Mar 18, 2019 Art & Collection “I’m totally psyched [Vanessa German’s] coming to the museum [in April]. She’s one of my favorite female artists. I connect to her personally because she talks about not having a lot growing up, and how her mother encouraged her children to take what they have and make something out of it.” – Kim Ly, Art Instructor “Unraveling”Ursula Von Rydingsvard2007 “[Ursula von Rydingsvard’s artwork Unraveling] is an example of artist intent. Thousands of decisions are made by artists, even from the most simple-looking thing.” – Alison Nation, Marketing Manager Also, take a look back at some of our formerly highlighted female artists: Agnes Pelton Lida Moser Joan Brown Emily Carr Ruth Asawa Pam Longobardi Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Episode Transcript Stace Treat: Welcome to Museum Way, the podcast of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. We’re sharing all the ins and outs of the museum, from the galleries to the trails, the architecture, and more. You’ll learn the museum way of Crystal Bridges. March is Women’s History Month, and to celebrate, we’ve invited six fantastic women from our staff to talk about their favorite women artists in the Crystal Bridges collection. Stace Treat: Today, we’ll hear from copywriter Erica Harmon; Volunteer Services Assistant Manager, Julie Springer; Guest Services Assistant Manager, Melissa Busch; Membership Assistant, Christy Witt; Art Instructor, Kim Ly; and Marketing Manager, Alison Nation. They’ll tell us about their roles at the museum and the women artists who inspire them. So, let’s jump into this episode of Museum Way. Stace Treat: First up in today’s episode is our Museum Copywriter, Erica Harmon. Erica, welcome to Museum Way. Erica Harmon: Thanks! Happy to be here. Stace Treat: All right, so first up, I want to know a little bit about what you do at the museum, so tell us about your role. Erica Harmon: Sure. So, as the copywriter, I basically deal with everything having to do with words at the museum. So, that can entail anything from putting marketing collateral together to advertisements. I have to edit the panel and label copy that goes next to all the artworks and then the exhibitions in the museum, and I’m also responsible for putting together, C, which is our membership magazine that goes out three times a year, as well as the print calendar. Stace Treat: That’s a lot of words. Erica Harmon: Yes. Stace Treat: How many words do you think you average a day? Erica Harmon: Oh gosh, I couldn’t even tell you. All the words. Stace Treat: So you’re reading other people’s writing, but you’re also doing your own writing. Erica Harmon: That’s right. Stace Treat: You’re editing. You’re doing all manner of things. Erica Harmon: That’s correct. Stace Treat: Well, we’re glad to have you. Erica Harmon: Thank you. Stace Treat: And then, of course, I work with you very closely with exhibitions. So, let’s talk a little bit about your favorite artists. The prompt was basically to ask each of you, what’s your favorite artist, women artists in the collection? Erica Harmon: The one I want to talk about was Nina Chanel Abney, who was an artist who actually came onsite to Crystal Bridges to create a brand new installation. She’s actually the last artist you interact with as you exit the permanent collection. So, as you’re walking out of the contemporary art gallery and you’re going up the staircase to come back into Eleven, there’s this bright yellow wall with all of these geometric shapes and symbols and patterns, and that was created by Nina Chanel Abney, and she actually developed that by being onsite at Crystal Bridges and it was a reaction to her time at the museum that created this particular piece. It’s all spray-painted, and like I said, it’s bright colors, geometric shapes, and it’s really warm and inviting, I think. And like I said, it’s, it’s her response directly to our specific site, which is cool. Stace Treat: Yeah, I love that piece. It’s very colorful. And she’s very much inspired by street art and sort of a background in graffiti arts and things like that, and then also weaves different kinds of art history nods, so she’s pretty cool. Stace Treat: Well, Erica, thanks for sharing with us. Erica Harmon: Absolutely. Thank you. Stace Treat: Next we have Volunteer Services Assistant Manager, Julie Springer. Hey Julie, how are you? Julie Springer: Hi, Stace, how are you? Stace Treat: I’m great. Welcome to Museum Way. Julie Springer: Thanks. Stace Treat: So you’re going to talk about probably one of the most famous women American artists we have in our collection. Who is that? Julie Springer: So, Georgia O’Keeffe. Stace Treat: Georgia O’Keeffe. Julie Springer: Yes. So, I selected Evening Star Number Two as one of my favorites. I love this work. It is a watercolor. And because it’s a watercolor, we don’t get to see it very often and for very long. I believe right now it’s traveling