Spotlight Alumni: Jenny Pittman
Jennifer Pitman, Toronto born, received her BA from McGill University and her MA from the Bard Graduate Center in 2000. Her thesis on China’s presence at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia received the Clive Wainwright thesis award. Today, Jenny is Head of the silver department for Christie’s New York. She joined the auction house in 1999.
What attracted you to the BGC’s program?
When I enrolled in the BGC in 1994, no one had yet graduated. I considered both Cooper-Hewitt and Bard but I was particularly attracted to the BGC’s innovative and energetic spirit. I remember questioning how wise it would be to invest in an untested program, but Bard took a chance on me and I took a chance on Bard. It was a great decision and a life-changing experience for me.
As a new program, the BGC set high standards for itself and required an equal commitment of its students. The course was longer then, a full two years followed by your thesis. I never worked harder and gained such satisfaction from the learning process. I had the luxury of being able to completely immerse myself in the program, because I didn’t have to balance work and family at that time in my life.
What were the focus and highlights of your study here?
I tried to get as broad an education as possible by taking materials and survey courses, including European, American, and as many non-western subjects as I could. I also audited a number of classes. My studies in Asian and Islamic decorative arts led to fulfilling internships at the Brooklyn Museum and the Royal Ontario Museum.
I found that an independent study was a great way to dig into a topic, and doing so laid the foundation for my thesis. My interest in Chinese export silver led to a study of China’s participation in international exhibitions, which then finally narrowed to my thesis topic.
Without a doubt, my thesis was the most exciting part of my studies at Bard. I examined a trove of purchaser and sale records and press clipping from the 1876 Centennial. The sale records hadn’t been examined for years; the straight pins holding them together had rusted away and the elastic bands had long since disintegrated. I sat for days on end in the basement of the main post office in Philadelphia gathering the records that formed the basis for my thesis, double gloved in a futile effort to shield myself from the layers of dust in which these documents were encased. But, I loved it!
You are currently at Christie’s. Will you describe your position there?
It was never my intention to settle in New York. After completing my coursework, I returned to Toronto and worked in the regional office of another auction house when the position at Christie’s became available. Without the connections I had made at the BGC, I’m certain this opportunity would never have been presented to me.
My role at Christie’s is to build silver sales, which involves finding sellers, building the catalogue and connecting the silver with new owners. The schedule is intense -- each sale requires six months from start to finish and we hold a minimum of three sales a year. But I love the daily contact with the objects. And I also thrive on the commercial aspect of the job – particularly the challenge of anticipating and responding to the ever-changing interests in the silver market.
What did you take from your experience at Bard?
Bard gave me the tools and connections to build a very rewarding career in the decorative arts. And now, twenty years on, the BGC has produced The History of Design - an incredible achievement and invaluable resource … I found my very own copy under the Christmas tree.
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