Curating a Collection

2017-2

BY CLAUDIA THOMPSON | PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALLISON POTTER Curating a Collection The creative men and women behind local museum exhibitions Curating is a personal affair. While curators are tasked with cultivating exhibitions of popular interest, there is no field guide when it comes to laying the landscape for a given museum. Whether amassed first by idea, donation, historical anecdote or artist availability, it is the cura-tor who breathes life into the exhibition, much like the artist first lays hands on an aspiring masterpiece. Collections and exhibitions can be an animated process, a research-based one, or a historical pre-sentation. The curator does his or her best to tell the story of a slice of time or history, or a collec-tion of objects or art. Area museums vary from the little cottage on Salisbury Street that houses the history of Wrightsville Beach to the huge steel battleship docked off the Cape Fear River, from the art-focused Cameron Art Museum to the history-focused Cape Fear Museum. Each has a curator, or team of curators, that use their knowledge, creativity and resources to ful-fill the mission of the facility, to provide an interesting and educational experience for visitors, and to keep those visitors coming back. Whether it is exploring a small historical cottage to learn what life was like at the beginning of what is now today’s Wrightsville Beach, or looking down the range of an on-deck naval rotating gun, the curator understands the bottom line: Protecting the historical artifacts is paramount. Preserving history, art and stories for the future is key. Along with that comes plenty of creative license and sometimes artistic expression. What you can’t see, you might hear. What you can’t feel with your hands and feet may reverberate in your emotions; the scale, color, detail and oftentimes sounds from one curated space to the next, so perfectly achieved. Cape Fear Museum of History and Science FRIENDS AND CLASSMATES at the University of Delaware, Mary Ames Booker and Barbara Rowe continue their passion for history as colleagues. Booker is curator at the Battleship North Carolina, and Rowe celebrated 30 years in the same role at Cape Fear Museum in November. Rowe was at the Milwaukee Public Museum for four years after beginning a graduate internship, but budget cuts sent her packing east. “This was in the 1980s, and the Midwest was going through the rustbelt syndrome of financial difficulties,” she says. “The county said, ‘We’re not going to be able to support a museum anymore,’ and that’s how I ended up here.” As someone well versed in the vast scope of world history, her job in Wisconsin was relatively straightforward. Working in Wilmington at a museum dedicated to telling the story of the lower Cape Fear region has proved to be more interesting. “Well, I don’t see American history as really enormous, because to me it’s a subset of world history, and that’s really enormous,” she says, with a laugh, “When you see how far back Europe goes, it’s really very manageable. After having been in the Midwest where a lot of those communities started in the 19th century, coming back to the East Coast, which goes back to the 17th century, kind of opened it up for me. I like being on the East Coast; there’s a longer period of time to interpret.” 20 WBM february 2017


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