SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW: CAROLINE NELSON

Caroline Nelson: Executive Director's Assistant and Researcher, The Estate of David Smith

New York City

WFU Class of 2013 

Major: Art History

Minor: Psychology

 

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Caroline Nelson graduated Wake Forest University with a major in Art History and minor in Psychology. After graduation she found herself interning at the Bruce Museum. She later pursued her Master's at the Courtauld  Institute of Art in London. Caroline is now based in New York City doing wonderful things at the Estate of David Smith. We recently spoke to Caroline about her love for the arts, her career path, and  her advice to young art history majors. 

 

Note: Since conducting the interview, the Estate of David Smith has seen a number of changes, including Caroline being promoted to Exhibition Manager, in addition to remaining a researcher for the Catalogue Raisonné.

 

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?

Caroline Nelson: I was an Art History major. I was initially pre-med, but by the end of Sophomore year, it had become pretty clear to me that my heart wasn’t really in it. My whole family is very science oriented. Veering off this path was not without its challenges, but certainly worth it in the end. I distinctly remember emailing Morna O’Neill from my bed in Piccolo my second year, desperately trying to get into what would eventually be the first Art History class I took at Wake - except it had begun weeks before. After some discussion, she let me in the class, and her support has proved incredibly influential ever since. After doing an independent study with her my junior year on 18th and 19th-century art, which also tied in with an exhibition mounted at the Reynolda House, I decided to pursue an honors thesis on John Constable prints. Because Morna was on sabbatical, though, I ended up working with Jay Curley as my advisor. His own interests and modernist insights led to new sources in my research and pushed me to think in ways I hadn’t before.

Despite all of this, I really had no idea what I wanted to do once I graduated. I wasn’t ready to go directly on to grad school. Looking back, I think I got pretty lucky. I didn’t apply to very many jobs, didn’t have a very strong sense of direction, but ended up landing a 9-month residence internship at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT. It was a broad role, maybe a little more directed toward curatorial type stuff. It was paid so was more like a job than an internship. It was a great experience. Just being up north, I was able to go to New York on the weekends and get further immersed in art. I am from West Virginia and have always been attracted to the city, but that hasn’t been my background.

Once I was “in” the art world, I realized that I wanted, as well as needed, another degree. That fall, I applied to a number of different Master's programs and a few PhD programs. I eventually chose to attend the Courtauld because they had a class specifically on late 18th / early 19th century British Art. I had studied abroad in London and fallen in love with it. It wasn’t a difficult decision to go back. I was a one year program as opposed to two, which ended up being a love-hate thing in a way. It was incredibly difficult and demanding. The Courtauld is sort of like Wake in that it prioritizes interacting and discussion based classes over lecture, but also required a lot of independent study, especially since everything was being consolidated into a shorter time frame. But I have absolutely no regrets about it.

What I ideally wanted to do was stay in London and try to find a job relating to the early modern British art I had been immersed in for almost a year. But I wasn’t able to balance looking for jobs while I was still in school, so I waited until after I turned in my dissertation, which left me with very little time to find something before my visa expired. It was a difficult market to break into anyway, especially for an American. So I moved back home to West Virginia, and I tried to make the most of it. I was there for about six months, and I got a job working as a secretary for a state senator. This was not entirely in line with anything I had done up until that point, but a lot of the skills that I sharpened there are completely applicable to any job, and definitely my job now. There is also a small museum in Charleston called the Clay Center, and as far as art goes, that’s pretty much it. I emailed the curator, Arif Khan, and worked with him a bit in addition to my job at the capitol. Most of it was exhibition research and I wrote some wall text. I got a stipend which was nice. Arif was a very positive influence and the opportunity helped to keep me motivated to continue applying to art jobs.

DL: Would you mind telling me more about what you're doing at the Estate of David Smith?

CN: All of this time, I never thought I wanted to be in New York. But I realized that if I wasn’t going to be in London, and if I wanted to truly take a stab at the art world, it’s where I really needed to be. It’s where the jobs are. On the NYFA website, I found this position at the Estate of David Smith, which is half administrative (I am the Executive Director’s assistant) and half research-based.

Working with modern sculpture is a huge jump from 18th/19th century British painting. I have learned so much since I started, though, and I have been here a little over a year now. I do a lot of outreach. We are represented by the gallery Hauser and Wirth. We have a big exhibition opening next month, and that’s been taking up a lot of my time. The other part of my job is geared toward an updated catalogue raisonne on Smith’s sculpture, which is projected to be released in full in 2021 I think, but our first deadline is also next month.

DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?

