The art of the collection
From curating galleries to cultivating personal collections,
these alums are working with art.
By Molly Englund
The word curator, as Lenore D. Miller ’69 points out, can be traced to the Latin curare, which means to take care of something. That’s at the core of what so many creative Goucher alums do—taking care of special objects and pieces.
That’s what Bradford Shellhammer ’98 does. Shellhammer is an entrepreneur and designer with successes in several arenas; he co-founded the e-commerce site Fab.com and the online magazine Queerty, and he has worked as the chief design officer for outdoor retailer Backcountry.com and as the chief curator and vice president of buyer experience for eBay. Currently, Shellhammer is the chief product officer at Reverb, which is an Etsy-owned online marketplace for new and vintage musical instruments.
It’s safe to say that Shellhammer is known for his vision and taste, and he brings that to his home spaces just as much as his work ones.
Shellhammer is a collector with a particular interest in graphic arts. The heart of his collection are prints and posters, some of which he’s had since childhood. “As a child, I decorated and redecorated my room consistently and I would cut out magazines,” he says. “I was obsessed with music, so I’d buy tons of music posters and prints and line my walls, and even my ceiling, with pictures.” He decorated the walls of his dorm, too, when he came to Goucher.
He became intentional about collecting prints as art pieces as he was working on Fab.com. “It was a marketplace for modern design and graphic arts,” says Shellhammer. “Art was part of the ecosystem of Fab.” He worked with the foundations of some giants of the art world, like Josef Albers, Anni Albers, and Andy Warhol, as well as with independent and emerging designers and artists.
Working with the Andy Warhol Foundation was a huge moment in Shellhammer’s early career. “Back then, the Andy Warhol Foundation still sold works from what he left behind,” Shellhammer says. “Before they got out of the art-selling business, they allowed friends and family to come in and buy pieces.” He couldn’t believe it. “I remember this so clearly—first time I’ve ever been professionally successful and I’m literally collaborating and selling original artworks by my biggest idol, Warhol.”
He knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so Shellhammer liquidated his savings account to afford 14 original Warhols. “These are not the multimillion ones, but these are still very important, very valuable, very special to me,” he says. “And that was the first time I bought real art.” Looking back, he admits it was probably irresponsible. But he doesn’t regret it. He kept collecting, and today, he has more than 500 works.
Most of those are posters and prints, but he also has works by Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, Josef and Anni Albers, and more. Recently, he’s been collecting pieces from queer artists in Brazil, particularly portraiture.
Shellhammer continues to expand his collection as his interests evolve, but there’s one piece that has long eluded him. His favorite band is Erasure; they were a “critical part of my childhood,” he says. “They kept me alive.” The synth-pop band even played at his wedding.
“I remember very vividly going to a concert in ’92 at Merriweather Post Pavilion [in Maryland] and buying two giant posters that they had,” he says. One of them was an illustration of an intricately designed forest, the other a portrait by French artists Pierre et Gilles, who are known for creating iconic advertising imagery and album covers.
He recently found and bought the illustration again. “It’s in the house now. But I can’t find the portrait. It’s such a beautiful picture, so I’m looking for it. But I have been looking for it for more than 10 years.”
Chloe Vogt ’16 has spent a lot of time thinking about one artist’s work. Vogt is the director of Cold Hollow Sculpture Park in Enosburg Falls, VT, which is a nonprofit arts organization and outdoor sculpture park dedicated to the work of artist and co-founder David Stromeyer. She started as the public programs and visitor services coordinator and was promoted this past December to director, with a goal of expanding the program offerings and building a sustainable future for the park.
The park is in a very small rural town in Vermont, and while it solely features the sculptures of Stromeyer, it strives to be a destination for global voices in the arts, humanities, and sciences. “In this beautiful Vermont setting, the park offers a unique opportunity for visitors to engage with both the natural landscape and artwork,” says Vogt.
Similar to Storm King in New York, Cold Hollow invites visitors to take a walking tour of the large steel sculptures, of which there are more than 70. As a single artist park, it “shows the span and evolution of one artist’s career,” she says.