with The Beyond. Stace Treat: That’s right, our Georgia O’Keeffe-inspired show that we did last summer. Julie Springer: Yes, yes, so we don’t get to see it right now, but I love this work. I tend to be drawn to vibrancy. So, this work not only is vibrant, but it’s crazy vibrant, in that it’s a watercolor and it’s so vibrant. So I guess the thing that speaks to me most about it’s… it could be argued that it’s a bit simplistic, but I feel like O’Keeffe gave us everything we need to be right there in the moment. And so, that’s it in a nutshell. It brings me to a moment and it’s beautiful. Stace Treat: Do you actually like most of her work in general? Julie Springer: Yes. Yes and no. There are some that I like more and some that I like less; this one, just in its colors, its vibrancy and its simplicity. Stace Treat: That’s great. So, you’re a Volunteer Services Assistant Manager, so let’s talk a little bit about what you do. Massive job. Julie Springer: So I get to work with our big volunteer corps. We have about 600 volunteers in the museum doing a little bit of everything in the museum. Our volunteers touch just about every corner of the functions in the museum, and I get to recruit them and train them and orient them, and just to keep them happy. And then, I also get to work with all of our co-workers, to help find different opportunities where the volunteers can impact and contribute to the museum. Stace Treat: Yeah. Tell us a little bit about some of those folks, because I have to say, they run the gamut. Julie Springer: Yes, they do. So as I said, we have about 600 on our roster right now. They range in age from 16 is our minimum age up to… I think we have some in their 90s. And they’re doing all sorts of different things, they come from all different kinds of backgrounds. These are just engaged, educated, amazing, diverse group of people, and they’re contributing in all different ways to the museum. It’s amazing. Stace Treat: Yeah, I like that some of them actually have professional backgrounds that they might bring to the museum in some ways, and then there are some that just completely turned their back on what their professional life was to do something new. Julie Springer: Absolutely. Absolutely. It always amazes me when we bring in a fresh group of volunteers during an orientation to have them introduce themselves and get to know their background a little bit, and we’ll have retired librarians that do or don’t want to work in the library. And so, it’s really interesting, the backgrounds they bring, and it gives them a chance to either continue with some of their passions earlier in life, or try… some of our young ones that are in high school, college, and just young adults… our volunteer program really allows them to get their feet wet in all different sorts of things. And so, it’s an amazing program. Stace Treat: Yeah. Well, we certainly love our volunteers at Crystal Bridges. Julie Springer: Yes, we do. Yeah. Stace Treat: And we couldn’t really exist or run without them. Julie Springer: They contribute a lot of hours. Stace Treat: Well, Julie, thank you so much for joining us. Julie Springer: Thank you. Stace Treat: And sharing Georgia O’Keeffe’s Evening Star Number Two. Julie Springer: Thanks, Stace. Stace Treat: Join us at Crystal Bridges on March 22nd for an exciting lecture by distinguished speaker, Laurie Anderson. Anderson is a visual artist, composer, musician, film director and writer who has pushed to disciplinary boundaries in American art for over four decades. Oh, Superman, included in the exhibition, Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, launched Anderson’s recording career in 1980, rising to number two on the British pop charts. Get your tickets now at crystalbridges.org. Stace Treat: With us now is our Guest Services Assistant Manager, Melissa Busch. Melissa, welcome to the podcast. Melissa Busch: Hi. Thank you for having me. Stace Treat: Yeah, so I’m excited about the artwork you’re going to talk about. Why don’t you tell us who it is? Melissa Busch: So this is Maman by Louise Bourgeois, and I found it interesting because it’s kind of humorous; I am not a huge fan of spiders. Stace Treat: I don’t think you’re alone in that. Melissa Busch: Yeah. And so, when I heard we were going to have a 30 foot spider sculpture put in our courtyard, I was kind of like, “Why?” Stace Treat: Especially because you sit at the front desk and will be looking at it all day. Melissa Busch: Yes, yes. So, I was very interested to hear the story behind it. So, she was a French American artist and “maman” is “mother” in French, so it was interesting to hear how she meant this as a compliment to her mother, and talking about how the spider portrays strength and protection and nourishment, and they weave their webs, and her mother was a weaver in their family tapestry business. And so, she lost her mother when she was 21 and so, she was her best friend, so