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Employee Spotlight: Peter Madis

By Ileana Lobkowicz


“A Greek Security Guard and Friend of Honor”

Most museum security guards are there to yell at you, but not this one. This one is there to be your new best friend.

Meet Peter Madis—the animated, wispy-haired, unapologetically Greek security guard, responsible for opening and closing the doors of Boston College’s McMullen Museum of Art.

Entering the glass-enclosed museum feels like walking into a zen Japanese garden. The tranquility is almost jarring. Before you have a chance to be drawn into a meditative state, you are greeted with an unanticipated, bellowing “Hellllooooo!” from above. It’s Peter, standing at the second-floor balcony like a Greek god.

It bears asking how a man who once spent his days delivering pastries and cigarettes under the Mediterranean sun ended up in the polar climate of the American Northeast, making his rounds meandering through galleries of exhibited works of art. Peter hails from a small village in the eastern part of Greece called Geraki. If you don’t know where it is, he will show you on a map. If you wonder what it looks like, he will show you with a picture. He emphasizes the G with every essence of his Greekness. Ggggeraki. His family had farms. And olive trees. And no electricity. Living a life frozen in the medieval history of the region’s Byzantine ruins, Peter left his home to semi-complete his high school education in Sparta.

“He wasn’t good in school,” says Joanne, Peter’s devoted wife of 45 years, to which Peter laughs, nodding profusely. He never finished his last year of schooling. Maybe he just preferred the company of college students instead.

Peter is effortlessly charismatic — a trait that served him well when it came to finagling his name onto a release list after being conscripted (for a second time) to the Greek air force during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Two years prior, he already spent over 28 months training and working in a position he doesn’t miss. His second draft responsibilities mostly consisted of putting bombs on the airplanes.

Without rescinding his Greek pride, Peter sought the American dream and got it. Selling and delivering baked goods in Sparta could only keep the restless man satisfied for so long. It did, however, introduce him to his wife, whose Uncle Dimitri was a loyal customer. Joanne, who had three other suitors (one of whom also happened to be named Peter), met him in the summer of 1975. They were married two months later.

Germane to his prior military service, Peter’s security apparel is an Air Force blue. A silver tie clip holds his black necktie in place. A black pen peeps out of his left chest pocket. I guess decades of running laundry and dry cleaning businesses means never leaving his house with an un-pressed collared shirt. Before managing Bigelow Cleaners, Peter found his foothold working two jobs making pizza and running a dry cleaner store in Mattapan (the owner apparently ran off to Greece to find a Greek husband). By this point, the then 25-year-old was a husband, father, homeowner, and businessman.

Over the years, Bigelow’s did more than just bring him good business. It also brought him good customers — one of whom happened to be the former president of Boston College, Reverend J. Donald Monan, along with then vice president and dean of faculties, Father William B. Neenan. It was this unexpected introduction that began Peter’s employment as the most beloved security guard on campus. His duties varied over the years, from being the president’s personal bodyguard in the football stadium box to working at one of the on-campus libraries. But his latest post seems to be the most rewarding of all — mostly for those around him.

“With his constant good cheer, enthusiasm for life, and human connection to both colleagues and Student Ambassadors, his presence enhances our everyday experience here so much,” says Diana Larsen, Assistant Director of Exhibition Design, Collections Management, and Curatorial Affairs at the McMullen.

Peter’s Greekness radiates from his olive-toned skin and through his thick, endearing accent. He’s like a reincarnated Aristotle — without a beard, but with an open disposition to engage in philosophical discussion. He’s your willing and able interlocutor. He might ask you what you had for breakfast, if there’s any love interest in your life, whether you actually like the art hanging in the galleries. Even if you don’t understand what he says, you can’t interrupt him, because his mind is already moving on to talk about something else with the same fervor and briskness that lost you in the first place.

“Conversing is my favorite part about working at the museum,” says Peter. “If you work with young people, you never feel old.”

Age feels irrelevant to those who know him. Students flock to the man over forty years their senior for guidance or a good laugh. It’s probably because he has a way of effortlessly simplifying life crises with a funny joke. He’s a confidant, someone in whom you can trust to share your woes and wishes, even if you’ve just met him. It’s the kindling of an unlikely friendship, transcending an unfelt generational divide.

On the rare occasion that Peter is not engaging with people, he might quietly immerse himself with the museum’s art. Hands behind his back, he stares at a painting, likely one that he’s walked by a thousand times, as if it’s a living, breathing person to whom he wants to ask probing questions.

Peter is not just a custodian of the museum, but also of the people in it. He offers more than just free therapy sessions. He will drive you anywhere you want to go (except for Tuesdays when he drives his grandchildren to Greek school) — an outlet, perhaps, to release his exuberant amount of energy. If there is someone he thinks you should talk to, he will undoubtedly make an introduction, conflating your differences by raising up mutual similarities.

