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Clock Keeper Has Her Hands Full Today

October 28, 1990|RUSSELL BEN-ALI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While others are waking up this morning refreshed from the standard time bonanza of an extra hour, Jacqueline Dugas will be quietly going about her mission.

The job--to carefully wind and turn 16 classic timepieces forward 11 hours--will more than use up her own extra hour.

As registrar for the Huntington Gallery's Art Collections, Dugas' responsibilities include maintenance and care of the San Marino gallery's 18th- and 19th-Century French and British clocks.

In the spring, during the change to daylight-saving time, Dugas' job is easy: She simply turns each clock forward one hour. But the conversion to standard time requires that each of the delicate clocks, whose hands won't move backward unless they're disconnected from the pendulums that keep them running, be turned forward 11 hours.

"We prefer to come in early Sunday morning and set the clocks back before the public arrives, so they aren't tempted to do it for us," Dugas said.

Originally the home of railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington, the Huntington Gallery was built between 1909 and 1911. The gallery collection, described as the most comprehensive collection of 18th- and 19th-Century British art outside of London, includes Gainsborough's world-famous "The Blue Boy" and Lawrence's "Pinkie."

The gallery also has its 16 French and British clocks, each inscribed with the clockmaker's name and city. A clock adorned with small Sevres biscuit figurines of Cupid and a female figure, possibly Venus, and signed Philibert a Pont St. Michel (he was a 19th-Century Frenchman) sits on a mantel in the large library.

Each clock requires a key with one end hollowed, to fit around the clock's winding mechanism, and the other end an oval, to serve as a handle. Winding the 16 clocks takes about an hour each Monday.

As she began her rounds Monday, Dugas picked up a small tin maintenance box containing a soft bristle brush for dusting, a variety of keys, spare parts and a wristwatch she uses to keep the clocks in check. She stood on a low step stool, and inserted one of the keys into a 9 1/2-foot oak grandfather clock, bearing the name J.F. Benoit a Nancy , in the hall of the gallery's second floor.

Dugas placed her key over the left winding pin but waited for the 10:30 a.m. chime to finish before beginning to wind. Then, slowly, Dugas gave each of two winders 18 full clockwise turns until two lead weights rose to the top of the tall wood base.

When she had finished her winding duty, all the clocks struck 11 in clear and subtle tones and nearly perfect harmony.

Then, Dugas, keeper of exquisitely adorned 18th- and 19th-Century European clocks, lowered her voice as if to make a confession. "I never really wear a watch myself," she said, "because it makes me nervous."

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