CN: I got an internship at the Weatherspoon in Greensboro the summer before my senior year. But I really think Morna and Jay were the biggest influences for me as mentors. They were always encouraging but at the same time very realistic about this field. The relationship I had and continue to have with them is why I wanted to go somewhere like Wake Forest. My friends at bigger schools never had these kinds of interactions with professors - especially beyond graduation. Both have written me recommendations and given me a wealth of advice. It’s something I am continuously thankful for.

DL: How have you found the different jobs you've had?

CN: I found my current job on NYFA. That seems to be the way to go. When I was looking, that was the best source. In terms of Wake, the career center helped me tweak my CV, but there wasn’t anything specific set up as far as helping students go about navigating the art world. There was really no way to know about all of the different niches and things you can do with an art history degree.

DL: How do you like living in New York? What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a career in the city?

CN: It was definitely an adjustment. And there are still times where I can’t believe I live here. It is a nonstop place. But you have so much right at your fingertips. It’s almost the opposite problem of a small town like home: it can be a little too much at times. Still, I feel like for someone in the arts in their 20s this is an amazing place. Networking is important and I’d even say essential for finding a job here. My advice to anyone thinking of moving here would be: It doesn't hurt to reach out. Most people were in your same position when they first moved here. Keep pushing yourself to meet and connect with new people. Most people are really receptive.

DL:  What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?

CN: Maybe a new class or even a whole career center for the arts. Something that allows you to feel a little more supported. I think it was my junior or senior year, Jay organized an arts field trip to Richmond one weekend. Things like that get you excited. Wake can be a bubble, and students need to get out and see art in the real world. Students should be encouraged to look beyond the gates of campus. It might make more people feel like a career in the arts is actually doable. Art can be boring when you’re just looking at it in a book or on a projector. Seeing things in person can make a huge difference.

DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?

CN: Something I struggled with in my transition to art from the pre-med path I had assumed I would follow was acceptance, both inner and outer. A big part of me found it difficult to seriously consider an academic pursuit (let alone a future career) focused on a subject I not only genuinely enjoyed, but one that many others also seemed to believe to be for enjoyment only. While this is something I admit I still occasionally wrestle with, I think much of this doubt is based in mere stereotype. This is a field that can be both extremely fun and extremely rigorous. Not everyone will understand what exactly it is that you're doing, but some will occasionally give you the opportunity to show them. I really do believe that if you are invested in what you're doing, the rest will follow.

 

 

 

Spotlight Interview: Phil Archer

Phil Archer: Program & Interpretation Director, Reynolda House

Winston-Salem, NC
WFU Class of 1995
Major: English
Minor: Philosophy

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Phil Archer speaks to us from Reynolda House, where he serves as Director of Program & Interpretation. Although he joined the museum immediately after graduation, Phil did break up his undergrad experience to live in Australia for a spell. We asked him to regale us with the story of his journey at and after Wake.

 

DeacLink: Tell us about your current role at Reynolda House, and what it entails.

Phil Archer: The title is the Betsy Main Babcock Director of Program and Interpretation. It’s a lot to say, and actually Tava Smiley while interviewing on her show said, ‘You Wake Forest people need to shorten your titles!’ My position is endowed with a gift from the Babcock family, hence the name.

I supervise the exhibitions that the museum presents, and the way we tell stories based on American art and the historic site. It’s a hybrid museum which tell both stories side by side to a diverse range of audiences. This can span from the general public to school groups, to our university audience and more. 

DL: How did you come to this position since leaving wake?

PA: I technically went straight into a job with Reynolda House upon graduating. Although I entered as part of the class of ‘95, my family moved to Melbourne, Australia midway through undergrad. I chose to take time off and make the most of that opportunity, coming back to graduate in 2003. 

I had a brief stopover working in the campus bookstore before the Reynolda House position, which is common among English majors. I had a former professor and mentor Edwin Wilson, who was on the board of the museum and also knew Nick Bragg (WFU ‘58). They knew a lot of what I did extracurricularly could translate and continue in a museum setting a Reynolda House, and that I wanted to keep learning and be productive. I started in a different role but soon got into public programming presenting poets, musical performances, and theater at Reynolda. 

I also did a graduate degree in management at Wake’s business school which was very useful for me. Another important mentor in this time was John Anderson, Calloway’s vice president for finance and administration. He said that although I wanted to do non profit, the managerial training would be largely beneficial. I completed that degree in 2006 and moved from public programs into the director of the division in 2016, so my current role is still very new to me.

DL: What changes have you seen take place since coming on board at Reynolda?

