New European curator is happy to be in the Hood

by Teresa Harings | 11/11/98 6:00am

How many college students have contemplated packing up after college and going abroad to learn about life? And how many follow through with it? Dr. T. Barton Thurber, the new European curator for the Hood Museum of Art, did just that when he received his degree from the Rhode Island School of Design: he packed his bags and went to live in Italy.

For six years, Thurber, a native of Cleveland, divided his livelihood between Rome and Venice, studying in Rome and working in Venice to support himself. He took "odd" jobs, such as working for CBS, but his passion remained European art and architecture, which is today his field of expertise.

Thurber's love of art manifested itself in his youth. Although Thurber never took his own art beyond some sketching, he knew he had an interest in art and design, and as early as high school began interning with architects.

Thurber entered college with the desire to become an architect, believing, he said in an interview with The Dartmouth, that "I knew everything about architecture and all I needed was the professional degree to begin my career." Instead, Thurber soon found himself interested in the relationship between architecture, painting and sculpture and pursued this interest to a Ph.D. in Art and Architectural History.

Since grad school, Thurber has worked with various museums as a consultant and research associate, but this is the first time he has held the title of curator. He describes the duties of a curator as the "conservation, preservation and interpretation of permanent collections." This means he is in charge of keeping in contact with current and potential art donors, attracting works of art to Dartmouth and determining how these works of art will be displayed in exhibitions.

We Dartmouth students too often take for granted the work that goes into those incredible exhibitions. Thurber oversees the selection and installation of the works to be displayed, the writing of the plaques placed next to the art and the layout, writing and preparation of the exhibit catalog, among other things.

Thurber, who had been working at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., came to the Hood because he says that Dartmouth "brings my interests in art and academics under one roof." In D.C., Thurber had to travel out of the museum to teach and lecture.

At the Hood, Thurber appreciates that "there is a difference contributing to a teaching institution rather than a metro museum, which doesn't have the same viewers." Thurber wants to open the museum even more to students and has an interest in "cultivating the existing interaction between such disciplines as, for example, the classics, anthropology, art history and studio art."

He wants to bring in speakers in areas outside his own expertise, so that Dartmouth students can get exposure to many different types and interpretations of art.

Asked if he was enjoying Dartmouth, Thurber said, "Everyone expects me to be suffering from some sort of culture shock from having lived in D.C., Venice, Rome and Boston. But so far I've been enjoying it a lot."

Thurber plans to remain at Dartmouth a minimum of four to five years, which is another new experience in of itself. Since college, he hasn't lived in the same place for more than two years. Working at the Hood gives him "the opportunity to settle," and to take up new hobbies such as skiing. "But I'll start with cross-country and see how it goes from there," he adds cautiously. He's been here three weeks and in that time has gone hiking for the first time in years.

Thurber is also willing to lecture and teach but does not yet know how best to do that. "I just got here," he adds.