My career at the American Textile History Museum began when I was in graduate school in the late 1980s. A chance meeting with Andy Stevens (during which I explained that I was exploring my “textile roots” while studying at the University of Lowell) led to an internship with the Museum – then located in North Andover.
After my initial interview with Executive Director Tom Leavitt, I was assigned to the education department under the supervision of Dr. Robert Brown. My practicum project involved critiquing the Museum’s school outreach program, and it did not take me long to realize that something important was going on in those Lawrence classrooms. Students – many of whom were recent immigrants living in economically challenged neighborhoods – were starting to take pride in their city as they learned about the important role that Lawrence played in the Industrial Revolution. They were also having fun learning to spin and weave in preparation for a visit to the Museum. I had found my passion and I felt very fortunate to be part of an institution that was making such a difference in the community, while simultaneously preserving the textile history that was so important to my family.
Also by chance, Dr. Brown accepted a position in Missoula, Montana just when my graduate work was completed in May of 1990. I jumped at the offer to become the Coordinator of Museum Education and Public Programs, although I was more than slightly intimidated by the looming challenge of running the Museum’s signature event that spring. Somehow I survived my first experience building a huge fenced-in pen for the sheep dog demonstration, while also dealing with the quirky personalities of some of the vendors, crafters, and animals who participated in the annual Sheep Shearing Festival held on the North Andover Common.
The next momentous challenge was the opportunity to relocate the Museum to Lowell. From 1992-1997 the Board of Trustees, staff and volunteers all worked together to identify and renovate a new site, raise the needed funds, plan the programs and exhibitions, and catalogue and move the collections into our new home.
How quickly the time passed from our grand reopening in 1997 until 2006. We were all fully engaged in the work of the Museum, developing special exhibitions like Diana’s Dresses, initiating the American Textile Hall of Fame, adding to our renowned collections, and expanding our school-age programs.
From 2006 to 2008 we were faced with another challenge. We needed to raise $3.9 million which included $1.5 million to update our aging main exhibition, $1 million for our endowment (to match a $1 million challenge) and $1.4 million to support operating expenses during our planned two-year closure for the renovations. As the Director of Advancement, I was very fortunate that our new President and CEO Jim Coleman and the Board of Trustees embraced the challenge and provided the leadership that led to our success.
With the help of our loyal donors, community leaders, volunteers, trustees and staff, we reopened our doors to the public in 2009 and celebrated our 50th Anniversary in 2010. Our new interactive main exhibition, evocative special exhibitions, and inspirational educational programs have received excellent support as our audience and donor base have continued to grow, but our work is far from complete.
Although new challenges and opportunities are waiting around the next corner, the time seems right for me to retire to spend more time with my family. It is difficult to let go of such an important part of my life for the last 23 years, but I plan to continue my involvement and I look forward to hearing about the Museum’s plans for the future. I still marvel at the fact that a chance meeting when I was a graduate student led me down this rewarding career path, and I hope that I may have ignited a similar spark in one of the students whom I encountered along the way.
Director of Advancement