Curator of Historical American Art and Director of the Center for the Study of the American Artist at PAFA
One of my favorite stories about my transition from being a graduate student in Art History at the University of Delaware to becoming a full curator at PAFA, the US's oldest art academy and museum, is of the day I drove up from Washington DC, where I was living, to defend my dissertation in Newark, and then immediately upon being declared a Ph.D., drove to the Philadelphia International Airport and boarded an overnight flight to Paris. From there I went directly to meet my new boss from PAFA at the back door of the Musee d'Orsay, proceeded into their vaults, speaking only in French to their registrars about Henry Tanner paintings in their collection and translating for my non-French speaking director. I wish I could say that the day ended there, but it was followed by a long French lunch and a visit to the Drouot Auction house with the then Curator of American Art from the Louvre. Finally, at long last, perhaps 36 hours after my defense, I collapsed in a French hotel room. In many ways, there is no way to train to be a curator - how do you learn to meet with wealthy collectors and feel at ease in their homes talking about art? How do you learn to negotiate international loans with institutions that may never have heard of your institution? How do you convince foundations that your projects are worth funding, and your colleagues at museum's across the country that their works of art should be on your institutions walls instead of their own? Some of these things you must learn on the fly, and by doing. However, in many ways, I feel that there are few other programs in the country that could have trained me as well for what I now do then the program at the University of Delaware. At UD I continued to hone the language skills I had been developing since childhood, expanding beyond French and Italian to include knowledge of German and rudimentary Spanish. I learned how to implement a multi pronged scholarly project - the dissertation - which required fundraising and networking skills to execute. I benefited from the mentorship of outstanding faculty members and alums, and the brilliance and support of my fellow students, many of whom remain friends and colleagues. The connections with objects, institutions, and people I made in my 6 years as a UD graduate student only continue to deepen and strengthen over the years, and I am happy to say that since 2009 I have taught and mentored multiple UD art history and Winterthur students through PAFA's outstanding collection as visitors, students, interns, and assistants.