Brandy S. Culp (MA, 2004) was appointed Richard Koopman Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in January 2017. Prior to joining the Wadsworth Atheneum, Culp served as curator of Historic Charleston Foundation, leading projects for the conservation and interpretation of the Foundation’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Before that, she served as the Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Fellow in the Department of American Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. She has also held positions at the Bard Graduate Center and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Culp graduated summa cum laude from Hollins University. At Bard Graduate Center, she completed her thesis on the eighteenth century Charleston silversmith Alexander Petrie and the Carolina silver trade. The topic of metalwork remains one of her greatest interests.

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?

Having worked in the museum field before applying to Bard Graduate Center, I had honed my career interests and developed a strong commitment to the study of American decorative arts. Up until that point, I had only studied and worked with American objects. Thus, I was seeking a more comprehensive academic experience and an opportunity to broaden my knowledge of our material world. I wanted to look at culture, design, and form over time on various continents and understand the interwoven international influences on the Americas from the sixteenth century to the present. It seems like a lofty goal but was completely achievable through Bard’s holistic academic offerings and our class study abroad experience in Asia.

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

My primary focus and great love remained American decorative arts and design although my coursework included ancient cultures, the Renaissance, Neoclassicism (at home and abroad over centuries), and modern popular culture—all topics that have served me well during the course of my curatorial career. The entire faculty was outstanding, but it was a particular privilege to study American decorative arts under Kenneth Ames and ancient art with Elizabeth Simpson, who greatly shaped my experience at BGC as well as the paths well beyond my graduate studies. In fact, I credit Professor Ames with leading me to the topic of Southern silver, which remains a significant research interest. Another highlight of my time there was my work in the Bard Graduate Center Gallery. First part-time as a student and then full-time after completing my courses, I worked in the Gallery as a curatorial and registrarial assistant—which was an entirely different type of learning experience. From William Beckford to Le Corbusier Before Le Corbusier, each exhibition I was involved in was an immersion course garnering me a firsthand (and in the trenches) understanding of the exhibition planning and design process.

You have recently been named a curator at the Wadworth Atheneum Museum of Art
. Describe your position and how you came to it. What sorts of projects are you working on?

In late February, I joined the staff at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art as the Richard Koopman Curator of American Decorative Arts. Founded in 1842, it is the oldest continuously operating public art museum in the United States. The Wadsworth Atheneum’s collection includes 50,000 works of art that span 5,000 years—from Greek and Roman antiquities to the first museum collection of American contemporary art. It was a thrilling and humbling opportunity to join an institution with such a long-standing commitment to American art. Equally exciting is the museum’s innovative programmatic vision for the future. At this moment, there is great optimism that pervades the institutional culture of the Wadsworth and a great enthusiasm for American decorative arts within the museum and the broader community. It is an exciting time to be at a museum which celebrates its past and is actively shaping the future.

In an effort to immediately reinvigorate our American decorative Arts programming, I was tasked with planning and installing an exhibition. That effort resulted in Simply Splendid: Rediscovering American Design, which opened on May 13 and remains on view through August 13, 2017. The exhibition brings together key paintings with more than 90 works of ceramics, furniture, glass, metalwork and textiles from the Wadsworth Atheneum’s extensive collection of American decorative arts to tell stories of 300 years of design history. I had the unique opportunity to highlight objects that have not been on public view in years and reintroduce the museum’s significant American collection to the public. Our relationship with the material world, then and now, propels this exhibition. While some artifacts speak loudly of their own place in time, others participate in conversations across history as new design appropriates (or wholly reimagines) what came before. Rediscovering these interwoven dialogues—stories of the objects and their connections to people and place—is fascinating for anyone new to this extraordinary collection.

Now that the exhibition is open, I look forward to working with my colleagues as we continue to bolster American art programming at the Wadsworth. We are discussing future exhibition planning as well as creative means to highlight the breadth and depth of the Atheneum’s exceptional collection of American art and design in a way that celebrates the past but feels fresh and exciting.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

My professional goals have remained fairly constant since I entered the field: I want to continue to engage and educate people and share my passion for American material culture. My experiences at Bard Graduate Center provided me—through my coursework—with a base of knowledge that has served me throughout my career and interpretive strategies that have allowed me to connect objects with diverse audiences. In addition, faculty and courses deepened my appreciation for the past and helped foster my commitment to historic preservation.