Behind the Scenes of an Exhibition

In August 2015 I–along with my colleagues Michelle Harrell, acting director of education, and Karlie Marlowe, digital marketing manager–had the opportunity to join NCMA curator John Coffey on a research trip to Appledore Island for the special exhibition American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals.

This is noteworthy because usually only the curators creating an exhibition make these types of research trips. The curator of the exhibition leads the way in researching the works of art and communicates the big ideas of the exhibition to the rest of the Museum, so the various departments can begin working on their projects to support the exhibition. This time, as a team, we were able to help shape the narrative and better inform our educational and marketing programs with a deeper understanding of Hassam and the Isles of Shoals.

Our team spent three days rock scrambling and exploring the island starting on:

Day 1: Midafternoon, arrived on Appledore by boat, along with approximately 25 K—12 teachers using the island for a marine biology workshop. Took a quick walking tour of the island, which is 92 acres (about half the size of the NCMA Park). In the evening, strategically planned Day 2 with a team from our coorganizers, the Peabody Essex Museum, who were also on the island capturing footage.

Day 2: Got up at sunrise to capture sunrise and mimic Hassam’s Sunrise painting. Spent entire day capturing other Hassam painting spots with the help of John Coffey and former director of Shoals Marine Lab, Hal Weeks. We were literally walking in Hassam’s footsteps as we traversed the island and sat, in possibly, the exact same spots he painted from. Interviewed Hal as well as former NCMA curatorial fellow Laura Fravel about Hassam, on a gazebo overlooking the Atlantic at dusk.

Day 3: Woken at 6 am by the thousands of screaming seagulls that inhabit the island. [The ambient seagull sound in the exhibition gallery is taken from the shores of Appledore.] Visited the last remaining evidence of the Pepperrell home from the 17th century. Ventured out to the farthest corners of the island to view Smuttynose and Star Island.

We departed Appledore in the afternoon with hundreds of photos, hours of interviews, and ample ideas to shape programming for the exhibition. After our trip, our combined experience helped shape the Expedition Wall (on view in the atrium outside American Impressionist), which provides further interpretation about Hassam and the island of Appledore. The evidence and impact of our trip is in the numerous blog posts on Circa, creative social media posts, innovative student and teacher programs, and a deeper sense of collaboration among our teams.

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