PA: The biggest project I worked on was our expansion, with the addition of Babcock Wing which opened in 2005. We didn’t have a head curator at the time and I was appointed by the board and John Anderson to be the owners’ rep for the museum on that project. For a few years I worked with the architects in New York and the contractors in Winston, liaising between staff, board members and builders. I had to ensure everyone’s dreams for the building and its various educational and program spaces came true. 

Since the expansion we’ve been bringing in exhibitions from large metropolitan scale institutions, like the recent Georgia O’Keeffe show. We had to get creative with our space constraints, and presented the 190 objects throughout the rooms of the historic house. It broke every crowd visitation record which was really positive. The size of exhibitions we can bring in or generate ourselves has changed which is really exciting.

Lastly, a big change that’s still happening has been uniting the garden, village and house in their storytelling. For the visitor from Ohio passing through on her way down to Myrtle Beach, we want the story to be a single piece as she goes throughout. There’s more unity around visitor experience now, and the interpretation of the history makes the village a place that isn’t just pretty, but somewhere you can still learn from while having lunch, for example.

DL: How did your time as a Wake undergrad shape or drive your career path?

PA: I was very active extracurricularly, so my time creating projects and events with classmates and mentors was very influential. A group of us students revived this 19th-century debate society under the leadership of Joy Goodwin, forming an interdisciplinary arts club. We had film screenings, festivals, readings, and created a journal for essays and creative writing. I also worked on Wake’s student magazine and helped with a humor mag called ‘Jambalaya’.  

I was also part of a group who started this house on Polo Road which was a pretty special place. We had cookouts, living room concerts, painted murals on the walls and built treehouses. Interestingly it wasn’t all arts majors- for some reason a lot of biology majors! It sort of balanced their lives between schoolwork and home life, and gave us this creative environment to live in together. We had a slightly bohemian existence but of course kept up with our homework, too.

DL: What is the creative and cultural scene like in Winston right now?

PA: The repurposing of the old factory buildings downtown is really exciting. Innovation Quarter and Wake’s downtown campus are adding a lot to the area. Seeing all of these reclaimed buildings and the park spaces in between, you get the feeling it’ll lead to more restaurants and galleries which are both blossoming scenes already. We lost some performance spaces downtown but with the incoming student presence and the professors on campus, this aspect will make a resurgence as well.

DL: What’s the best piece of advice you can think to pass on, or currently go by?

PA: There’s an Eleanor Roosevelt quote that goes, ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’. I think this applies to so many different things. We are all susceptible to the contagion of others’ enthusiasm… we all have our own dreams. So instead of trying to convince others to share theirs, just believe in your own and through that it might inspire others to follow suit. You have to make your fascination contagious to other people.

Spotlight Interview: Abby Bauman

Abby Bauman: Former Proposals Writer

New York City

Former Writer for Proposals Department, Christie’s New York
WFU Class of 2009
Major: Art History
Double Minor: Economics & Studio Art

Abby Bauman has enjoyed a winding path since graduating in 2009. Starting in PR, on to a development role at DC's National Gallery of Art, and joining Christie's New York in 2012, Abby reflects on her journey and shares the advice she's gathered along the way.

*At the time of the interview, Abby was based in New York. She’s since moved to San Francisco and is a Marketing Specialist for Gensler.

DeacLink: What did you study at Wake? How has your career unfolded since?
Abby Bauman: At Wake, I was an Art History major with minors in Economics and Studio Art. I hadn’t really taken any art history classes before my 20th century art history class, but then became very interested in pursuing it further. 
 
In school, I interned at the Reynolda House with Kathleen Hutton in the Education department. I also did an internship at the Morgan Library in New York before my senior year, which I found through networking. 

I graduated in 2009, right after the economy crashed, so I had a difficult time finding roles in the art world. I wanted to get experience outside of the art world so I interned at a PR firm in Maryland, where I wrote press releases and media alerts. I later moved to DC and interned at a bigger PR firm called Fleishman Hillard. Soon after I started, I was offered a position in the Development Department at the National Gallery of Art in February 2010- my dream job!

At the NGA, I was a development assistant in the membership group and later transitioned into organizing events for the membership group. I learned so much about being a professional, and being surrounded by such smart, academic people was inspiring. I worked there for a little under three years.

In the summer of 2012 I started networking in NYC and was able to connect with a few people at Christie’s. One thing led to another and I landed my current role in the Proposals Department, where I’ve been since October 2012.
 
