Saturday, September 5, 2009

Memoir of a museum

Our new book A Museum of Their Own: National Museum of Women in the Arts is an interesting blend of books. It is a behind-the-scenes account of how art museums raise funds, plan exhibits and acquire pieces for the collection. It is a coffee-table book full of color images of the various statues, paintings, photographs, vessels, pottery and textiles that have been exhibited at the museum. It is also a brief autobiography of the driving force behind the creation of said museum, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay.
Her first experience with causes and fundraising was as a young mother, when she launched a campaign to construct a new building for the private school her daughter attended (don't be surprised to find the book liberally sprinkled with references to politicians, diplomats, art patrons, corporate executives and First Ladies - you have to operate in a certain level of Society to create a national museum). A part-time job in the gift shop of the National Gallery stirred her interest in art, and she began to be more interested in the work of female artists, slowly accumulating her own private collection.
For a while, her collection was open to public viewing in her own residence, with a docent leading tours. In 1987, however, years of fundraising paid off and the National Museum of Women Artists opened its doors to the public. Twenty-two years later, the museum is continuing to expand its collection and to preserve and display the artwork of many talented women, from 17th-century painters & 18th-century silversmiths to the Broadway costumes of Julie Taymor.
This is a very interesting book, and a good inspiration for anyone who is trying to champion an artistic or intellectual cause of their own. (New library building, anyone?)

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