One of the many other ways Peter shows his affection is by sharing food.  

“He regularly shares parts of his lunch with us at the Museum, and has been known to dip out for a Starbucks run every once in a while,” says Josh Artman, a student ambassador working at the McMullen.

Peter’s pastry-delivering days are clearly not over, satiating hungry bellies with a mid-afternoon pick-me-up: an assortment of desserts, which he cuts into bite-sized pieces to reveal delicate, flakey layers of phyllo dough, dripping with honey and tumbling pistachio crumbs. He watches in excitement for wide-eyes and satisfied nods. If you’re wondering where to find the best baklava in Boston, there is only one answer in Peter’s mind: Joanne’s kitchen! Don’t ask him if he wants to have any. His response will be the same every time: tapping his stomach with both his hands while shaking his head.

Peter is a veritable encyclopedia of all things Greek — including the etymology of Greek words. Echo Zhuge, another Student Ambassador, recalls him teaching her yasou for “hello” and kukla for “sweetheart.” If you don’t pronounce it correctly, or understand it properly, he won’t let you leave the conversation until you do. This might pose as a challenge when he teaches the untranslatable.

Philotimo — there is no word to replace that in Greek,” says Peter proudly. “It’s not just ‘friends,’ but friends with honor.” It’s no coincidence that Aristotle, the Father of Western Philosophy, first coined the Greek word philia for “friendship.” And if there is any friend with honor, to honor, it is Peter Madis.

At the end of his shift, Peter announces his departure with his signature “OKAY” as the glass double doors of the museum — now fast asleep — close behind him. He ambles outside and down the steps of the entryway, pausing as if to take in a breath of the evening air. He will probably stop to pick up more baklava for the morning shift of working students before heading home.

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My Favorite Museum: The Museum of Chinese in America

By Kevin Deng

Keep in mind that last summer was one of the better summers for me to be Asian. I grew up across the world from my extended family and away from other Asian-American kids who had close ties to their own cultural backgrounds. Couple that with the fact that it wasn’t cool to be Asian when I was a kid—the first and last time I spoke Chinese in front of my friends, I got made fun of. I spent much of my childhood and adolescent period either not knowing where I came from, or running from it. What that means is the majority of my cultural identity came from how hard I could throw a baseball, or something dumb like that. I’d been out of that town for two years before last summer, in a place with a larger and closer-knit Asian community. I felt Asian for the first time. Knowing this, maybe you can see why I chose to go to the Museum of Chinese in America after deciding I was irretrievably late to a work barbecue on the southern tip of Manhattan (the details of which are to be kept private, pursuant to the confidentiality agreement that I signed). I walked to Chinatown.

The Museum of Chinese in America greets its visitors with a sign above its door that says “MOCA,” one of the better museum-name-acronyms I’ve seen in my time. On a sunny day with the light pouring into the windows, you can’t really tell if the museum is open or not. That’s because most of the lighting inside is meant to highlight the various artifacts and photos and pieces of historical context, and general visibility seems to be more of an incidental byproduct of this. I bought a ticket and looked around, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.

The first exhibit detailed immigration history, divided into three major periods where Chinese immigrants were admitted to the US, the last of which my parents were a part of back in the 80s. These immigration waves were the product of a long and kind of tumultuous cultural and legal battle against leanings that created ugly things like this (a pistol that kicks the “Chinaman” out when activated):


But thinking more positively (though debatably, and by a narrow margin), there was a poem written on the wall of the immigration exhibit. “Last sight of the village, / Looking back / I feel my heart cut in two,” it began. I thought of my parents, who elected to leave China to come to the US together after they finished school. They left everything they had back in their home country—family, friends, connections, culture, native language—and didn’t have the money to return to China for more than ten years. All this, in order to create a better life in a country that didn’t even want them here for over a century. Never mind the comfort zone.

Every now and then I’ll see a family from China walking through Boston Common, with a toddler stumbling around. While the toddler is trying to work through its early stages of fine motor development, I can see it in the parents’ eyes that they’re working through their own issue, slowly piecing together where they even fit into this weird new world that surrounds them. It’s things like this that remind me how much I owe to my parents. They didn’t leave everything behind for me to slack off and let my life slip through my fingers. The poem ended with “Disappearing into the clouds: / What is our fate?” It’s a hard question, but I feel like I’m sharing something unspoken with these other families I see, crafting their own answers.

In the room next door, there was a guy around five years older than me staring intently at a photo in the exhibit. Maybe it’s in my pattern-recognizing nature as a human, but I’d estimate that he was also skipping some other barbecue somewhere else in that humid city, enriching himself on his day off. I didn’t care for his curiosity at first, but if something intrigues someone for long enough that you notice, you kind of have to wonder what’s going on. When he moved on to another section of the exhibit, I snuck up to the photo, as if my interest in it wasn’t correlated with his. The label read “Chinese immigrants on board ship crossing the Pacific, ca. late 1800s.”