she really thought this was just very, very heartfelt to do this. Stace Treat: Yeah, it must have… a real work of longing, in a way, too, because she actually created the work late in life and she lived a very long time. Melissa Busch: Yeah, I couldn’t believe she was 88 when she created this sculpture. That was mind-blowing to me. Stace Treat: Yeah. Another great thing about it, too, is we actually, on our YouTube channel… and we’re going to plug that frequently… we have a video of its installation, which, itself, was a fascinating process. You want to talk about that a little? Melissa Busch: Yeah, it was crazy. Yeah, that was three days. And I just remember the crane coming down and going over the building and taking it down to the courtyard, piece by piece. And we were using the back freight elevator as our main entrance there for a day or two. And it was just… it was actually really fun telling guests, because it was kind of a secret way to come in the museum, and just telling them, “Yeah, we’re sorry for taking you this weird way, but it’s actually really cool because we’re installing this huge sculpture in our courtyard.” So, it was a huge process, though. Stace Treat: Yeah, yeah. And not to mention, if people haven’t noticed, but Maman also has eggs in her belly, in her egg sack. Melissa Busch: Eggs. Stace Treat: So you can stand right underneath it and look up and you see all these beautiful… I think they’re made out of marble… eggs. So, she literally is a mother with her young. Melissa Busch: I can’t believe there were 32 eggs in there. Stace Treat: 32. Melissa Busch: It didn’t look like there were that many, but… yeah, so… Stace Treat: All right. So, why don’t you tell me a little bit about guest services and, really, what that entails, because you actually have a pretty big team. Melissa Busch: We do, we do. I get to work with all the awesome folks that welcome everyone every day. So, we interact a lot with the volunteers, as well, so it’s a very big team; feels like a very big family. Melissa Busch: But yeah, so we’re staffing every entrance; so, we’re there to welcome and greet and answer questions. So, we have three different entrances within the museum, and then we have the Frank Lloyd Wright house, and when we’ve had our Chihuly exhibition that was out in the North Forest, we were out there. So, we’re just everywhere, ready to answer questions and help. Stace Treat: Yeah. What’s your favorite part of your job? Melissa Busch: No two days are alike. It’s fun because I get to interact with so many different people, and I get a good combination of being at a computer, which is nice, but also I can get up, and I know there’s always something that needs to be done, so it’s getting up and moving around. But I do a lot of scheduling for our team, and that’s probably at least 50 percent of what I do, if not more. Stace Treat: It’s a lot of folks to wrangle. Melissa Busch: Yes. Yes, and a lot of different events. There’s a lot going on at the museum all the time. Stace Treat: Yeah, you all have to have somebody there all the time for late night events and everything. Melissa Busch: Yep. Yep. So, just kind of making sure we’re there to cover everything we need to be there for. But, yeah, it’s just a lot everywhere. Stace Treat: So you’re kind of like maman of Guest Services. Melissa Busch: Trying to make sure they’re prepared for everything, yes. Stace Treat: Okay. Well, I really appreciate Melissa coming on to the podcast, so thanks. Melissa Busch: Thanks for having me. Stace Treat: With us now is our Membership Assistant, Christy Witt. Christy, welcome to Museum Way. Christy Witt: Thank you, Stace. Stace Treat: All right. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you do as a membership assistant? Christy Witt: I work on a little bit of all things membership. I plan our members-only events. If you’ve heard of Member Scoops or Member Family Photos, or some of our lectures and behind the scenes tours for our members… and then I do a lot of collaborating on our members strategy; so that has a lot to do with our retention and recruitment strategies, and making sure that the members feel engaged at the museum and feel like they’re a part of this museum community that we have. Stace Treat: Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of perks to actually being a member, and one of those is like free admission to exhibitions. Christy Witt: Absolutely. Stace Treat: I like to pitch sometimes to folks that like… if you plan to come to each of our three exhibitions every year, that’ll almost pay for your membership right there. Christy Witt: Absolutely. And with the discounts on classes and lectures and concerts, it’s absolutely an investment. Stace Treat: The museum store. Stace Treat: All right, well, you’re going to talk about a very exciting artist, and actually, another artist who was a distinguished speaker at our museum a couple of years back, Carrie Mae