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Memphis is the home of the oldest and largest museum in Tennessee — the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art (MBMA). Housed in the same spot since 1916, the museum is in a beautiful Beaux-Arts-style building. But, changes are afoot. The museum will soon make its new home downtown next to the Mississippi River, in a building designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog and de Meuron.  

This evolution means exciting things for the museum’s future. It’s also an exhilarating new journey for the three women who spearhead the museum’s collections and exhibits: Chief Curator Dr. Rosamund Garrett, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Dr. Patricia Daigle, and Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora, Heather Nickels.   

We had the opportunity to speak with these three dynamic women about their passion for the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and what inspired them to take on such unique careers. Please welcome this week’s FACES of Memphis!

Dr. Rosamund Garrett, Chief Curator

Rosamund Garrett headshot

Meet Dr. Rosamund Garrett — the Chief Curator of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

What does your position entail?

Broadly, I take care of the museum’s collection, ensuring that we can hand it on to the next generation. And I make our collection, and art in general, accessible to the public, primarily through exhibitions and displays.

You’re originally from the United Kingdom. What inspired you to move to the states?

Curatorial jobs are often few and far between, so you need to be able to move. I first started here in 2018 as Associate Curator of European and Decorative Arts, and I worked my way up. I was initially drawn to two things — the permanent collection, which I think is stronger than most people realize, and the opportunity to work on the new building. It’s extraordinary to be able to think and put into practice what a museum can be for the twenty-first century, especially in such a remarkable location.

Are there any exhibits you’re particularly proud of?

An exhibition that we’ve just closed, On Christopher Street: Transgender Portraits by Mark Seliger, was important to me. Last year was the deadliest year for transgender people in U.S. history, and presently there are many bills targeting the trans community. As someone who is a part of the LGBTQIA2+ community, I couldn’t just do nothing. I believe that knowing each other’s stories can make us kinder and that culture can bring us together. This exhibition was the first LGBTQIA2+ exhibition the museum has made and the first trans-centered exhibition in the Mid-South.

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What are your favorite sources of information in and around Memphis?

I love that Memphis is strong in community activism. People care here; they stand up for what is right and do it with love. Some really innovative work is being done in this city, and it can be nation-leading, such as the work by My Sistah’s House, Protect Our Aquifer, and NativeRITES. The people of Memphis are an inspiration to us all in those regards.

What advice do you treasure?

My Ph.D. supervisor, when I was struggling to write, said, “Start with what you love.” Actually, it’s pretty good life advice in general — put what you love first, and the rest will fall into place around it.

Dr. Patricia Daigle, Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art

Headshot of Patricia Daigle

Say hello to Dr. Patricia Daigle, MBMA’s Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art.

What does your position entail?

As Associate Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, I oversee the museum’s collection of modern and contemporary works in all media. I generate presentations of modern and contemporary art in the form of temporary exhibitions and permanent collection displays, serve as site-curator for traveling exhibitions, and help establish the curatorial approach to the museum’s new building downtown.

When did you join the museum?

I’ve been a fan of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art since moving here in 2015 from Santa Barbara, California. After five years directing a university gallery and organizing temporary exhibitions, I was excited by the opportunity to get back into the museum and engage with a rich permanent collection. To do so at such a critical time of transition for the MBMA felt like a chance for me to help shape the museum’s future in service of our community and city.

Are there any specific exhibits you’re working on?

I’m currently organizing the exhibition Another Dimension: Digital Art in Memphis, which will be featured in our summer 2022 season, a slot designed to offer visitors a taste of something new or experimental. The exhibition will provide a glimpse into Memphis’s emerging digital art scene.

I’m also excited to be working on the exhibition Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet organized by the Morgan Library and Museum in New York. It’s opening this fall at the MBMA. The exhibition examines the acclaimed children’s book author and illustrator’s successful second career — later in life — as a designer of sets and costumes for the stage.

What are your sources of inspiration in and around Memphis?

I love that Memphis has such a vibrant public art scene and so many talented artists. From city officials to residents, people seem to embrace the role art serves in making our city unique, with a fierce, ever-evolving identity.

What advice do you treasure?

I find myself applying some of the parenting advice I read in raising my children to myself, too. My favorite is probably “avoid saying ‘be careful’ to raise resilient kids.” I’m still trying to get back to a more fearless me, the little girl barreling down steep neighborhood hills on roller skates.

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Heather Nickels, Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora

Heather Nickels headshot

A warm welcome to Heather Nickels, the Joyce Blackmon Curatorial Fellow in African American Art and Art of the African Diaspora at MBMA!

What does your position entail?

My role has two main areas of focus and responsibility. First, I was tasked with organizing an exhibition titled Persevere and Resist: The Strong Black Women of Elizabeth Catlett. In addition, I worked closely with colleagues at the museum (and a publisher in the U.K., Paul Holberton Press) to publish a catalog to accompany the exhibition. Another significant responsibility of mine is proposing acquisitions in the areas of African American and African Diasporic art — works that will drastically increase our holdings of work by Black artists globally.

When did you join the museum?

As I was completing my Master’s degree at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, U.K., in spring 2019, I heard about this particular fellowship opportunity through my supervisor in the university’s gallery, where I worked part-time while studying.

At that point, I hadn’t begun looking for a full-time job, but I was keeping an eye out nonetheless. Little did I know that a former member of the curatorial staff had left for a job in Memphis, Tennessee, a few months prior to working at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and the person who’d reached out would later become my current boss, Dr. Rosamund Garrett! After flying out to Memphis that spring, while working from home in Washington, D.C., on my Master’s thesis, I was offered the job.

Are there any specific exhibits you’re working on now?

I opened Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds early last month. I am about to open a one-work display that will be on view for a full year, on loan to us from Art Bridges, the arts foundation located in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is a painting by an artist named Henry Ossawa Tanner, who is considered by many to be the first African American artist to achieve international acclaim. The work is called The Thankful Poor, was painted in 1894 and was recently conserved by the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA).

What are your sources of inspiration in and around Memphis?

I love getting outdoors, to parks and green spaces around the city. It’s something that I didn’t prioritize pre-pandemic, but which I’ve learned is critical to my mental and physical health. I still love spending time downtown when I can — walking around, and getting inspired by absorbing Memphis’ long and complex history.

What advice do you treasure?

As my fellowship comes to a close and I’m considering my next steps, the best advice I’ve heard has been along the lines of “trust your gut,” something I’ve never really put much credence into in the past.

Be sure to keep an eye on the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art website for upcoming exhibits.

Thank you, Rosamund, Patricia, and Heather! All photography courtesy of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. 

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Meet more inspiring Memphis women by visiting our archives!

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