Lee Talbot (MA 2001; M.Phil. 2009) is curator of Eastern Hemisphere Collections at the George Washington University Museum and the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C. His recent exhibitions include China: Through the Lens of John Thomson, 1868-1872 (2015); Unraveling Identity: Our Textiles, Our Stories (2015); Woven Treasures of Japan’s Tawaraya Workshop (2012); and Second Lives: The Age-Old Art of Recycling Textiles (2011). Before joining the Textile Museum, he spent two years as curator of the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea.

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?

In the mid 1990s, I made the life-changing decision to direct my passion for East Asian textiles and decorative arts into a viable vocation. Although I was unsure of an exact career path, I knew that I needed a solid scholastic grounding, and Bard Graduate Center was the only institution in the United States offering the academic study of decorative art and design history in a global context. As I learned more about the Center’s curriculum and the research interests of its faculty, I realized that I had found the right fit. I was excited to discover an innovative, international forum for the exploration of human experience and achievement through the lens of material culture. Bard Graduate Center’s location in New York City and wide-ranging institutional relationships bolstered my decision to enroll.

What was your focus of study here, how did you find yourself involved with it?

When I arrived, I was happy to find an extremely supportive faculty with remarkably diverse and progressive perspectives. Although I enrolled in every Asian-themed course that was offered, and typically wrote my term papers on textile topics, I also endeavored to take advantage of the cultural and historical breadth of the curriculum. Arts of the Ancient Worldwith Elizabeth Simpson and Object as Document with Ken Ames offered an unparalleled factual and methodological foundation for further study, and classes with Michele Majer provided an invaluable underpinning in Western textile and fashion history. Courses on American furniture with Kevin Stayton opened up a fascinating new subject for me, and during a summer session with Kevin at the Brooklyn Museum of Art our class helped prepare an exhibition of a newly acquired American furniture collection—my first hands-on foray into the museum world. Perhaps the capstone of my graduate studies was the chance to serve as a teaching assistant for the Survey course, which proved to be one of my most rewarding and intellectually engaging experiences at Bard Graduate Center.

Describe your position at the Textile Museum and your projects.

I am fortunate to be one of two curators stewarding the Textile Museum collection, which comprises more than 20,000 objects created over the last 5,000 years. My main duties include building the museum’s collection, interpreting the collection for diverse audiences through lectures, publications, and tours, and curating exhibitions. Due to the fragility of the textile medium, the museum has no permanent displays, so I spend the majority of my time preparing new exhibitions, which vary greatly in content and subject matter. I am currently am working on two very different exhibitions opening in 2016. Stories of Migration: Contemporary Artists Interpret Diaspora, opening in April, will present the work of six invited artists and thirty-eight artists selected through a worldwide, year-long call for entries. Ranging from quilts and hangings to installations and videos, these works give visual voice to one of the most overarching narratives of our time. Opening in November, Bingata! Only in Okinawa will be the first major American museum exhibition devoted exclusively to the textile arts of Japan’s southernmost prefecture. Over the centuries Okinawa developed unique and extremely sophisticated textile production techniques, and the exhibition will include eighteenth- to early-twentieth-century garments and furnishings as well as recent works by contemporary artists and fashion designers inspired by traditional Okinawan fabrics. In 2016 I also will catalogue a recent gift of almost three hundred garments and related jewelry items from Southwest China and begin planning an exhibition of this important new acquisition.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

In March 2015, the ninety-year-old Textile Museum reopened in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility on the George Washington University campus, so my job is transforming as we settle into our new home and integrate into the university community. Since joining GW, I have taught an art history course called Textiles and Politics in Asia, supervised independent study projects on Japanese and Chinese textile topics, and contributed frequently to classes in the university’s museum studies program. As much as I enjoy curating exhibitions, I feel that teaching is my true calling, and I look forward to ongoing and expanded engagement with students.