Weems. Christy Witt: Yes. When I was approached about finding a woman artist that I really was attracted to and inspired by, she just… the first person who popped into my head; I thought of the Kitchen Table Series that we have. These were pieces… it’s a series and they’re not always presented together. I think it’s about 20 pictures that can be looked at individually or together. Together, you kind of start to create a narrative, a story to connect them, but they absolutely stand alone, as well. They’re all centered in this kitchen table setting with a woman, sometimes alone, sometimes with people, and the images just draw you in. Christy Witt: They’re not the kind of artworks that kind of boldly slap you, and attention grabbers, but they pull you in, and I feel like they have that slow burn relationship. You start looking at them and you start connecting with this woman. Stace Treat: I love that you used the term slow burn relationship. That is a really beautiful term for what it feels like to really be drawn into a work. Christy Witt: That really is how I feel. Stace Treat: And we might add that the woman in the image is the artist herself. Christy Witt: Yes. And it’s not always about what’s on the table; it’s these crafted scenes that she’s created that convey they can face so much, they can… community, isolation, solitude; being with a partner, a lover, a mother in these roles. And I love it because I think there’s an opportunity for some people to sort of say woman at a kitchen… to connect those in a very berating way and to say, “Oh, woman kitchen. Eh.” We have stereotypes around that. And she takes it and presents it with so much calmness and strength and you… sorry, it makes me think of my mother and my grandmother, and suddenly it’s not just a woman in a kitchen. Christy Witt: It’s a very strong woman and she is all those things. She’s part of the community. She’s a lover, she’s a mother, she’s a wife; she’s alone in some of them, and there’s so much emotion and energy conveyed through these photographs. I just… I love it. I love them. Stace Treat: You clearly do and I just am so moved by your description. Thanks for that, Christy. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. Christy Witt: Thank you. Stace Treat: On April 24th, we’ll welcome artist Vanessa German to Crystal Bridges for a Distinguished Speaker lecture. German is the winner of the 2018 Don Tyson Prize, and was featured in Crystal Bridges’ State of the Art exhibition in 2014. An acclaimed visual and performance artist, Vanessa German is based in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood, and the community is the driving force behind German’s powerful performance work and embellished sculptures. You don’t want to miss it. Tickets available now at crystalbridges.org. Stace Treat: And, next up, we’re actually going to speak with Art Instructor, Kim Ly. Hey Kim, how are you? Kim Ly: I’m doing good. How are you? Stace Treat: I’m great, and I’m really excited after that promo that you chose Vanessa German as your artist. So talk to me a little bit about why you picked her. Kim Ly: Yeah, I’m totally psyched she’s coming to the museum. Stace Treat: Me, too. Kim Ly: So, she’s one of my favorite female artists, and if you’re not familiar with her work, we have a couple of her pieces in the contemporary gallery right now. There are these incredibly detailed sculptures made from mixed media assemblage. I think the best way to describe them is… kind of looks like she plucked the heads off of African- American dolls and form their bodies with treasures and knick-knacks that you would find lingering in a family home or someone’s attic. Kim Ly: And I connect to her personally because she talks about a lot about her childhood in connection to her work, and she talks about not having a lot while growing up, and how her mother encouraged her children to take their resources and make something out of it. Kim Ly: And so, I really connect to that, the philosophy… being empowered and making substance out of your life. So, she also connects to talking about ancestral roots by immersing herself into the joy and trauma found in the objects that she encounters and kind of reckoning her existence in the world in general through the history of that. Stace Treat: Yeah, I mean, some of her sculptures can be quite difficult to look at. Kim Ly: Yeah, yeah. There’s a little bit… you go through it, it’s kind of almost looking at… like going through a thrift store a little bit, and someone had took all these items and created new meaning out of it. Kim Ly: So, I just deeply relate to her process in a way, because a lot of my work… I’m an artist outside the museum… and a lot of my work deals with my ancestral roots; in particular, my transnational identity and my family’s immigration history and what comes along with it. Kim Ly: And so, often I find myself rummaging through my family’s history, just all the stuff