Connect with Sheldon

by Jonathan Frederick Walz, Curator of American Art at Sheldon Museum of Art

When students ask me, “So what exactly does a curator do?” I tell them a curator manages an ever-changing collection, much like a librarian—or even a zookeeper. A curator does research to ensure that the collection is displayed in an innovative, relevant and engaging way. Curators, like artists, make creative decisions that define the collection and help museumgoers see it in a new way. But most importantly, I tell them, a curator is someone who makes connections: between different artworks; between people and ideas; between the museum and its surrounding community. A curator is someone who facilitates relationships.

During my ten years of graduate work studying the history of American art, the Sheldon Museum of Art hovered squarely on my radar. (I specialize in objects from the first quarter of the twentieth century.) Exhibition catalogues I consulted for my papers, articles I read for exams, internet searches for my dissertation––all confirmed that the University of Nebraska–Lincoln housed stellar examples American art. Highly-prized Berlin-era canvas by Marsden Hartley: check. A rare tempera from Provincetown by Charles Demuth: check. One of only a dozen skyscraper images by Georgia O’Keeffe: check.

Sheldon Museum of Art, University Of Nebraska Lincoln Sheldon Museum of Art Sheldon Museum of ArtAccepting the position of curator of American Art at Sheldon seems like winning the lottery. But it gets better. When I arrived at the University in mid-April, I immediately began to familiarize myself with the museum’s broad holdings––and soon realized that iconic works by the early twentieth-century avant-garde were just the tip of the iceberg. As I tabbed through entries in the database, my eyes got bigger and bigger; every so often I would utter an exclamation of wonder and excitement. Constantin Brancusi? Helen Frankenthaler? Dorothea Lange? Jacob Lawrence? Wow!

One of my favorite discoveries involved Karl von Piloty’s oil painting, Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, created in 1882. In 1888 visitors each paid fifty cents to view the work displayed in the federal courtroom of Lincoln’s former post office building. Almost one hundred years later, the picture returned to Lincoln permanently, thanks to the generosity of one Mrs. William Haussner. Coincidentally enough, this donor was also the proprietor of Haussner’s Restaurant, an eatery located across the street from my grandparents’ home in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland.

But you don’t have to have studied art history to find interesting ways to connect with—and at—Sheldon. The museum building, a masterpiece of design by renowned architect Philip Johnson, provides a beautiful forum where all kinds of objects, ideas, and people intersect daily. Selections from the outstanding permanent collection rotate at recurring intervals and present opportunities for aesthetic reflection and engaged discussion. The museum participates in Lincoln’s First Friday gallery walks, with food for refreshment—and food for thought. On the Third Thursday of every month at 12:15 pm, a member of the curatorial staff facilitates a 15-minute dialogue about a single (and singular) artwork currently on view. For its Jazz in June concert series Sheldon kicks off summer with free live music on the lawn every Tuesday of the month. The museum regularly collaborates with community partners to celebrate the many aspects of American art and culture through festivals like Tê’t—a Vietnamese celebration of the lunar new year—or Día de los Muertos—a Hispanic ritual remembrance of the departed.  Such varied, ongoing offerings mean that there is always something new or different to see or do here. These on-site programs, and many others like them, demonstrate the museum’s commitment to inquiry and imagination. The museum staff invites everyone to come make their own Sheldon connections.

Sheldon Museum of Art Exhibitions: 2014–2015

Painting from the Collection
of the Sheldon Museum of Art – Through July 12, 2015
Featuring some of the museum’s most beloved and iconic works.

Daniel Chauche: Visions of the Future Past in Guatemala
Aug. 29, 2014 – Jan. 11, 2015
Sheldon Museum of Art is collaborating with Daniel Chauche to present the first museum exhibition of his photographs in the United States.

Dialogues: Recent Acquisitions of the Sheldon Museum of Art 
Oct. 28, 2014 – Feb. 1, 2015
A sampling of art added to the collection within the past five years.

Things Speak: Storied Objects from Lincoln Collections
Sept. 16, 2014 – Feb. 8, 2015
“Things Speak” emphasizes the power of objects and their stories. We have invited institutions throughout Lincoln to select extraordinary pieces from their collections for inclusion in this collaborative exhibition.

A New Line of Thinking: Recent Sculpture by Robert Schatz
Jan. 16 – April 26, 2015
Themes of ecology exist alongside considerations of engineering and mindfulness.

Will Wilson: Critical Indigenous Photograph Exchange
Feb. 6 – May 10, 2015
Sheldon’s offering for PhotoFest 2015 presents a selection of recent work by Native American photographer Will Wilson.

The Unfolding Center: Susan York and Arthur Sze
Feb. 20 – May 17, 2015
Pairs of elegant, minimal graphite drawings by well-regarded artist Susan York accompany verse by award-winning poet Arthur Sze.

Gee’s Bend: From Quilts to Prints
Feb. 20 – May 17, 2015
Through images, textiles, maquettes, and photographs, this exhibition documents and analyzes the process of four quiltmakers from Gee’s Bend.

Cather and the Visual: The Writer’s Words, The Writer’s Images
May 19 – Aug. 30, 2015
This exhibition will examine how Cather’s life can be traced in visual terms.


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