The Curator Who Makes Quilts
Haggerty Museum curator of education Lynne Shumow has devoted her career to the arts.
Lynne Shumow is a tad reticent. She won’t say what year she was born, but it was on Christmas Eve in Milwaukee. She went to Bayside School and then Nicolet High before receiving her BA in Art History (UW-Milwaukee 1989), and progressing to grad school for more training in art history.
One step at a time. And then another. And another. A life is not shaped in a day.
Like the quilts she makes (and mostly gives to others), her career is a carefully crafted patchwork of diverse experiences, beginning with a family trip to Washington DC, at age 8. “I remember going to the National Gallery and walking into a room of Old Master paintings and being completely overwhelmed,” she says.
She still has the book she got for the show. “I thought it was so cool that there was a take-away gallery guide with images of the paintings”
Her best childhood friend was Debbie Koss, whose family owned the Koss headphone company. Shumow spent a lot of time at the Koss family home, a home filled with music and all sorts of “amazing equipment and new technologies, both audio and visual. It made a real impression on me,” she recalls.
Though she’s always liked making things (her mother is an accomplished knitter), Shumow never aspired to be an artist. She decide to take art classes in college, “knowing I had no talent as an artist, but there wasn’t anything else I was truly interested in.” Once she took an art history class, “that was it. I basically took all art history classes from there on out.”
She’s pieced together a life in the arts, preferring to stay out of the limelight and focus on collaborative work from her tiny office behind the coat check in the Haggerty Museum at Marquette University. As the curator of education, she is able to use her extensive experiences: six years as an intern at the Milwaukee Art Museum until she got a “real job,” as a curatorial assistant in MAM’s now defunct Cudahy Gallery (where the focus was work by Wisconsin artists), plus seven years in Sheboygan’s John Michael Kohler Arts Center, where she labored as the Arts/Industry Coordinator for their international residency program.
She’s been at the Haggerty Museum for 13 years, collaborating with faculty, students, artists, and other institutions ( including UWM and MIAD), and various organizations on a regular basis. “We don’t have a fine arts program at Marquette,” she says, “ so what I’m most often doing is using art to talk about history, theology, philosophy, language. It’s art for education’s sake, more than art for art’s sake.” She’s also taught semester-long classes for Marquette’s Honors program, in tandem with Dr. Deidre Dempsey from Theology. Dr. Dempsey does the theology and Shumow does the art and art history, drawing on both current exhibitions at the Haggerty, and work from its permanent collection.
During the seven years she worked for the Kohler, she commuted every day to and from Sheboygan, from the East Side coach house where’s she’s resided for almost 25 years on a month-to-month lease. “I had to go through an interview process with the owners of “the big house,” she says. “There were a number of people who wanted to rent the place, but the owners (both were in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra) decided on me, because I was in the arts.”
In the morning (before going for a daily run along the lakeshore) she wakes in a bedroom with one wall completely covered with Sharpie drawings by her friend, Austrian artist, Heimo Wallner, who decided to surprise her with cartoonish characters engaged in “over-the-top behavior.” The bulk of her art collection is contemporary, but two prints she especially favors are from the early 1900s, culled from her grandparent’s house. Each contains an image of an English racehorse, and each has a red leather bridle attached to the frame.
She also values a drawing by a student from Golda Meir School who came to the Haggerty for a workshop. Shumow commissioned the student to produce a drawing, and received not one, but six animal renderings. She selected three, and last year received an email from the “artist,” saying he had gotten into Ronald Reagan High School and wanted to thank her for taking an interest in his art.
She’s kept just two of her handmade quilts, and given the rest away. When quilting, she doesn’t follow a pattern. “I just make it up and figure it out as I go,” she says.