During a gathering this past weekend, someone asked what I do for a living. Generally, my simple answer, “I am the curator of collections and the registrar at the Woodson Art Museum,” causes puzzlement. I have become adept at recognizing those who understand the meaning of the words and those who don’t. Those interested enough to continue the conversation inquire about what I do in an average day. That makes me chuckle because what I love most about being a curator/registrar is that no two days are the same.
I thought I would share some of the interesting tasks I tackle during an “average” day.
This morning started with email. My inbox held a few messages that needed immediate response, which I tackled first. I subscribe to a LISTERVE and the discussion topic was “The worst things we hear when installing an exhibition.” My favorite of over two dozen responses is “Oops,” something you never want to hear in the vicinity of artwork. Other contributions included Why are you hanging it that way? Is that really the color you’re using on the walls? Can we bring a tour through before you’re finished hanging? Those comments in list form have a comical tone, but when asked during an exhibition installation, especially one with an imminent deadline, can cause backs to stiffen and tempers to flare.
Preparations for the September opening of Birds in Art are front and center in my duties this time of year. First on the agenda this morning was fact-checking aspects of the exhibition catalogue, including proper titles, mediums, dimensions, etc. Exact information is critically important. The artists complete numerous forms that provide the facts, but not everyone includes the particulars, proper names, or exact details. These omissions and our desire to have each entry letter-perfect take time and additional research.
My next task requires properly cropping the digital images of each artwork. This includes making sure that each piece is properly positioned and that the entire image is visible – but not too much of the image. I do this by comparing the digital image against the artwork (some have already arrived at the Museum) as well as using printed images provided by the artist. The good news is I get to know each of the artworks well; the downside is I develop eye strain!
I also coordinate shipping artworks to and from the Woodson. For Birds in Art that equals 130 incoming crates. We provide artists with substantial information concerning proper packing and shipping, but inevitably I need to answer calls or e-mails ranging from how to complete the air waybill, build a proper crate, or complete the ever-important customs paperwork for those shipping from a dozen or so foreign countries. Today an artist requested an extension on the date his artwork is to arrive at the Woodson – a fairly common request this time of year.
Finally, after numerous emails and phone calls, I placed an order with a Las Vegas company for six crates to be shipped to Scotland. Things like this that sound simple generally result in a large investment of time. Tomorrow I’ll make arrangements to return three crates much closer – to Illinois. Two of the Woodson’s exhibitions that are on the road – A Reflective Nature and Birds in Art 2008 – move from one museum to another in August. To make sure each arrives in a timely manner, I need to book space on a carrier now. More emails and phone calls and pulling strings with a van line, one I’ve developed a solid relationship with over the years.
Another project nearing completion requires reframing four paintings. Finding the appropriate style and finish color takes time and a good eye. Typically I make two-to-four-choices and consider those options for a day or two before making the final decision. Soliciting opinions from other staff members can also make this selection easier.
This summer I am fortunate to have two young women helping with projects including washing and waxing the outdoor sculpture, framing and unframing exhibitions, and taking photos of collection materials. The list is endless. Getting their supplies in place and providing adequate instructions and training also takes a few minutes each day, but the return on my time investment is tremendous.
Lastly, I wrote this blog. My hope is I will be better prepared to answer the question “What do you do for a living” after sharing my day in writing. To those unfamiliar with the workings of a museum my job may still seem unclear. Many days I leave my office feeling as though I have not accomplished much, but by writing this I realize that projects eventually are completed even if I have moved on to others before some are fully realized.