usually notice when you visit a museum, but it will be hard for anyone, after looking at this art and this journal, not to notice it from now on.
The 35 artists, writers and photographers who are in the magazine will have their work on display at 25CPW Gallery until April 4.
Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.
MONTAGNE: You can see a self-portrait of one guard and read a short story featured in the magazine Sw!pe at our Web Site, npr.org.