DL: Would you mind telling me about what you're doing at Christie’s?
AB: I have been in the same department since I joined - I work in the proposals department, which falls under the marketing umbrella. My team does business development. We work with specialists and other “business getters” to put together formal pitch documents to try and persuade people to consign their property with Christie’s. My department becomes involved when a piece of business is very valuable and competitive with another auction house or dealer. I started as a Junior Proposals Writer and now I am a Writer. I put together extensive proposal documents, presentations for pitch meetings and do basic tasks like formatting letters when timing is tight. And we do projects on a bigger scale for big pitches, like bespoke boxes. Because our business is art, design is so important. The presentations we make are beautiful. Sometimes we have crazy quick turnarounds or we have month to work on a project. We are often pitching to estates or to individual clients, and we do this for jewelry, furniture, art, etc. We work with every art specialist department at Christie’s. Every day and client is different... It is really exciting and very fast paced.
 
DL: How much did your time at Wake inform your career path?
AB: Once I started hitting the ground running with my major, I knew this was something I was interested in and excited by. I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. However, in college, I was mostly focused on how to do well in school. The longer I was involved in my art history classes, the more I came to realize I could turn my interest into a career.

Senior year I was fortunate to be a part of the art buying trip, and that introduced me to the gallery world. I was able to see the sorts of art world jobs that were possible, whereas before it was much more vague in my mind. In retrospect I wish I had thought a bit harder about how the art world was impacted by the economic downturn while I was on the buying trip. But regardless, I was interested in the business side of the arts, and I felt like there was so much to be learned. In school I didn’t seriously consider going to graduate school right away but thought it could happen down the line.
 
DL:  What do you think is the hardest part about breaking into the auction house world?
AB: Auction houses are a relatively small industry, with only a few major international players, which means that positions at every level are highly sought-after and very competitive. 
 
I remember reaching out to galleries and not necessarily knowing how to communicate with people in the art world. It’s pretty intimidating. I didn’t break into the commercial side of the art world when I first graduated, and it was so hard to make headway. Getting someone to respond to you is just really hard. Because of that, my best advice is to network. That’s the only way I found any of my jobs. When networking, you need to be persistent and gracious. Remember that the people you contact are taking time out of their schedule to talk to you. Also, be humble about what you want. And always follow-up with a thank you note!
 
DL: Do the auction house masters programs help you get jobs with the institution after graduation?
AB: I don’t think it can hurt. From my own experience, I found that I was able to learn everything on the job. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been useful. The masters programs certainly help, but it’s not necessary for many entry-level roles. However, if your end goal is to become a specialist, a master’s degree at some point is likely necessary. 
 
DL:  What advice do you have for students considering a move to New York?
AB: Really focus on cultivating the relationships you have. Networking is hard, but it is so important. I think that New York can be very overwhelming. Because of that, make sure you are ready to hustle. Develop a strong network of people, and put your head down and be ready to really focus on your job. In New York, everyone in every industry works long hours. Also, it is pretty expensive, so make sure you are okay with eating pasta. It gets better though!
 
DL: What do you think Wake arts could do to better prepare students for life after graduation?
AB: From what I can see, I think that Wake is already doing a much better job. Between the different treks and the buying trip – these experiences really open peoples’ eyes. When I was there, I didn’t feel like I had a great sense of what kinds of jobs were possible for an art history major. But in recent years I’ve been very impressed with all of the efforts WFU has gone to to encourage students to learn about potential career paths. 
 
Also, resumes you submit for art jobs are different than what you prepare in business school. We work in a visually focused business, so it means something to have the awareness to do that with the materials you submit. That’s one bit of advice I didn’t get while I was there. Lastly, the art world is small, and the school should help more with making introductions to alums, but now we have DeacLink!
 
DL: What's the best kernel of advice you can think to pass on to current students and recent alums?
AB: I wish I had taken the time to get to know my professors better. Current students shouldn’t be afraid to meet with professors and show engagement and interest. The professors know so much and will help and be there for you. They know a lot about the art world. That is a huge thing. With that in mind, it’s also important to stay in touch with your professors and fellow students. They will be a good resource.
 
Also, I really didn’t start doing this until the buying trip, but stay engaged with what’s going on in art world. Make sure you know about the big gallery and museum shows. You can do this by reading the big art world publications. As an applicant, you will be quite impressive if you know what’s going on in New York all of the way from North Carolina.
 
DL: What's next for you?
AB: Christie’s has been a great place for me, and I’d love to stay here for a while. However, I absolutely would love to spend some time abroad. That has always been a goal of mine. Maybe London? I think my interest to continue to lie in business development. Right now, I am not in a client facing role, but instead work in an internal department. As the art market evolves, so do my interests, but I think I will stay in the art world in some capacity throughout my career.