By Stephanie Smith
Anne Burkhardt said she considers herself and her husband, Nat, “spontaneous art collectors.”
Having lived in Asheville for the majority of the fifty-five years they’ve been married, the Burkhardts’ refined home displays many monuments, which fade seamlessly into the interior – paintings, ceramics, silk-screenings, many of which are by local artists – to their shared loves of art and art history, their community, and their matrimony.
Sharing tangible items, of which the meanings behind may represent something bigger than the viewer him- or herself, and of which the historical and symbolic depths are ultimately bottomless and eternal – Nat and Anne were understandably, simultaneously, excited to share their personal collection with a fresh observer.
“The object of art,” Nat said, in a tone that provided a glimpse into his contemplative nature, “is to make the unseen almost visible, but requiring the imagination of the observer for clarity.”
The Asheville Art Museum would seem to agree. A recent exhibit, Vault Visible: Behind the Scenes at the Asheville Art Museum made use of a transitional period in preparation of the museum’s renovation by allowing visitors a peek at the hands-on duties of the curatorial department. Ceramics were in cupboards, baskets on shelves, paintings in wooden crates, plates atop tables – representing, for the most part, how pieces are normally stored.
According to Carolyn Grosch, the museum’s associate curator, visitors have always been curious about the behind-the-scenes processes and the roles of the curatorial staff.
Grosch said she desired to be closer to the art herself.
After studying art history as an undergraduate and working at a history museum as an administrative coordinator, she later received her Master’s from Tufts University, which led to a registrar position, and, ultimately, curating.
She’s been with the Asheville Art Museum since December 2014.
“I love my job,” said Grosch, smiling wide. Her passion for caring for artworks is evident – it’s deeply-rooted in a memory that revealed the power objects can hold.
“When my father passed away,” she said, “we had actually found a quarter in his garden – he used to garden all the time – and it was dated 1943.”
It was the year her father was born, Grosch explained, suddenly emotional.
“It’s a very powerful object in my life, because it’s tied to him, and I see that sort of power and those stories in all of the objects that come through the museum,” said Grosch. “That’s what I want to share with people.”
UNC Asheville senior Lowell Sopcisak, a curatorial intern at the Asheville Art Museum, said she thinks it’s important for people to see the functional processes of a museum in addition to the visual aspects.
“A museum doesn’t stay static,” said the Asheville native, an art history and French double-major. “It’s constantly in flux.”
One of the ways in which the Asheville Art Museum remains hands-on and community-centered is through the Collector’s Circle, of which the Burkhardts are members. Dedicated art collectors themselves, through the Collector’s Circle they’ve acquired and donated pieces including Lanterns (1908), an original woodblock print by Bertha Lum, and Untitled (2015), original pottery by Matt Jones.
It’s the shared experience art offers – whether through groups like the Collector’s Circle, as a hobby for two, or engaging in discussion, whether between artist and audience, staff or visitor – that fuels the power of its impact.
“It’s present in art objects, it’s present in historical artifacts – I think the power of objects in our lives is really important,” Grosch said. “That’s something that I think maybe I knew all along, but that curating has also taught me.”