How I Became a Curator, Part 3

For the last two weeks, I've been discussing my professional journey as a curator so far. Today, we'll wrap up this series by taking a look at the place I've been working at for the last three years, the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Although I've described the various exhibits I've done here, I've never said much about the Museum itself, so let me ameliorate that situation.

RMAC first opened in 1937 as a WPA Federal Art Center. While it did have a few objects at the time, it wasn't so much a collecting institution as it was a venue for temporary shows sponsored by the FAP, the local Friends of Art, and the town's Historical and Archaeological Society. It became less active in the 1940s due to World War II and the closure of the WPA, but by 1949 it had reorganized itself and began to expand. These days it's operated by the City of Roswell, so yes, I'm a government employee.
The original museum building back in the 1930s. It's grown substantially since then.

Interior, 1937. The Museum was officially dedicated in December 1937, and on view at the time was an exhibit of Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth.

The original museum building is now called Founders Gallery. It retains its original Spanish Colonial Revival design, albeit with a different color scheme, and is dedicated to the work of Hurd and Wyeth. Image courtesy of
Today, the Museum is an expansive complex with several galleries, classrooms, an auditorium, clay studio, Planetarium, and library. Over 8,000 objects constitute the permanent collection. Let's take a tour of some of these spaces:

PGA Gallery

Hunter Gallery; this installation show is from Signe Stuart: Fifteen.

DBA Gallery. The large painting is Pow-Wow by Willard Midgette.

North Gallery Hallway

Marshall Winston Gallery, dedicated to the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. This particular show was done by artist Roxy Topia and Paddy Gould.

Oh yes, and we have a patio too for outdoor entertaining and events.

The Goddard Planetarium is hands-down the most popular facet of the Museum when it comes to the general public.

The collections are eclectic in nature, comprising southwestern art, the Robert H. Goddard rocketry collection, and the Aston Collection of the American West.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Ram's Skull with Brown Leaves, 1936, oil on linen. This is our most sought-after painting within the art collection when it comes to visitor interests.

The Goddard workshop. The building is a replica, the equipment is original.
Farming and Ranching case, part of The Rogers and Mary Ellen Aston Collection of the American West.
So what brought me to Roswell? It was an unusual opportunity. I loved my job at Shelburne, but being a contract position, I knew it was set to expire. Although my contract had been renewed for another year, I had begun looking for new jobs by January 2013. As had been the case with Dallas, I ended up finding a new position much sooner than anticipated.

The Roswell Museum offered  me the chance to work with a large collection with a great degree of autonomy. I wouldn't just be a curatorial intern or fellow, I would be the curator, and I knew that if I took this job I'd get experiences that I wouldn't have anywhere else, at least not in the same relatively short span of time. Moving from New England to southeastern New Mexcio would be a dramatic change, but as you've hopefully noticed by now, I'd been bee-bopping around the country for several years by now, so I packed up my apartment in Vermont and headed out West.

Since then, I've definitely gotten my fair share of experience. Each year I curate about eight original, temporary shows, in addition to  rotating the more permanent installations. Since my arrival in 2013, I've curated more than 20 exhibits, about half involving the permanent collection, and the rest coming from artists around New Mexico. During my first year I had to recreate an  an entire exhibition schedule from scratch; now I'm planning shows into 2019, 2020, and beyond, allowing the schedule to become increasingly ambitious. I've also had the chance to do some meaningful research on the collection, which I've presented at several conferences. Beyond my curatorial duties, I've also helped redesign and maintain the website, write and edit the Museum's quarterly newsletter, helped the City appoint a new director for RMAC, and even got to spend some time in the classroom when I taught a printmaking workshop.

The opportunities for my personal life have also been significant. I've learned to throw pottery at the Museum's clay studio, participate in a local flute ensemble, and continue to work on the various other projects I document through this blog. Living in Roswell isn't always easy, being 2,000 miles from family is tough, but it comes with the territory of being a museum professional.

