Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Curatorial experience

In June EBHQ had quilts hung at the Lakeview branch of the Oakland library. I helped curate – my first experience. And wrote about it for the guild newsletter:

Tale from a Virgin Curator

cu•rate (kyoor′-āt′) To act as a curator – as a person in charge of an exhibition.

Like a student waving her hand at the teacher because she finally knows the answer, I jumped in when Jennie Aldrich asked for volunteer curators for the Oakland Lakeview Library show. So did Sandy Ellison and Pati Fried. Since we three volunteers were without curatorial experience, we were the students and Jennie our teacher.

Unlike an institution like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, we did not have a cadre of curatorial assistants. We did it all.

First task was to collect and store the quilts. Pati and Sandy manned a table at the May general meeting to collect quilts. Both of them and Jennie were especially persuasive convincing others to participate. Responsibilities included getting the forms completed and signed, checking for a label and a hanging sleeve, and keeping track of all the quilts collected.

A week before the exhibition, the four of us met to review the submissions and lay out the display. We reviewed all the quilts and started grouping them. Some quilts just sung with one another and begged to be together. We were challenged to identify specific wall locations to fit each group. Thankfully, Jennie had measurements of the display spaces. Sometimes we had to shift quilts around but tried to create a cohesive visual display. In the end we found display space for all 33 quilts submitted.

Then we documented the quilts and their locations with photos and notes. Otherwise we would've been lost on the hanging date. Hanging them was only a week later but you know how that is! Before packing up the quilts, we prep them for hanging and made notes to get more supplies.

On Monday, June 1st we hung the quilts. Jennie was on the ladder and the rest of us were the ground crew. Other than a scramble halfway through the hanging, we fell into a rhythm – two to hang and two to prepare. We made a great team!

Jennie and Sandy had to leave for the EBHQ board meeting. But they left only one wall for Pati and me to finish on our own.

On the ladder, I realize how adept Jennie is at hanging. I knocked off the picture moulding hooks several times for each of the three quilts. I'm sorry, Pati! As my ground crew, she was fishing among the books stacks for the hooks that flew off. I was so close to the quilts, I couldn't see the display and depended on her help to adjust them. Going it alone would've meant getting up and down the ladder constantly. That would've saved me a gym workout, but also would've resulted in noodle thighs!

Looking around the two rooms after we were done, I took pleasure in having a role in brightening and transforming the library. I hope you'll have a chance to visit this library and see the quilts whether you have one hanging there or not.

A lot of credit goes to Jennie for the curatorial lessons. What I learned was well worth the few hours I put in. My three co-curators were all fantastic and cooperative co-workers. And I got close looks at all the quilts. What a fabulous experience all around!

How about you - would you like to curate a show? Perhaps your very own show someday? Start small, start with experienced help, and start here. Volunteer for the Oakland Lakeview Library exhibition next time. Or some other EBHQ show. It'll be an excellent opportunity.

Ellen who's no longer a virgin curator

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