Not many children have an 18th-century painting hanging on their bedroom wall, but Susan Strickler did. It was a reproduction of Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" and she remembers it being there from the time she was 8 or 9. Whether that early introduction to fine art influenced her career path, the fact is she's now the director of the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester.
For the past few years she's led a major expansion of the museum, dealing with the task of providing programs without a building. That challenging period comes to an end March 30, when the venerable museum once again opens its doors to the public.
When did you get serious about pursuing art education?
I have an older brother, the brains in the family, who went to Harvard. He told me not to take art history, that it was "a killer." So of course I took the class, and I loved it. It was during that time I learned I loved objects.
It's sounds materialistic, but I don't mean it that way. I like the material of an object - whether it's a painting, sculpture or ceramics. Where does it come from, what does it represent, who made it, in what circumstances and what does it say about the time in which it's been made? Now, of course, all I do is administration, but there is no greater joy for me than to walk through the museum and see the objects there.
What do you say to people who think museums are stuffy?
I think the museum needs to do a better job of proving them wrong. When the Currier opened in 1929, 1,400 people came through in just one evening. Museums grew to have an elitist reputation, often because of their architecture. The Currier and other museums are working to dismantle that perception and let everyone know they're welcome.
Why should people turn off the baseball game and go?
I think the arts and culture are, or can be, important in the development of well-rounded, critically-thinking, imaginative, inquisitive people. It's something I think everybody should try. They actually might come to like it.
Are you an artist yourself?
I'm more of a wannabe. I've been doing some ceramics recently, though, throwing some pots.
Does all the great art around you discourage or intimidate you?
Well, it makes me keenly aware of what the possibilities are, but I've gotten over the fact I'm not going to be a great ceramic artist. I do it for enjoyment. I've found artmaking is a wonderful avenue to art appreciation, though; it makes it easy to imagine some of the struggles artists have and what skills they need.
What place will museums have in American culture 50 years from now?
If we can be visionary enough to know what life will be like then, I hope museums will be a source of reflection of human achievement that will give enjoyment and enrichment. The struggle will be connecting with upcoming generations by using technology, videos, computer generated art and so on. Just as when the Gutenberg bible was printed, soon thereafter came illustrations in books.
For more information about the Currier and its re-opening, visit www.currier.org.
This article appears in the October 2008 issue of New Hampshire Magazine