Outside of my professional experiences, the time I get to spend at the clay studio is by far one of the biggest perks of working at the Museum.
As far as future plans go, I don't know where I'll end up next. Right now my big project is a Peter Hurd and Henriette Wyeth retrospective opening in 2018. RMAC is collaborating with the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA on this show, and it's going to be a highly significant exhibition. Having been here as long as I have now, I want to see this show through to completion, as I know it will mean a lot to both my career and the Museum's public image.
Henriette Wyeth, Iris, 1945, oil on canvas. Image courtesy of RMAC.

Peter Hurd, The Dry River, 1937, egg tempera on panel. Image courtesy of RMAC.
Beyond that though, I'm not sure where I'll be in the future. I've been debating going back for my PhD for a few years now. Heck, I had even applied to a few programs at one point, but since that didn't work out, I've been seriously reevaluating that route. While I know I've got the stamina and ability to do it, I haven't forgotten how stressful graduate school was the first time around, and I've really come to enjoy and appreciate having a life outside of my academic work. I've also gotten accustomed to having a good salary, not to mention decent bedtimes. At the same time, however, I know in this day and age my prospects are limited if I stay at the M.A. level. Many institutions prefer doctorates, and after having to multitask for so many years when it comes to exhibits, it'd be nice to be able to focus on one thing to the point of obsession again. It's not a decision to take lightly, which is why I haven't done it yet.

Given all the twists and turns my life has taken from my original little plan so far, I've learned that my control over the future is not absolute. At the same time, I'm not limited to one single path.

Motivational speeches aside, the best part of Back to the Future Part III is that sweet time machine train. Image courtesy of
We'll see what happens, but in the meantime, my place right now is in Roswell.

So what does it take to succeed in the museum world? I don't have a definitive checklist for you, but I do have three general principles I follow:
  • Flexibility: I studied the Old Masters, but now work with American art. I've lived in four states in the last five years, none of them close together. I've done website maintenance when computer science isn't my degree, and given children's tours when I thought I'd be writing labels. The museum field is always evolving, and you have to be willing to adapt to new policies, collections, and locations. The willingness to relocate in particular has been important to my ongoing employment. In this field the jobs don't come to you, and the real question is how far you're willing to uproot your life for the sake of opportunity. 
    • Side-note #1: When looking at jobs, always ask about the director and his or her vision for the museum. It's amazing how much one person shapes the overall mood of an institution, so make sure your ideals and expectations align with those of your leadership. 
    • Side-note #2: As far as degree programs go, I have mixed feelings about the whole Museum Studies field, but that's just my opinion. I saw my intern experiences as apprenticeships and learned museum practicum on the go, but a couple of foundation courses on museums probably would have been helpful. I know there are some excellent programs out there, but I still think it's a good idea to have a solid foundation in history, art, science, or some other academic discipline before plunging into the world of museums. Again, this is my opinion, and what's worked for me may not work for everyone, and vice-versa.
  • Frugality: If you want to make a lot of money in life, go into finance. The humanities aren't known for their money-making status, and a lot of the museums out there are small institutions living on shoestring budgets. If you're lucky, you'll be able to pay your bills and save for emergencies, but you're not likely to get rich in this line of work. I have a comfortable salary now, especially by New Mexico standards, but prior to my current position my incomes were below the poverty line. Spend and save your money wisely.
  • Fun (Humor): Museum work can be stressful. There's never enough time or money to do all the things you want in terms of projects and goals. Museums also tend to be hotbeds for drama. It's a side effect of working with other people, and if you're in an art museum especially, you get to deal with all kinds of colorful personas. Learn to laugh at these ongoing squabbles, maintain relationships and hobbies outside of the museum field, and try not to take life too seriously: nobody gets out of it alive.
Image courtesy of
Imperfections aside I still have one of the coolest jobs out there, and I on top of that I have time to work on my personal art passions, so I consider myself very fortunate. I may not be that German Franciscan art expert I thought I would be at 22, but this life path isn't too shabby either.


  1. Sara Woodbury, Artist N.C. Wyeth was a pupil of Artist, Howard Pyle, who's son, Andrew Wyeth, was also an Artist. -DAC


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