“But we do feel it’s important to bring other perspectives and voices into the park,” Vogt says, so they host public programs during the park’s open season from June to October, including live performances, public talks, and workshops. The park also has an artist-in-residence program, which brings mid-career artists to stay at the park for weekslong residencies. “With the opportunity to immerse themselves in this new and invigorating setting, our residents are presented with the dedicated time and space vital to generating new ideas and artistic exploration.”
Stromeyer’s work is also found in international museums and in the National Museum of American Art in Washington, DC. He has been building sculptures on the park’s land for the past 50 years and is still making more. One of Vogt’s favorite pieces is “The Gathering,” from 2011. “I love how the shades of color vary with the light and change as you move around the sculpture,” she says. Stromeyer has said that the circular forms suggest something dance-like and communal. “As a former dancer, I love that thought and visual.”
Stromeyer also makes kinetic art, pieces that move in the wind. Vogt is again drawn to how the perspective changes. “We’re all about celebrating the unexpected and creative work,” she says. “It’s a place for creators and the curious, for discovery and play.”
Nancy Rosen Blackwood ’70, who goes by Nancy Rosen professionally, is an independent curator and advisor; through her company, Nancy Rosen Incorporated, she works with individuals and institutions to plan and manage art collections, and she also works with academic institutions and public agencies to plan and implement public art projects and exhibitions. Rather uniquely for the art consultation business, Rosen does not take a percentage of the acquisition cost; she charges only for her time. “I decided on that from the get-go because then it’s clear there’s no conflict of interest,” she says.
Being truly independent gives Rosen the ability to push back with clients. “I’m in the luxurious position to be able to say, ‘Why would you possibly put a painting there?’ or ‘Why would we have to commission an artwork for that space?’ or ‘Your tree is beautiful, why do you need a sculpture?’ I don’t have anything at stake,” says Rosen.
That’s a valuable position to be in when working with her clients, who have included Bloomberg Philanthropies, the United States Holocaust Museum, New York Public Library, state agencies, corporations like IBM and The Walt Disney Company, and universities like Johns Hopkins and Harvard. She is well respected in the art world and known to be trustworthy yet critical when needed. Rosen was on the jury to choose the 9/11 Memorial, which she describes as “a complicated, prolonged, and very emotional” experience.
Rosen started her business in 1980, but she was already organizing exhibitions for several years before that. The first public art project she took on was an exhibition of outdoor sculpture in Newport, RI, in 1974, called Monumenta. Rosen and her colleagues installed around 50 sculptures around Newport. “I worked on it for two years, with the planning and the catalog and getting permits and cranes and lighting and insurance,” she says. “I was part of a team of three, and it was a terrific experience. I learned a lot.”
Working with the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, was a privilege and challenging in its own way, as well. Rosen was tasked with figuring out the integration of art and architecture for the museum as it was being planned, even before construction really started. “The timing was good because we were able to make sure that we had the infrastructure to support, for instance, sculpture,” she says, “and we knew in advance what works were going to be commissioned.”
Another memorable project had her working with Cornell Tech, a Cornell University campus in New York City. In the 1930s, the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, commissioned hundreds of murals for public buildings all over the city. In 2010, Cornell Tech was building a new campus on Roosevelt Island and needed to save some WPA murals from an old hospital that was to be demolished to make way for academic buildings. Rosen worked with the building’s architects to plan and build a circular-plan meeting room specifically for one of the murals that had been in a round room.
Rosen and her husband have a small collection of their own—although it consists mainly of works done by artist friends. This includes artists like Sol LeWitt, who was close friends with Rosen and her husband, the documentary filmmaker Michael Blackwood. Over the years, LeWitt gave the Blackwoods many works on paper for birthdays or special occasions. “He was a very generous friend,” Rosen explains, “so we have a whole wall of his works. But I would say we’re not really collectors. It’s more an extension of our lives.”
Lenore D. Miller ’69 retired as the curator and director of university galleries at George Washington University in 2020. She fell in love with art history, particularly the Renaissance and Baroque periods, while she was at Goucher, due to an amazing professor who encouraged her to become an academic. But Miller was always more interested in working at museums. So she was thrilled to get hired as a typist at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1969, right after graduation. “It was a very interesting environment,” says Miller. “I met a lot of famous people, curators, and artists.”
