This month’s Alumni Spotlight features Paige Musselman, Museum Studies and KMA alumna who is now an archeologist! Musselman has an interesting perspective on the KMA and museums in general through her archeological lens.
First, please introduce yourself and give us some background information on who you are and what you do.
Hi, my name is Paige Musselman. I grew up outside of Athens and I attended Ohio University from 2009 to 2014. I received my undergraduate degree in Classical Civilizations in 2013 and returned the following school year to get my Museum Studies Certificate in the program’s inaugural year. I interned for Jeff Carr and worked in the museum café for Lori Spencer. Since graduating, I have largely worked in the cultural resource management field as an archaeologist and had brief work as a technical advisor in the minority and small business affairs division of a government agency.
How would you describe your creative process? Alternatively, how would you describe your professional activities.
I cannot make the claim of being an artist, but I find myself fortunate enough to be surrounded by people with artistic ability that keep me thinking outside the box and examining the world around me. As for my professional activities, I work as an archaeologist on a project basis. This has allowed me to travel to many states in the U.S. and to Italy. I was drawn to archaeology through my love of history and desire to be continuously learning. Despite what Indiana Jones may have you believe, it is not very glamorous nor always very exciting work. Recovering artifacts or discovering a site that has not been seen in a very long time is quite a feeling, even if you had to get hailed on in the middle of a corn field south of Lake Erie in January to do so (and that really is not as bad as it gets).
What is special to you about the University’s or Athens’s art community?
Coming from more of an outsider’s viewpoint into the art community in Athens, I see it as very openminded and welcoming. Most of my experience with the art community really does come from my time spent at the Kennedy. I always enjoyed preparing for an opening night and opening night itself. Artists would visit to see how their piece or pieces would be displayed within the exhibit and provide insight to whoever was helping set up and answer even the most basic of questions. Then on opening night to see the variety of people in attendance and interacting with the pieces, the artists, museum staff, and one another was always really great and made the process of preparing a new exhibition worth it.
How has COVID-19 impacted your creative process, career, or education?
COVID has been a mix of feelings for me. It has allowed me to reevaluate where I was in life and what I was doing. Confronting those things and how to change them moving forward has been difficult, but I am grateful and understanding of my privilege to be able to do so.
Who/What inspires you?
During the past year, I have started to take up whittling. I am by no means any good at it yet, but I have come to appreciate its simplicity. This appreciation makes me inspired by the ordinary and simple things. When I start to think about that I connect it with my work in archaeology. Most of the areas I have worked in and artifacts that I have recovered were by no means extraordinary- they are common areas or items used by the past’s everyday people, but they become extraordinary by providing us with a better understanding of life in the past.
I think I would be a bad daughter if I did not also say my mother.
What experiences have you had with the Kennedy Museum of Art?
I am quite sure that if I were not in Ellis Hall, I could be found at the Kennedy during my final years at OU. I dabbled in a little bit of everything and filled in wherever I could. I have framed and set up a photography exhibit, painted the walls to prepare for exhibits, helped Jeff move art from a museum in Columbus, worked on uploading the museum’s collection into JStor, researched and helped write artifact descriptions, cleaned artifacts, assisted in an educational event, helped set up for opening nights, greeted visitors, and worked in the café when it was open.
These days I try to visit the museum whenever I can and hope to attend an opening night again soon.
How have your experiences at the Kennedy impacted you?
The Kennedy is where I discovered how much I enjoy museum spaces, the work that happens behind the scenes, and what these spaces provide for their communities. I frequent museums wherever I find myself and am not only able to appreciate the exhibits, but the work that was put into presenting them. Because of my time at the Kennedy, I hope that one day I find myself working with a collection again.
What role do you believe an academic museum like the Kennedy plays in a community like Athens? How do you think the community benefits from the museum?
I think there are two extremely important museums within the Appalachian community of Athens- the Southeastern Ohio History Center and the Kennedy. Being from a community that is often put down and is lacking in so many resources, the Southeastern Ohio History Center is important for our community’s understanding of itself and finding pride within ourselves. The Kennedy builds upon that understanding by featuring local artists and having events attended by the community, but it goes beyond that to allow an impoverished area to better understand life and culture outside of itself as well in the artists and artifacts that it exhibits.
Is there a piece or artifact in the Kennedy’s collection that is your favorite? Why?
Picking just one thing from the Kennedy’s vast collection is difficult for me. As an archaeologist, it is probably unsurprising for me to say the Southwest Native American textiles. The Southwest Native American jewelry is spectacular, but I can still remember the day Jeff had me perform some regular maintenance in the textile room and on the textiles themselves. I was so overwhelmed with the history and the craftsmanship of the artifacts.
Honorable mentions would have to go to Gloucester Boys by Winslow Homer, and Freedom: A Fable by Kara Walker.
Kara Walker, Freedom: A Fable, 1997. Limited edition pop-up book. KMA 97.013.1.
Winslow Homer, Gloucester Boys, 1880. Watercolor. KMA 2013.01.01
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Coming from a local, the Kennedy is one of my favorite places in Athens and I recommend it to anyone who has not already been. The museum is a quiet and thoughtful place to spend time and to learn new things. The hard work and care put into the exhibits by the museum staff and students is evident, and the building in which the museum is located is beautiful and an integral part of Athens and its history.
To learn more about the Kennedy Art Museum please check out our virtual portal at https://www.ohio.edu/museum. Here you can check out our collection and current exhibitions. To check out other blog posts go to https://kennedymuseum.blog. Finally, feel free to follow us on Instagram at @KennedyMuseumArtEdu or Twitter at @KennedyMuseum. We also have a Facebook page titled Kennedy Museum of Art Experiences Group.