Faiz at 35 Interview

Faiz at 35 Interview

Faiz Mohammad, PMA Director of Protection Services, recently celebrated his 35th year with the museum. I had a chance to sit down with him for an interview, offering me a great look at what the museum and Portland looked like in 1983, where the museum is heading, and what he enjoys most.

Faiz, thank you for taking some time to answer my questions. To start, can you tell me what the PMA was like when you started?
I was thrilled when offered the position Night shift guard by Jane Begert, Assistant Director at the time. It was my first full time job and I had a lot to learn. When I was hired in April of 1983 the Charles Shipman Payson Building hadn’t opened to the public yet, so it was very busy with contractors and others working to get everything ready. I was working from midnight to 8 a.m. I used the time to steadily improve my communications skills, vocabulary, and general understanding of the security field. The position required hourly tours of the facility including the McLellan House, which was then kind of spooky.

What has changed the most about the museum for you?
 In those early days, the McLellan House wasn’t open to the public, it contained offices and some storage areas, and smoking was allowed in some offices too. Also, the front end was staffed by volunteers and there was no café. One big difference is that when I started, smoking was allowed in the offices and all through the building.

For you, what has changed the most about Portland in general?
Congress Street was much busier; that changed with the arrival of the Maine Mall. There were fewer immigrants. The immigrant population was so small that the supermarkets at the time didn’t stock hot sauce.

Where do you think the museum will be in 35 years?
It’s become a destination within Maine for all things art, and that will continue. I see the museum becoming even more of a regional and national destination for art, as it continues to offer a wide variety of art for all. The teaching the PMA offers with USM, Portland Schools, and MECA, will continue to nurture a community that values art and what it can teach the youth.

Can you tell me who is your most memorable guest of the museum and what made their visit so memorable?
There have been lots of memorable guests—artists such as Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, celebrities such as Martha Stewart, and political figures like First Lady Laura Bush, and Senator Hillary Clinton. Most memorable was President Obama, mainly because of the opportunity to work with his staff and the Secret Service prior to his visit. It was very exciting.

And which exhibitions are most memorable for you and why?
Weatherbeathen: Winslow Homer and Maine stands out as one of the most memorable exhibitions. It was connected to the opening of the Winslow Homer Studio on Prouts Neck. The opening of the McLellan House and Your Museum, Reimagined were other moments that were memorable for their excitement and how many people came to see them.
 
What is your favorite work in the PMA collection?
"The Great Mogul and His Court Returning from the Great Mosque at Delhi, India" by Edwin Lord Weeks. I love this work because it reminds me of my childhood. There are many mosques like the one in Delhi across the Indian subcontinent, and this image brings to mind memories from my days in Lahore, Pakistan. The detail is exquisite—even better than a photograph—and with the giant minarets towering across the landscape, Weeks skillfully captures the essence of the moment. The costumes of the soldiers and the civilian subjects are impressive and realistically portrayed. For me, this work connects me with my history and past, and it is great to have something like that here in Maine and at the PMA.

Currently, what do you enjoy most about your position at the museum?
I really enjoy the responsibility of protecting the art, staff, and patrons. I have a tremendous team of guards who do their jobs very well. Also seeing art exhibitions behind the scenes is exciting; it’s provided an education in art.

When you're not at work, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy jogging and I will be running in an upcoming relay. I also like brain games, and reading nonfiction, especially on the topic of art theft.

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June 14, 2018
Communications Assistant

Nathan is a Massachusetts native who, with his wife, Robin, moved to Portland in 2017 without friends or family in Maine. It has turned out to be an excellent decision. Prior to joining the Portland Museum of Art, he worked in building and servicing guitars, and rebuilding grand pianos. He has self-published a book on pocket knives that was illustrated by his wife, and completed a manuscript on musical semantics. Nathan enjoys spending his spare time with Robin, enjoying all that coastal Maine has to offer.