Tamera Lenz Muente, curator at The Taft Museum of Art, said, “I think every museum has a responsibility to respond to its day and age. At the Taft, we continually consider how to make our collection–put together by a wealthy white couple between about 1900 and 1920–relevant to today’s audiences.”
“Our latest endeavor has been In a New Light: Treasures from the Taft, which looks at works from our collection through three themes: Power & Wealth; Gender, Race, & Class; and Nature & the Environment. Even though works in our collection were made centuries ago by mostly white men (with the exception of our Chinese porcelains, one work by a woman, and the murals by Robert Duncanson), we dug deeper into those themes by looking at subject matter, historical context, and the materials from which the works are made,” said Muente.
She said, “When I was an English student, I took an art history class as an elective.” She found stories that art can unlock. “It gives me a fascinating subject to write about,” she added. Frank Davis, an art historian from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, inspired her to write.
At the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she moved for her husband Kevin’s first teaching job, she took art history courses where she built her knowledge about art history and creative writing. Muente started her graduate work there driving one hour each way to take classes.
As the Muentes moved every two years, she became the campaign/marketing manager for the Allied Arts Council, St. Joseph, Missouri from February 2000 to July 2001. There, she managed marketing, publicity and the annual fund drive, coordinating community art exhibitions and assisting with the annual arts festival.
“Randall Griffey, an assistant curator of American Art at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, got me interested in American art, one of my specialties, particularly the 19th century to early 20th century,” Muente said. Griffey taught courses at the University of Missouri – Kansas City as well. He is now associate curator of modern and contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
From 2001 to 2004 she served as public relations coordinator at The Taft Museum of Art. She left the Taft to finish her degree attending school full-time. Muente did her thesis on Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874 – 1939) which received honors. In 2006 she received her MA in art history from the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) from the University of Cincinnati. She studied with curators who were also professors. “They piqued my interest in becoming a curator,” Muente said.
One project she worked on was an exhibition of sculpture by Hiram Powers. She did new research about him and spent time in the library going through 1830’s newspapers. “It was a great project,” Muente said about the exhibit Hiram Powers: Genius in Marble (2007).
By 2006 she found a newly created part-time position at the Taft which was as a curatorial assistant, exhibition coordinator. She assisted with research and handled inquiries for exhibitions and the permanent collection, coordinating details surrounding exhibitions and assisting with curatorial duties as needed.
Muente also did freelance writing for magazines such as The Watercolor Artist, The Pastel Journal and The Artist’s Magazine.
She slowly rose through the ranks at the Taft becoming an assistant curator. “My favorite part of my job is when I am conceiving when the show appears in our gallery.” She works closely with designers on exhibits. She enjoys the point at which the staff is realizing the full extent of the exhibit. This includes storytelling, design and fun projects.
The challenge she finds is negotiating the exhibition contracts where you have to review them in detail. “They are such a necessary part of the agreement, and it is a tedious process,” Muente said, She looks at ten to 25 pages which deals with security and marketing, which the curatorial department oversees.
Her former boss Jeri Roberts asked her what her five-year plan was. “I said a curator,” Muente replied. And she gradually was promoted from assistant curator to associate curator in 2017 and in August of 2021 she was promoted to curator.
As associate curator, she gained increasingly responsibilities of organizing exhibitions at the Taft and was assigned her first large exhibition, A Splendid Century: Cincinnati Art 1820 – 1920, for which she wrote the catalogue as well.
Her promotion in August 2021 was a surprise, according to Muente. Director Deborah Emont Scott met with her and offered her a promotion. Lynne Ambrosini, retiring deputy director and chief curator at the Taft Museum of Art, had retired so Muente assumed more responsibilities. She co-authored the Taft Museum of Art: Highlights from the Collection for which she did original research. She wrote about people who lived at the Taft, are connected to its history and part of the stories told. It was one hundred pages with 57 works of art that took three years to write.
Also in 2021 she received an Excellence in Label Writing Award from the Alliance of American Museums.
“I like what I do as a curator. I enjoy writing,” Muente said. There are opportunities to lead as a curator. “I admire museum directors who do that well,” she added.
She received a fellowship from The Networked Curator, The Getty, at the Association of Art Museum curators’ annual conference in 2018. This was a one-week intensive program which brought together curators from around the world.
Although she is busy, she tries to stick to a 40-hour week although deadlines for an exhibition increases at certain times.
Her husband Kevin is a full-time professor at Northern Kentucky University where he teaches realist painting. “I don’t plan to move from Cincinnati,” she said. “We are very happy here. I get to learn more things. I enjoy that about my job.”
Another Taft employee was promoted. Ann Marie Glasscock, Ph.D., became associate curator this year.
She said, “Museums aim to preserve the objects in their respective collections. At the Taft, we are not only preserving the works of art in our collection, but we are preserving the past. Learning about the past helps us better understand the present: where did we come from, and where, as a society, can we go from here to bring about change?”
“Museums also have the power to bring together members of the community. At a time when technology is so important, we aim to reach diverse audiences through virtual tours and programming and a variety of social media platforms. All in all, the history of our building and its people as well as every object in the Taft’s collection has a story to tell, and we hope those stories spark curiosity among our guests and perhaps even encourage us all to pause and reflect.”
Glasscock recalled, “When I was a child, I always took art classes.” Living in Indianapolis, her parents always took me to art classes over the summer. She also was a member of 4-H, participating in the arts and crafts program. “That got me started in art,” she said. Her high school French class had a section about museums. That got her thinking about becoming a curator.
She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington with a B.A. in art history. “I wanted to go some place nearby. It had a good art history program, and the setting was beautiful,” she said. IU’s museum was on campus, which also impacted her decision to attend. “I loved every art history class,” she said. “I focused on ancient and medieval courses because I loved my professors,” she added. She also studied abroad in Greece.
Glasscock decided she needed further education and went to graduate school at Christie’s in London receiving a MLitt and then an MA in art history from Temple University in Philadelphia. She continued her studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in art history, focusing on American and European Decorative Arts and Design, 1850 – 1965. Her focus had shifted from the early eras of art to the 19th and 20th centuries. The professors were known in their field. Her dissertation was “Hudson Roysher: Silversmith, Designer, Craftsman.”
Curatorial jobs were hard to find, but the Taft Museum of Art was looking for someone with decorative arts experience, and Cincinnati is only two hours from Indianapolis, Glasscock’s hometown. She started as an assistant curator in 2018. Recently, she was promoted to associate curator. Glasscock noted that 80% of the collection is decorative arts.
Although there is the Decorative Arts Society of Cincinnati with Amy Miller Dehan of the Cincinnati Art Museum as its liaison, Glasscock would love to promote Taft as the center of decorative arts and do something in conjunction with Dehan.
Glasscock said she pushed for people to recognize decorative arts at the Taft even though it has furniture by Duncan Phyfe and a painting Portrait of a Man Rising from His Chair by Rembrandt.
Are there more promotions in mind? “I like to take things one at a time,” she said. Her next step would be director of a decorative arts department.
She enjoys all the research and writing that goes into writing the labels. “As the museum has been open for 80 years, it is rewarding to me to put out the information for future generations,” she added. Currently, she is writing about 70 labels that will be used in the historic house. Between now and early next year, she will have written 50 more labels.
Muente and Glasscock have followed career paths in museums that have brought them success and a deep interest in the arts. They have dedicated themselves to telling the story of the Taft to the public.