The picture was grainy. Black and white. There were two men in the foreground, one squatting with his heels completely on the floor, the other eating rice from a ceramic bowl and looking over at his friend. The bowl, I noticed, had a pattern printed on the side, which I’m 99% sure was blue in real life, drawing from my partial knowledge of Chinese ceramics.

I have to say I never figured out why the guy stared for so long. Maybe it was because he saw another guy a few minutes before him, looking at the photo for an uncomfortable amount of time as well. That history is lost, though. But I stared at the photo for a long while too, the reason for which I’ll try to put into words: if you took a look at the old man eating rice from the presumably blue bowl and told me “this is your grandfather, this is you,” I might even believe it.


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Employee Spotlight: Diana Larsen, Assistant Director for Exhibition Design, Collections Management and Curatorial Affairs

By Ileana Lobkowicz

The McMullen Feature Series is our newest addition to The Terrace, in which we profile a current staff member or student ambassador working at the museum.  

Larsen 3

Diana Larsen has been Assistant Director for Exhibition Design, Collections Management and Curatorial Affairs for the McMullen Museum since 2005. Her responsibilities have varied from designing and curating exhibitions to lecturing on restored artwork. Before settling here in Chestnut Hill, however, her prior schooling, enlightening travels and diligent training have cultivated her interests and career path.

The daughter of a concert pianist and granddaughter of the first conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO), Diana grew up in a household that instilled her love of the arts. Diana credits her mother for taking her to see a range of performing arts and traveling to Europe—experiences that broadened her interests and perspective. She fondly recalls the first trip at age nine to see relatives in the Netherlands where she visited the Kröller-Müller Museum housing the largest privately owned collection of Van Goghs (aside from the Van Gogh family).

“I legitimately fell in love with Van Gogh,” she says amusedly.  

Upon graduating with an art history and French language concentration from the University of British Columbia, Diana traveled around Europe before settling in London where she completed a certificate program at Christie’s (the Christies’ Fine Arts course) and wrote her thesis on English silver—an interest she pursued as a research intern in the Metalwork Department of the Victoria & Albert Museum. The opportunities to see museums and works of art first hand, as well as to visit country and auction houses, coined her overall experience as a “rich and wonderful year.”

Diana spent five years working at the MFA in Boston as a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of European Decorative Arts—coincidentally the same department in which current McMullen Director Nancy Netzer also worked.  

Her introduction to working in design began with a masters degree in Museum Exhibition Planning and Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She returned to Vancouver in 1993 where she curated four local history exhibits. One of the exhibitions entitled “Women in Aviation” allowed her to interview the first female flyers in Canada from the 1930s.

“It was one of the best things I ever did!” she says enthusiastically.

Diana settled back in Boston, only this time across the river at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum where she served as a Curatorial Associate in the Department of Paintings, Sculpture and Decorative Arts for seven years. Reminiscent of her memorable travels as a girl, Diana’s position enabled frequent journeys to Europe where she picked up Monets from Edinburgh, brought paintings to the esteemed Louvre and Grand Palais in Paris and couriered works of art  to Italy on three occasions.

“The biggest thrill at HAM,” she says, “was the quality and range of the collections and the ability to learn first hand about paintings.”

The dawn of Diana’s career at the McMullen began while visiting the 2004 Fernand Khnopff exhibit in Devlin Hall—what was then the old home for the McMullen on Boston College’s main campus. Diana ran into Ms. Netzer who lent her glasses to Diana’s sister, Mary, who had forgotten them there.

A year later, Diana assumed her current position at the McMullen, working for over a decade with its exhibitions and permanent collection, facilitating its relocation to its permanent home in the former residence of Boston’s Cardinal Archbishop and advancing the museum’s growth efforts.

Diana co-curated two exhibitions with Vera Kreilkamp, a lecturer in the Irish Studies Program: “Rural Ireland: The Inside Story” (2012) and “The Arts and Crafts Movement: Making it Irish” (2016). Diana spent three years researching and finding rare artifacts around Ireland, including stained glass and metalwork from the Honan Chapel at University College Cork—objects that had never travelled outside of the country. Diana describes the research and design of the exhibition as some of her most cherished and rewarding work thus far.

When asked about her favorite part about working at the McMullen, she emphasizes the diversity of the exhibits and the professionals with whom she works.

“This job is custom made for me,” she says. “Being able to work the nuts and bolts on a wide range of exhibits and the thrill of working across disciplines at BC is what makes everything here unique. It all has a richness.”

Rich, indeed, as the McMullen continues to innovate and evolve—making strides with the passion and dedication of its impressive team busily working behind the palazzo’s glass and Neo-Renaissance facade.