Probably most exciting for the students is interacting with professionals. What better way to gain an education in the arts than to learn from authorities in the field and those who already have experience as curators or in a field tangential and necessary for them to do their jobs. Our students are taken to several museums in Santa Fe where they get to visit with the curators and this year, in one institution, the director himself. What excited some students the most was going to a conservation studio where the conservators explained the equipment used, told how the they decide what exactly needs to be done to restore a work of art and show the process itself on the pieces themselves.
Of course, there are also more arduous aspects to the course. The students have to study the objects they have selected using the books in the Coe libraries, using the internet and asking for expert help when available. Once in a while the student learns something the staff did not know, a thrill for all. They will use this information when they learn what label copy is and what the overarching or didactic panel for the show needs to say. The result is a very unusual and original exhibition. Here curator Bess Murphy is discussing one of Dynette Chavez’s choices.
What the students don’t do is have a concept and then find objects that fit the subject. In this case the objects come first and then the exhibition title. Not sure which I like better. For while this latter system can be confusing but what a curator thinks as totally logical and “important” does not always seem to fit so neatly into the puzzle.
This year the students put together objects from across the globe, China, Japan, Tibet, several African countries, Canada, Greenland, Germany, many Native tribes and I am probably missing some. Their title, therefore, was excellent, “The Mirror Effect: Reflection upon our Realities”. The students write in their brief catalog that it “is centered around a relationship between art and viewer. When someone sees an object a connection is made to their own life. Some connections are drawn from the object because of the story it tells, while others are inspired by the piece’s beauty or, perhaps, it may come from a person’s culture, a cherished memory, or passion….. We all found a part of ourselves in each object, and the exhibition conveys how we connected with them.” Any of my readers who are collectors may never have thought about their collecting in this way but I believe it is quite accurate as to how we view art that we care about.
The students installed their own show and learned what colors went together and how the objects might fit with each other. Coming personally from a European background I was particularly happy that one student curator, Shante Toledo, chose two 17th century German boxwood boxers. They looked amazingly good to me, aside from being put on a pedestal together with a large pair of moccasins with leggings by Maggie Picket-Yellowtail chosen by Dynette Chavez and a number of smaller objects.
One of my favorite pieces in the Coe collection has always been a Navajo baby shirt circa 1920. The green velvet fabric I am sure made the baby seem more cuddly than it would have naturally been anyhow! The color is also a wonderful shade of green. This was chosen by Elizabeth Lukee and was loved by all, so it was installed right at the beginning of the show where the public comes in.
This Student Curator Oscar Loya has taken the program 3 times because he enjoyed it so much. This year he picked a contemporary Chinese scroll by a professor at Beijing University. He was originally attracted to it when he saw it lying on a shelf all rolled up on a cart and wanted to find out what it was. Mystery has a definite role in collecting as it does in reading a book. The question is always what’s next or what can I learn about this curious item. Here he is showing it to Shante Toldeo.
At the opening the students are asked to introduce themselves and say something about their exhibition or the program in front of a crowd of visitors, so they end their period with the Coe Foundation with another learning experience, making a presentation.
As I was finishing writing this one of the students returned to the Coe to deliver hand addressed envelopes with invitations for her graduation and celebration party for each of us who interacted with them in the program. More gratifying thanks one cannot receive!