But Miller knew she’d have to go back to school if she wanted to advance in the museum world, so she enrolled in the M.F.A. printmaking program at GW. After graduating in 1972, she was hired as assistant curator in GW’s Dimock Gallery. She became directorin 1991 and held that role for almost 20 years, as names and rooms and buildings were changed and renovated. Today, GW’s main gallery is called the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, and the university also has the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the GW Textile Museum, and multiple collections. GW’s art collection now includes about 5,000 pieces. “I saw the whole arc of the art collection, and the exhibitions, going from a very in-house small art department to very expansive collections in a well-supported museum,” she says.
Miller’s role as director of the art galleries was primarily a fundraising position. In her role as curator, she put together shows of important artists like Jules Olitski, Sean Scully, Glenn Goldberg, Michael Craig-Martin, and Sam Gilliam, whose painting “With Blue,” one of his most significant, is in GW’s collection.
Miller always enjoyed working with contemporary artists; Sean Scully was a favorite. “He was an interesting person to work with,” says Miller. More known for his large paintings, this exhibit featured many prints that Scully had not displayed before.
Being in DC allowed for shows that Miller couldn’t have put together anywhere else. “In the earlier part of my career, embassies were very interested in getting artwork shown in galleries in academic settings,” Miller says. “So we worked with the German Embassy, the Swiss Embassy, the Spanish Embassy, and many others to help present exhibitions that were of an international nature.”
One painting was always in the back of Miller’s mind throughout her career: Henry Bacon’s “The Boston Boys and General Gage.” Purchased by William Wilson Corcoran in the late 19th century, it turned out to be Bacon’s most important work and was lent to the Smithsonian and for other exhibitions. When GW moved the Brady Art Gallery to the Corcoran Flagg Building, Miller made sure the painting was installed in a historic room above a massive fireplace. “When it became placed there,” she says, “I felt something got fulfilled for university history, and for Henry Bacon.”
Miller isn’t really retired, yet. She’s an adjunct professor in the GW School of Business Management Department, where last semester she taught the class Entrepreneurship & the Arts. She’s also been working on an exhibition for the last five years at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA, on Tony Sarg, who was a master puppeteer and the creator of the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. The exhibit, which involves a lot of different people, is of a grander scale than Miller was used to at GW. “You never know what’s going to lead you down a new path,” says Miller.
Sibilla Maiarelli ’18 is creating her own path. When she came to Goucher, she had no idea what she wanted to do. But then she took an intro to art history class with Professor April Oettinger, and then a few more art history classes after that. “I decided, ‘This is what I want to study,’” she says.
After graduating from Goucher, Maiarelli moved back to NYC, her hometown. When the pandemic hit, she wanted to start an online gallery that was focused on content; “interviewing artists, interviewing curators and collectors, and really creating a platform for people to learn about the art world who maybe otherwise wouldn’t,” she says.
She named her gallery New Collectors. “I chose that because I want to encourage people to see themselves as collectors and learn how to collect in a way that fits their budget and their aesthetic,” says Maiarelli. “Because I do believe anyone can collect art, you just have to know where to start, how to look.”
Maiarelli decided to make the gallery more than an online space after finding a storefront in the Lower East Side on Henry Street. She knew the neighborhood was a great spot for emerging galleries, so she took the risk and opened New Collectors in the space.
The first year of the gallery was all about experimenting. Maiarelli put out open calls for artists, worked with professors at the School of Visual Arts to curate shows with M.F.A. students, and even partnered with Goucher alumnus David Hernandez ’18 to curate an NFT exhibit. That one was a learning experience; they put QR codes on the gallery walls that viewers had to scan with their phones or tablets to display the artwork on their device, bringing a different kind of engagement that excited Maiarelli. But to people walking by on the street, all they saw were blank walls. “That didn’t work,” she says. “But in the future, I would be interested in curating NFTs with physical work because I think that shows people that NFTs are a new medium brought on by technological advancements—the equivalent of photography in the 1900s—not just a way to make money selling jpegs.”
Now in the gallery’s second year, Maiarelli is focusing more on developing the gallery programming—representing artists and curating shows that demonstrate her curatorial style. Eventually she hopes to take her artists to art fairs and work with international collectors. “As the gallery grows, so will the careers of the artists I work with.”
She’d also love to work on a large-scale public art installation. “That would be cool,” she says, “because in the end, it’s about having as many people as possible experience the work and connect with the work.”