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So… What exactly do you do?

I love that question. Even my beloved mother, who offered unwavering support through graduate school couldn’t always quite describe what I do. In fact it became a form of entertainment as I listened to her try.

Depending on her mood, the explanation would range from “she does something with museums” to “something with textiles”. Fortunately, she has it down now. But in her defense, so much of what is involved in a curatorial position goes on behind the scenes; it is easy to understand why one might not exactly know.

Here’s a glimpse behind the curtain:

Data Clean-up: Every department is different and therefore what might be deemed as daily activity may also vary. One of the tasks I’ve taken on is updating our internal database system, Emu.

We house roughly 7,000 objects in the Textile and Fashion Arts collection and as you might guess, it is a long, but rewarding process to update all of the records. To keep us organized, Niloo Paydar, Curator of Textiles and Fashion Arts keeps about 50 or so binders in her office divided into categories based on different things such as techniques, cultures or artists.

Each time I dive into the binders, I embark on a hunt for information, kind of like a detective. Every piece in our collection is represented by a record, containing annotations and references, many of which were made at the time of acquisition or amended as the result of a visiting scholar.  These are my clues.

My course of action ranges from combing obituaries for donor information, referencing exhibition catalogues, researching publications on artists or movements, to investigating specific terms such as aralac which, by the way, is a term for a synthetic fiber made from the milk protein casein.

One collection I have been working on most recently is the American textile collection.

The American Textile Collection: The IMA has a collection of about 100 textiles designed in the United States, around the early to mid 20th century. About 50 are textile fragments designed and manufactured by the Cheney Brothers.  The Cheney Brothers (Ward, Rush, Frank and Ralph) were one of the first successful silk manufacturers in the United States, establishing their first mill as the Mt. Nebo Silk Mills, South Manchester, Connecticut,  in 1838. The Cheney Brothers Silk Manufacturing Company went onto become a national leader in sericulture and the manufacturing of silk.

While researching the Cheney brothers, I discovered that Hazel Burnham Slaughter designed many late 1922, early 1923 Cheney Brothers textiles, as did the designer, Candice Wheeler in the early 1900s.

Please allow me to share with you some of my personal favorites:

Cheney Brothers, (14.74)

Cheney Brothers, (14.77)

Cheney Brothers, (14.81)

This might sound corny, but it really gives me a natural high to discover new-to-me tidbits about designers, their working relationships and processes. So, yeah, I guess my mom is right- I DO do something with textiles and with museums. And I enjoy every minute of it.

Stay tuned for a second post where I share some additional favorites from this collection, by artists such as Florence Kawa and Ruth Reeves.

Filed under: Art, Design

One Response to “So… What exactly do you do?”

  • avatar
    Carren Says:

    Great post! I’m sure many parents ask that of their children. I suppose they’re just happy to know that their children are happy doing what they do. :)

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