Posts Tagged 'curator'

Interview with Curator Roslyn Walker

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker

It has been a busy summer here at the Dallas Museum of Art. One of our amazing curators, Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, took time out of her schedule to answer questions related to her job at the Museum. Read below for more information about Dr. Walker and her exciting exhibition that just opened – African Masks: The Art of Disguise.

Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching

Name and Title: Roslyn A. Walker, Ph.D., Sr. Curator, The  Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific/The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art

Years Employed at the Dallas Museum of Art:  I’ve worked at the DMA for six years, since the end of 2003.

Describe your job here at the Museum:  A curator, by definition, is the specialist in a particular field of study whose job it is to do the research on the collection and provide information about it; select objects for acquisition, to “grow” the collection; interpret the collection through exhibitions; and over see the maintenance of the collection.  I execute all these tasks.

What is your favorite part of your job?  All of the above! I do love doing research and learning about the art form, i.e., when and who made it (name of the artist if possible or his “hand” or style through comparison with other works), why it was made, how it was used in the original cultural context, and its provenance.

What is a challenge you face in your job?  I wish there were more hours in the day. I could use a course in time management. Buying art is a challenge because the price of highest quality of certain types of objects is beyond our means. We are fortunate to have a great collection that is representative of the major sculpture-producing peoples of sub-Saharan Africa.

How did you decide you wanted to work in a museum?  I enjoyed going to museums on school fieldtrips and with my family. I loved viewing the works of art, but I was also curious about what went on behind the scenes.  I chose a college – Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) which had a museum and was fortunate to work in that museum from freshman year through graduation. As I understood museum work at the time, I would have the opportunity to be a scholar, teacher, artist, registrar, exhibit designer, preparator – everything. This was a one director, one student assistant kind of museum! 

If you weren’t working here at the Museum, what is something else you would be doing? I can’t imagine doing anything else. I think I would have been happy working at the Department of State, in one of the cultural offices.   

Tell us about the exhibition you’ve been working on this summer. I’ve just opened African Masks: The Art of Disguise on Sunday, August 22nd. This exhibition presents approximately 70 objects which demonstrate the variety of masks types, sizes, styles, materials, and contexts in which the objects appear. Masks are worn in other ways than on the face and masks are only part of a costume that conceals wearer, from head to toe. The exhibition reveals the function, meaning and aesthetics of African masks. The masks “come to life” in performances recorded on film and in contextual photographs. I hope you will come to see this exhibition and that you will take along a smARTphone so you can learn more about masks, view videos, interviews, masquerades and more.

Visit www.DallasMuseumofArt.org/Education to learn more about the programs and resources for students and teachers related to this exhibition.

A Curator’s Best Days

The best days in a curator’s professional life are often the days spent in the conservation lab. That’s where we get to spend quality time with works of art and talk to conservators, the fantastically knowledgeable people who can look through a microscope or infrared scope and tell you the life history of an object. I was lucky enough to spend several hours in the painting conservation lab of the Midwestern Art Conservation Center (MACC), a private conservation center housed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). I was there to confer with conservator David Marquis just before he begins cleaning an important painting in the DMA’s collections, Paul Gauguin’s Under the Pandanus, also known by its Maori title I Raro Te Oviri.

Gauguin painted Under the Pandanus in 1891, a few months after he arrived in Tahiti for the first time.  Sometime later, possibly the next year, he painted a second version of the composition, and that picture is now in the collection of the MIA. When I got to the MACC lab, they had brought both paintings to the lab and removed them from their frames so that we could do a thorough comparison. Ours is on the right, the MIA version on the left.

Last year we began to look closely at the condition of our painting, and earlier this summer we sent our painting to the MACC for technical analysis. Once the two versions of the painting were placed side by side, the differences become more and more obvious . . . and intriguing.

Though the technical study had just begun, David Marquis immediately pointed out how dirty the surface of the DMA canvas was, and how discolored the old layer of varnish had become. This yellowed varnish layer and surface layer of grime radically changed the appearance of the painting. MIA Associate Curator of Paintings, Sue Canterbury, described it as being like looking at the painting through a double-amber filter—not exactly what Gauguin had intended! The MIA version, which was cleaned within the last ten years, gives us a much better sense of what our painting must have looked like when it was first completed.

Once we decided to take off these two “amber filters,” David Marquis began by making “cleaning windows,” that is, cleaning small areas of the canvas. This is the first window he opened, in an area of the horizon near the right edge of the painting.

The results are pretty amazing! The white surf is actually so much brighter and cooler in tone than it appears in the dirty areas. Now that he knew what the cleaning might reveal, David opened some windows in other areas. When I got to the lab to take a look, several areas of the canvas had been cleaned, revealing a whole new palette of colors.

Once David’s cleaning of the varnish and grime is complete later this summer, we’ll have a much better sense of the choices Gauguin made while he was working on our painting, as well as how the painting has changed over time and the extent of work done by earlier conservators. We’re just at the beginning of this important project, so stay tuned for future updates about the results of our study of Under the Pandanus, and look for it to be back in the galleries, and looking better than ever, next year.

Heather MacDonald is The Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art at the DMA.

The Arts of Africa at the DMA

November has been an exciting month at the DMA—several of us attended the Texas Art Education Association conference last week, we’ve had a busy month with tours, and Thanksgiving is right around the corner. However, the most exciting event (and the one for which I am most thankful) is the publication of a brand new catalogue spotlighting the Museum’s African collection: The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art.

The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art

Written by our curator of African Art, Dr. Roslyn Adele Walker, the catalogue has been published to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the DMA’s first acquisition of African art in 1969. The catalogue highlights 110 works of art in our collection and includes beautiful photography of the objects.  Contextual photos have also been included to illustrate how many of the objects would have been (and in many cases still are) used in Africa.

Four years ago, before I was Tour Coordinator at the DMA, I worked with Roz as a McDermott Graduate Curatorial Intern. Over the course of my year with Roz, I contacted many scholars and photographers asking for permission to use their contextual photographs in the catalogue. I also researched various works of art, including our Egungun costume (which I blogged about in September), and I love finally seeing everything in print! This is an exciting moment for the DMA, but also for Roz, and I couldn’t be happier for her.

To celebrate the publication of The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art, Roz will give a brief talk, followed by a book signing, on Thursday December 10th at 7:00 pm. I hope you’ll join us in the Center for Creative Connections Theater to learn more about our African collection, and to congratulate Roz on this wonderful accomplishment.

Shannon Karol
Tour Coordinator


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