Q & A with Centennial Curator Noelle King

Centennial Curator, Noelle King.

Centennial Curator, Noelle King.

Just over a year ago Mystic Museum of Art hired Curator, Noelle King to oversee its centennial exhibition, “Mystic As Muse: 100 Years of Inspiration”. The exhibit, which will open on June 28 will feature select works from MMoA’s early artists. Noelle has been busy collaborating with regional galleries and museums to prepare for this special event, which will be accompanied by a 76-page catalogue revealing the story of MMoAs founding artists. We recently spoke with Noelle to find out more about her work and what we can expect to see later this year.

What are your goals for the exhibition and publication?

NK: My personal goal for the exhibition and publication is to ensure that whomever visits the exhibition, reads the catalogue, attends a lecture or tour or event, will come away with a deep appreciation for the hard work, dedicated effort and joie de vivre that over the years resulted in such a gem as Mystic Museum of Art. Through thick and thin, artists, students, curators and art appreciators of all kinds have come together to ensure a strong creative presence in this beautiful corner of Connecticut. The benefit of MMoA to so many different sections of the community is a major theme in the exhibition. I hope that those who come to view it will leave inspired.

What artists will be exhibited in the Centennial Show?

NK: I would dearly love to have a spectacular Davis promised to us for the collection in honor of the Centennial. That would be a dream come true. I have tried to include most of the artists who exhibited in the first exhibition at the Broadway School. We are very fortunate to have some wonderful works of art promised to us as loans for the show. I am not revealing the full list of artists at present.

As part of Mystic As Muse exhibition, MMoA will be exhibiting the work of a local artist, Haley Lynn Smith. How does Haley’s work tie into Mystic as Muse?

NK: I wanted to include a young emerging artist’s work into the exhibition because our founding artist, Charles Harold Davis, was once given an opportunity when he was starting out as an artist. John Greenleaf Whittier, the famous American poet, convinced the owner of a carriage factory to fund art studies for Davis abroad. Davis took advantage of this opportunity and flourished, yet rather than rest on his impressive talent and accomplishments, he chose to return to the USA and give back to the community by forming the Mystic Art Association. Mystic Museum of Art itself is, in many ways, his gift, and countless thousands over the past 100 years have benefited from his vision. I wanted to continue this tradition by including the work of a young, emerging local artist with a bright future. [Haley’s] theme is timely (social media) and her hybrid work (sculpture, video) is illustrative of new directions in contemporary art practice.

Do you think the Mystic Landscape affects artists the same way today?

NK: Yes, most definitely so for traditional landscape artists; and yes, in a tangential way for abstract/conceptual/postmodern artists. The Mystic River and the town, the Seaport and ships, and the farms, fields and rocky hillsides are a continual source of inspiration for representational artists. For artists who work in other genre, the community and culture of Mystic is also a vibrant source of inspiration. For all of the above, MMoA stands as a fulcrum of creative expression that is truly remarkable.

What are you working on now?

NK: At present, MMoA’s Executive Director and I are making final decisions about works to include in the exhibition. I am working on the historical display for 2013, and writing the catalogue. I am in contact with curators at several Connecticut museums, and with fine art dealers in the area, and people who have a long history of involvement with MMoA. Work continues on MMoA’s collection database, and I continue to research and contact artists and collectors and MMoA members for information. Everyone has been amazingly helpful.

How is the catalogue coming along?

NK: The publication is in a nascent stage. I am working on balancing factual information with narratives that add interest to the works by connecting them with people’s lives. There are some good stories ahead.

Do you have any excerpts from the publication you can share?

NK: I will tell you that one of the paintings on loan was a present to show gratitude for the gift of a sailboat. Another was a gift from the artist on the occasion of his marriage proposal (it was accepted). Another is a portrait of a beloved family member, not a human. One of the artists whose work will be on view had a previous job designing part of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. Several of the works were small thoughtful gifts given to lighten the heart of someone who was ill. There are countless stories associated with the works that place them in the web of connectivity that buoys up human relationships.

What other organizations have you partnered with to gather information or works?

NK: I have been extraordinarily fortunate as everyone I have contacted has not only been very helpful and encouraging but in many instances has alerted me to some valuable information and in some instances art works I will borrow for the exhibition. Dr. Cynthia Roznoy, curator of the Mattatuck Museum of Art, Jack Coyle of the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Tim Pratt of Pratt Wright Gallery and Thomas Colville of Colville Fine Arts have all been quite helpful, to name but a few.

Why do you think MMoA has sustained so long in the community?

NK: I would use the word ‘flourished’ instead of sustained. MMoA, over the course of its august history, has brought together a wide range of dedicated people who have managed to guide the institution through both difficult and delightful times, and do it with élan. I believe MMoA has flourished because people believe in art, believe it is important, and believe everyone should have access to it. Art, for me, includes every medium and expression, and is engendered by imagination and inspiration. So MMoA continues because it is very important as a place in which and through which we can access inspiration and creativity. One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest scientific mind of the 20th century. He said that imagination was more important than knowledge. MMoA is a garden of imagination.

What makes MMoA different from other arts organizations in the area?

NK: In the course of my getting to know MMoA better, it has become increasingly obvious to me that MMoA is unique. Other East Coast art colonies morphed into museums, or schools, or faded away. MMoA is an interesting hybrid. It has a permanent collection, but it is not a museum. It has documents and ephemera relating to its institutional and artistic legacy, but it is not solely an archive. It hosts its own exhibitions, and also serves as a venue for other groups to use for their exhibitions. It has studios and classes, but it is not solely an art school. It produces lectures, dinners, art events, an outdoor art exhibition, etc., but is not solely an event organization. MMoA has safely curated and protected a slice of green public access waterfront, the only one along the west bank of the Mystic River, but it is not solely devoted to environmental stewardship. In short, the more I learn about MMoA, the more I see it as a unique and fluid institution with the courage and foresight to continually expand its mission. The sky is the limit for MMoA.