Meet Anne Witty and Amanda Skinner of the Museum of Art Staff
The Bowdoin College Museum of Art is excited to have added Anne Witty and Amanda Skinner to its staff. Hired last winter—just before COVID-19 closed the BCMA’s galleries to the public—Anne and Amanda’s term appointments are made possible by a major two-year grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a Washington D.C.-based independent federal agency. The BCMA received this award, together with the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, in order to rehouse a portion of its collection in a new storage facility and to catalogue and store two recently-acquired archival collections: the Archival Collection of Marion Boulton Stroud and Acadia Summer Arts Program, Mt. Desert Island, Maine, a large group of contemporary art works gifted to the BCMA by the Estate of Marion Boulton “Kippy” Stroud and a second collection comprising the visual art archive of the influential modernist Walter Pach in addition to paintings by his wife Magdalene Frohberg Pach, donated by the gallerist and scholar Francis M. Naumann and his wife Marie T. Keller. In a recent interview transcribed below, Anne and Amanda speak with co-directors Anne Collins Goodyear and Frank Goodyear about their work assisting with this project.
Anne and Amanda are talented museum professionals, though they are also involved in their own creative projects. Anne has worked previously at Maine Maritime Museum, Mystic Seaport Museum, and the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. She is also an acclaimed historian and poet with an M.A. in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program at the University of Delaware. During the period of the grant, she has been assisting with registrarial duties under the direction of BCMA registrar and collections manager Laura Latman. Amanda has worked in museums in a variety of capacities since her days as an undergraduate at the University of Maine. At the BCMA, she is working as an art handler alongside BCMA staff members José Ribas and Jo Hluska. Amanda is also an artist and is currently teaching classes at the Maine College of Art and the University of New England.
Below are excerpts from a conversation conducted on December 10, 2020.
Anne Collins Goodyear (ACG): Could I ask you each to tell us about your intellectual and personal backgrounds, and what it was that drew you to this opportunity to become involved with the BCMA?
Anne Witty (AW): For me, this project has been an opportunity to use my existing skills and experience in the museum world—and to pursue my love of cataloging. I know that sounds really nerdy, but I’ve always loved to work hands-on with objects and it’s been exciting to extend my historical, anthropological, and art experience into the realm of contemporary art. It seemed like exactly the perfect thing to be doing at the perfect time.
Amanda Skinner (AS): I have always loved the BCMA. It has long been one of my favorite museums, especially the ancient collection. When I saw the job posting for the art handling position, I was really intrigued, as my background is in art history, and I enjoy also working hands-on with original art objects. It has been really magical to get to know the collection of Kippy Stroud. There’s something very intimate about working with somebody's life work.
Frank Goodyear (FG): Can you tell us what you been doing at the museum? What are the steps you take in processing a work of art that is new to the collection?
AW: This is a very hands-on project. The collection we are working with has about 630 different works, so Amanda and I have formed a strike team that complements the work of the registrar and the art handlers. My role is to examine, measure, and assess the condition of every object—also to photograph it, to complete the online database cataloging for that object, and to help with all of the miscellaneous tasks, including downloading photographs, keeping track of locations, and filing additional materials that come with the works. I also research details, check spelling and dates, and confirm the work’s medium. Amanda and I work side by side and her role is slightly different, but they complement each other.
FG: Amanda, do you want to expand on that or share any other details about that work?
AS: My role in the project is more on the physical side. What I usually do is to unpack each object and then after Anne finishes the assessment and cataloguing, I will work to determine what the best solution for conservation and storage should be. It could be a simple mylar envelope or an archival box. My determination for the creation of long-term storage solutions is based on our collective assessment of each specific object, including its materiality, dimensionality, age, and physical condition. In other words, every housing decision and solution is customized and reflects methodical consideration of the object at hand.
AW: The fun part is when we team up on such things as identifying the work’s medium or discussing conservation issues. This is an area where Amanda’s experience as an artist and her knowledge of materials and techniques has been absolutely invaluable to the project. We put our heads together often over the same work of art, and we also like to share our favorite works from the day.
FG: How would you characterize these works as a collection? Have there been any memorable discoveries or surprises?
AS: I would classify this collection as mostly contemporary art works, though there have been a few outliers. Most of the works in the collection were created within the past fifty years. It seems that Kippy Stroud was extremely supportive of a range of different artists. In the collection there tends to be a lot of work created by traditionally underrepresented groups such as women and BIPOC artists.
AW: Many of the artists represented in the collection came to Maine for residencies at the Acadia Summer Arts Program, the program on Mount Desert Island that Stroud ran. As such, there is a certain emphasis on the landscape and the seascape of Maine. As Amanda said, she championed under-represented artists, some of whom came to Maine for the first time and found themselves excited by their surroundings. For me, some of the great surprises as a curator who has leaned in the past toward history, anthropology, and maritime life has been Stroud’s collecting of photographs—both contemporary and historic. There are works by Alfred Stieglitz that date from the 1880s and 1890s, as well as works from the recent past that have a very different aesthetic. It’s interesting to see the evolution of the photographic medium through this collection.
ACG: Both of you have your own creative endeavors away from the museum. Could you reflect on your own practice and let us know more about what you enjoy about working with original works by other artists? How has this work impacted your own creative practices?
AW: My creative endeavors tend to involve words. I weave them into poetry and essays. For me, this project has been an excellent opportunity to consider the conjunction of words and the visual arts. Many of the artists in the collection incorporate words as part of their compositions. I am interested in how words can add power or whimsy or personality to an artwork. I have taken direct inspiration from works that employ words as a substrate. In the nineteenth century, thrifty letter writers might write an entire sheet of paper, then turn it ninety degrees and fill it going in a second direction. Ian Duncan, one of the artists in this collection, has done something similar with text and colored pencil, a technique I have been experimenting with just for fun. Robert Kushner has used old documents as an element of an oil painting, another technique I find intriguing. Overall, I’m inspired by the range of vision represented in the art works in this collection, from scientific depiction of birds and animals to landscapes and seascapes to completely abstract mixed-media collages.
AS: My background tends to be more in the visual arts. My work is usually two-dimensional—either drawing or painting. One of the things that I have been reflecting on is how art works and objects take on new meaning after they leave an artist’s studio and how that new meaning is constructed based on the context in which the object ends up. For example, all of these objects exist on their own, but when seen together as a collection, new meaning is created.
ACG: I know that you are now coming to the conclusion of the Stroud material. I wondered if you might say anything about what’s next.
AW: There are quite a few loose ends to complete on the Stroud collection. But then we are going to get into the Walter Pach Collection in a few months. It has been nice building a rapport with Amanda, as we each bring different strengths to looking at these objects. We have enjoyed the chance to share our reflections with each other. That has been an incredibly rewarding part of this project.