A Day in the Life of Art Museum Curator, Shirley Reece-Hughes

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art curator shares what it takes to land the dream job

With a gallery renovation set to begin in October and a slew of new exhibits in the works, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art is a happenin’ spot. And, in the middle of it all is Shirley Reece-Hughes, the mastermind behind the museum’s collection of paintings and sculptures.

Even after nearly a decade as a curator at the Amon Carter, Reece-Hughes says she still has to pinch herself when she walks out of her office into the museum’s galleries — although, she admits, her work isn’t always glamorous. She stopped by the Fort Worth Magazine office to tell us all about it.

Q. You seem to have the “dream job” that many young art students aspire to have someday. What’s the secret to making it?
A. It is my dream job. My belief is, get in there and get any experience you can, whether it’s working in a gallery, whether it’s finding a volunteer position at a museum, volunteering in a curatorial department if that’s your passion, or offering to volunteer in the education department. Really get your foot in the door, because the jobs are so few and far between. Plus, you understand, it is a dream job and sounds ideal, but there are a lot of day-to-day, minutiae details that require a lot of attention and aren’t as glamorous as some people might think.

Q. What aspects of the job are not-so-glamorous?
A. It involves so much deep research. For example, I did an exhibition on Valton Tyler. I looked at over 400 paintings. I was critically picking, and I think we ended up with 12 paintings total.

Q. What’s your job like on a typical day?
A. It always involves answering emails, attending at least one or more meetings, walking through the galleries to check on any necessary art movements, and carving out time, if possible, for reading and research related to future exhibitions. Since we are in the midst of planning for the reinstallation of the permanent collection, I am exploring new themes and ways to present the 20th-century collection of art.

Q. What types of work would you like to see more of at the Amon Carter?
A. The goal is to diversify the art experience for our visitors and potentially allocate certain spaces for contemporary artists to create installations — like we did with the atrium, where the Gabriel Dawe [a piece made from more than 80 miles of multicolored thread] is installed.

Q. The Amon Carter is also getting a redo soon. What can we expect?
A. We are changing up the presentation of the collection in a way that hasn’t been done before. The galleries upstairs currently have a chronological flow of artworks; we’re going to disrupt that flow and create thematic galleries that enable our visitors to look at the collection in a new light. I can’t reveal too much, but there’s going to be some very exciting dynamics going on. We’re looking more at the relationship between historic and contemporary artists.

Q. Are you an artist yourself?
A. I was a painter and started out in college as a fashion design major, but that quickly changed when I realized my passion lies in studying art history.

Q. Why art history over fashion?
A. [In fashion design], you have to be great at sewing, which I wasn’t. I found art history my senior year, and I just fell in love with it.

Q. Big question: Looking at the city of Fort Worth as a whole, how would you say the art scene is changing?
A. It feels livelier and more open to a diversity of art and artists. Local galleries seem to be providing more opportunities for emerging talent and established artists, like Sedrick Huckaby and Gabriel Dawe, two artists we’ve featured at Amon Carter and have gained national reputations. I’m also struck by the variety of exhibitions available in Fort Worth. 

Q. Which Fort Worth artist should we be keeping an eye on?
A. There’s such a wealth of talent in the city; it’s difficult to identify only one artist. I’d have to give you a long list!


 

1. The American Century: Art and Culture by Barbara Haskell. Shirley’s go-to resource for information on 20th-century art and culture.
2. Notebook. The cover reads “Ideas Within,” and inside is exactly that.
3. Hat. To shield from the Texas heat.
4. Reconfiguring Modernism by Daniel R. Schwarz. Her other go-to book, for early modernism.
5. Green tea. It’s what gets her through the day.
6. Phone. Shirley’s whole “life is on the phone.” Here, she saves photos of collections from art collectors’ homes.
7. Laptop. It “has my entire art history life on it,” Shirley says
8. Peppermints.