Springfield’s Art Nouveau

Springfield’s Art Nouveau

Meeting SMOA’s new executive director

By Nicole Wroten

New SMOA Executive Director Ann Fortescue.

When you think of a place to see world-class art and sculpture, what might pop into your head? New York City. Chicago. Maybe even Austin, Texas. But Springfield, Ohio? Springfield holds a true gem, just 40 minutes east of the Gem City with the Springfield Museum of Art (SMOA), one of the most sophisticated and unique art museums in the Midwest. Their permanent collection is inspiring and the exhibits they schedule are beyond impressive.

This past December, the museum named Ann Fortescue the new executive director, following former Executive Director Angus Randolph’s announcement of his retirement. Fortescue, the former director of education and visitor services at Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Penn. officially started in late January.

Fortescue’s background in education can assist the museum after it was forced to slash its educator position in 2009 due to budget cuts; the same budget cuts which led to Wittenberg University purchasing the museum building last spring. SMOA now leases its space back from the university.
Over the last few weeks, Fortescue has been busy settling into her new life in Springfield and filling the “big shoes” at such an esteemed art institution.
The DCP had a chance to chat with her last week:

What have you experienced since starting in this position?
My arrival coincided with a wonderful recent acquisition that the museum made, the Henry Church Jr. paintings. The museum acquired paintings by self-taught artist Henry Church Jr. who’s from Chagrin Falls, Ohio. The painting is from about the 1880s and is titled “Still Life.” It’s a wonderful example of work by a self-taught artist.

What kind of art are you personally drawn to?
There are two types of artwork that capture my interest and my attention. One is the kind of artwork that has a story, or that you’re drawn to and can imagine a story from what you’re looking at. The other is portraiture, and again the ability of it to give us a little insight into human thoughts.

What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve discovered in the museum so far?
We opened up the retrospective exhibit of works by Angelo Ippolito [“A Lifetime of Painting,” Jan. 22 to March 13]. There’s a marvelous painting called “The Farm.” I think it captures the landscape here in a style, and in colors, that I think are both surprising and very true. One of the things that really captured my enthusiasm for the position at the museum is the breadth and the depth of the collection. I think that it gives us such enormous potential. There’s an almost exhaustible number of ways that we can pull the works of art together and introduce them in a whole new variety of ways.

You came from a history museum. Tell us a little more about your work.
My professional training is in museum studies and museum education. My undergraduate degree is in history. I think the foundation that I have in American history is has enabled me to step into this role and look at the art with that context. I am not a practicing artist myself, but like many people I took art classes and the art classes I took as a child happened to be at art museums. I grew up in New York City and Milwaukee, Wisc. And I took a lot of art classes at the Brooklyn Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum. That early exposure I think has stayed with me.

Of the exhibits SMOA has coming up, which one are you looking forward to?
We have an exhibition coming up this summer with Dayton artist Rodney Veal [“Photography Collections from the University of Kentucky,” March 26 to May 15]. I think that will be an interesting and exciting one because it will have multimedia components to it and it will complement some of the other works shown in the past. Then in the fall is an exhibit of work by Barbara Vogel [In the Chakeres Galley, Sept. to Nov.]. That one will be a wonderful companion to a number of the pieces we have in our permanent collection, especially the portraits. He does wonderful portraiture work. Then of course this spring we have our 65th Annual Member Show [“A Year to Celebrate,” May 28 to June 10]. It’s going to be a big one.

What does the future hold for you and the museum?
One of the things I enjoy most about museum work is building strong partnerships with the community. I see the opportunity to do a lot of reaching out into the community; inviting the community in as a part of that. My mission is to bring community-wide awareness, regional visibility and widespread recognition for this gem. And as a result of that, lots of audiences. Returning audiences and new audiences.

Reach DCP Editor Nicole Wroten at editor@daytoncitypaper.com.

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