that we collected over the years; in particular, photographs that my parents both carried with them from Vietnam over here to the U.S. Stace Treat: And when did they come? Kim Ly: So, they came over here at separate times. My mom came here during the Fall of Saigon, and my dad came here quite a little bit earlier than that, like around the 1970s; so, he was probably about my age when he first came over here. Stace Treat: Wow. Kim Ly: And they each had different ways of coming over here. My mom came over here as a refugee, of course, and my dad was a refugee as well, but he was kind of hidden, in a way. I think he had a little bit of a rougher ride because it wasn’t just an airplane trip to the U.S. for him. He went through a lot, having to go on several boats, starting from the Philippines all the way to ending up somewhere in Minnesota. Stace Treat: Oh, wow. Wow, that’s amazing. So, you’re an art instructor, and so you teach art to kids, and you also facilitate art-making for adults. How does your family’s story and the ancestral things inform your own practice as both an artist and an instructor? Kim Ly: Well, so I think I’m like… I have a hard time picking out a specification or specialty in my own art-making, and teaching allows me a way to explore all different ways of art-making, and it’s a rewarding experience, in itself, because I get to learn from my students, and they form new ways of seeing and making. And so, that’s kind of informed my own practices, and it could be anything from being, “Wow, what’s a Do-a-Dot?” I didn’t know this thing existed, but I can use this somehow in my own art-making, even though it’s intended for preschoolers to dot their paper. Stace Treat: Oh, cool. Kim Ly: Yeah. Stace Treat: Yeah, well, I know that we enjoy getting to work with you in exhibitions when you’re helping us do some creative art-making in galleries and different kinds of ideas. So, I really appreciate you coming on the Museum Way and talking with us about Vanessa German in your own experience. Kim Ly: Yeah, thank you, Stace. Stace Treat: Sure. Stace Treat: And finally, last but certainly not least, we’re here talking with Alison Nation, our Marketing Manager. Alison, welcome to the program. Alison Nation: Oh, thank you. Happy to be here. Stace Treat: Yeah. Now, I would be amiss if I didn’t say that Alison is probably one of our longest term employees at the museum. She has been here since we opened… actually, before we opened. Alison Nation: That’s right. Stace Treat: How many years? Alison Nation: 10 years. Stace Treat: 10 years, and the museum is only seven, by the way. Do the math. So, what are some of the roles that you’ve played in this journey? Alison Nation: Well, I started at the museum as an education administrative assistant. We were down at the Massey building on the square in Bentonville, kind of testing out programs and doing some exhibitions, keeping our community ready and used to what it’s like to have an art gallery and a museum. And then once we were moved into the museum, I was the Senior Administrative Assistant to our then-Deputy Director of Art and Education, and so I worked closely with him to implement projects throughout the museum for opening, particularly jobs that we didn’t quite have the staff present to do. Alison Nation: So, everyone was really busy, and so, we filled in the cracks, and that’s when I sharpened some project management skills, which I then applied to our communications team; started there in 2012, and I’ve been on our communications team ever since, and recently phased into this marketing manager role, picking up the years of work I’ve done working with our advertising or paid marketing projects, and growing that to encompass more digital efforts, and also just integrated campaigns with our wonderful communications team and all of our internal departments. Alison Nation: We represent and promote and share all aspects of the museum, from our exhibitions and our trails, our restaurant, our store, weddings at the museum, membership. And we’ll be taking on more and more as the Momentary opens in 2020, so it’s a very exciting time to be at Crystal Bridges. Stace Treat: Yeah, and you’ve had two little boys in those years, as well. Alison Nation: I have. I’ve gotten married, had two kids, and- Stace Treat: Had life. Alison Nation: Living the life. Stace Treat: Living the life. Well, why don’t you tell us about the artist that you’ve chosen to talk about? Alison Nation: Yes, so it was very challenging. Luckily, some other people picked the artists I could’ve chosen, because I also love Maman, and several other folks that we’ve talked about. But I went with Ursula von Rydingsvard. Her sculpture, Unraveling, is on view in our modern gallery. It’s made of cedar and graphite, and I had the privilege of hearing Ursula von Rydingsvard speak at the museum in the summer of 2014. She did a spotlight talk, and our spotlight talk… it’s an