Metropolitan Museum's clock winder - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Metropolitan Museum's clock winder

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Twice a week for the last 40 years, Clare Vincent, 78, has wound the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of European clocks.

"My late husband used to say: 'Your clocks are all old people and you have to know what's the matter and what they don't like very much,'" Vincent says.

Vincent refers to each clock by the name of its maker.

"Now, come on, Thomas Tompien," she said to a clock from the 17th Century, "do your stuff."

She carries with her a tangle of 300-year-old keys to access the innards of those ancient timepieces.

"Oh, I really didn't mean to make such a spectacle of this," she said, attempting to untangle the desired key for Fox 5's camera.

As the Met's associate curator of European sculpture and decorative arts, Vincent sits atop the museum's hierarchy of clock-whisperers, but at her age can no longer handle the pieces herself.

"I'm so sad that I can't go up there easily anymore," she said gesturing to the top of a decorative staircase, "and wind that Knibb clock at the top of the stairs because I just love it."

Vincent calls technicians like Jacob Goble who do the winding "very, very good people" but insists on overseeing their work. No one knows these clocks as Vincent does. No one better understands their inner wheels and bells. No one has logged as many hours, minutes or seconds ensuring they tell time.

"It gives you a marvelous kind of quiet feeling when it's purring back at you as you wind it," she said.

In a museum Vincent has loved since childhood, time passes under her supervision.

"I think when I was about 8 I fell in love with the [museum's] Egyptian department," she said. "That was it. I never wanted to work anything else."

For 52 years, Vincent has come to work in this building (it took a solid decade before she acquired rank suitable to winding the clocks). She is finishing a book, "European Clocks and Watches in the Metropolitan Museum," and still relishes her job's ticking and chiming. But a day will come when she passes her responsibilities on to someone else.

When it's time, she'll know.

 

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