John Stuart Gordon (MA 2003) is the Benjamin Attmore Hewitt Associate Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. He received a BA from Vassar College and a PhD in American Studies from Boston University. He has worked on topics ranging from the stained glass of John La Farge to the postmodern housewares firm Swid Powell. His most recent book is A Modern World: American Design from the Yale University Art Gallery, 1920–1950 (Yale, 2011).

What attracted you to Bard Graduate Center’s program?

I was working at an auction house, which necessitated dealing with a wide range of material. It was a great education, and I wanted a graduate program that was equally wide-ranging. I’ve always been an Americanist, but my interests have never been confined to a particular time period or medium. Bard Graduate Center’s program was one of the few that supported the study of both historical and modern material, and it was one of the only programs where I saw myself reflected in its student body. The clincher for me was the survey course. I loved the idea of reexamining the history of art through the lens of material culture.

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

During the summer orientation session, Derek Ostergard, the former associate director and founding dean, gave me an important piece of advice: decide your thesis topic early, and whenever possible have your courses relate to that topic. That suggestion defined my experience at Bard Graduate Center. I quickly settled on researching a silver display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and took classes on silver, world’s fairs, and modern architecture. The research for those final papers became the basis for my thesis. In addition, I took every American-related class. By my last semester I had exhausted all the American offerings, so Professor Ken Ames allowed me to retake a furniture course but transform the assignments into a directed reading.

Describe your position at Yale and your current (or past) projects.

I am one of two curators who steward Yale University Art Gallery’s remarkable collection of American decorative arts, which consists of approximately 20,000 objects. The core of our holdings is the Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, known for its early silver and colonial furniture, although we also collect up to the present day, with strengths in modernism, postmodern design, and turned wood. As part of my curatorial duties I supervise the Furniture Study, which houses over 1,100 pieces of furniture and wooden objects ranging in date from 1650 to the present. I am currently undertaking a survey of Yale’s American glass collection that will result in an exhibition and a book. A large portion of our glass collection has never been fully catalogued, which makes the project quite rewarding. I am also working with our chief curator on the development of the Wurtele Center, a roughly 40,000-square foot collections study center that will house over 30,000 objects drawn from departments across the museum. The Wurtele Center will also provide class rooms and study spaces for visiting scholars and will be adjacent to the conservation labs run by the university’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. In addition, I am a lecturer in Yale’s Department of the History of Art, where I teach the history of American silver.

What ultimately is your professional goal?

It may be an uncommon sentiment, but I am where I want to be. Getting to work with a collection of such strength and breadth means that every day holds something new; one day may be focused on eighteenth-century furniture, while the next is all about contemporary textiles. It keeps me mentally limber, as does being surrounded by students, who are always willing to share their curiosity and their opinions. It’s an ideal pairing.