amazing series, a great way to hear directly from artists, and that was 2014 and I still think about something she said. Alison Nation: So, in her talk, she talked about her process. What she does is she takes four by four inch cedar beams just like you’d buy at the lumberyard, and she sculpts with them by making a series, like numerous cuts with a chainsaw, and creates sometimes bull-like forms or vase-like forms, or spoons. She has this kind of… a whole vocabulary of objects that she explores based on her personal history. And then once it’s all been cut thousands of times into this shape with a chainsaw, she’ll go back and layer it with graphite to have this really beautiful surface. Alison Nation: And so, in her spotlight talks, she talked at length about her process, and at one point she said something to the effect of, “It gives me the opportunity to make more decisions.” Stace Treat: Hmm. Alison Nation: So, that just boggled my mind, to remember and just be reminded firsthand that artists approach their practice with so much intention and thought, and pursue methods that give them control. It’s just a great kind of phrase to keep in your mind as you walk through the galleries and think about the artist’s intent, and what decisions they were making to arrive at this final piece, because thousands of decisions were made, even for the most simple-looking thing. Stace Treat: Right, and this piece actually is a very, I have always felt, rather complex thing to look at. It’s like I don’t often know what I’m looking at. It’s kind of abstract. It’s clearly wood, right? And it’s a little… I think it’s a very mysterious work. Alison Nation: It looks rather like a basket or a piece of knit fabric that’s coming unraveling. So, at the top of the work, it’s very big and bulky and unified, and then as it kind of drops down the wall, it starts to fall apart into these threads. And the wonderful thing about where it’s installed in our modern gallery is you can stand right below it, a foot away from it, and you can’t back up very far because the glass looking out on the North Lawn is right there. Stace Treat: That’s right. Alison Nation: But if you walk out onto the North Lawn and look into the museum through the glass, you get a wonderful long perspective and can see it in a different way, so… Stace Treat: And that’s definitely part of the brilliance of our architecture. Alison Nation: It’s true. Stace Treat: That we can see so many works of art in different ways because of the glass and the reflections and all that stuff. Alison Nation: So true. Stace Treat: Wow. Okay. That was really cool. I’m still here sitting here thinking about that piece now. I’m like, wow, you described it really well. It’s so good. Alison Nation: You know, I wrote it down on an envelope in my bag that day at the lecture, and I came to work the next day and I saw Rod Bigelow in the break room, our Executive Director, and I said, “Rod! Ursula said … like Ursula, like I know her… The artist said she uses this process because it gives her the chance to make more decisions.” And as the executive director, I think it was just fun to talk to him about it and just sort of share that concept, because even… working in the museum and we see art all the time, we take it for granted. We appreciate these are artists and the art they’ve made, but we forget how this is their life and their brains and their years of research and efforts being poured into this one thing that just sits here quietly, and people walk past it in three seconds. Alison Nation: And so, it reminds me we have an event coming up in April called Slow Art Day. Stace Treat: Oh, yeah. Slow Art Day. Alison Nation: And the point of Slow Art Day is to stop and look. And so, I’d encourage anyone that wants to think about that, how many decisions an artist is making to arrive at this final piece, to come out that day. Stace Treat: Well, that’s great, and yeah, you did such a beautiful description of that piece that I hope people come and look at it and think about it unraveling. Alison Nation: Unraveling. Stace Treat: All right, well, thanks very much for being on our podcast, Alison, and thanks for 10 years. Congrats. Alison Nation: Oh, thank you. It’s an honor to be here. Stace Treat: Thanks for tuning in to Museum Way. We hope you enjoyed the episode and tune in each month to hear more. Head over to our social media channels and leave a question or comment about what you’d like to hear on future episodes. If you’d like to see images of any of the artists and artworks mentioned in today’s episode, head over to crystalbridges.org and check out our blog. I’m Stace Treat and I’ll catch you next month, right here on Museum Way. See all episodes here! Crystal Bridges Interpretation Manager Stace Treat is the host of Museum Way. Subscribe to be the first to listen, and head over to our social media channels to let us know what you’d like to hear on future episodes.