Alt-Career Spotlight: Suzanne Quigley, Owner at Art & Artifact Services

This series of interviews will feature individuals who have received their MLIS/MSIS, but do not currently hold positions solely dedicated to art librarianship. Some may work in libraries and  have an interest or duties related to art librarianship, while others use their information science skills in fields outside of the traditional library setting.

What is the name of the institution/employer you work for?

Art & Artifact Services, my own company, founded in 2005.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your current position?
I have a BFA in painting, an MLIS (UW Madison) and my art history thesis was on 16th century German graphics, specifically the ‘godless painters of Nürnberg’. As an undergrad, I worked in the Art History slide library under the tutelage of Christine Sundt. While in grad school, I wrote a program to catalog 23,000 textiles and provide access on an optical laser disc – that was awhile ago! Upon graduation, I became the visual resources librarian at Kenyon College in Ohio. That was followed by a 7-year stint as Registrar at the Detroit Institute of Arts, followed by 4 years doing the same thing (but on a global scale) at the Guggenheim Museum, followed by 6 years at the Whitney Museum of American Art. At every institution I shepherded the process of identifying and implementing a comprehensive collection management system and making sure the procedures yielded good stuff in/good stuff out. That aside, logistics became another favorite pastime. Currently I manage private and corporate art collections (acquisitions, cataloging, loans, deaccessions, policies, etc.) and occasionally, once the curator knows what she wants, I will manage a traveling exhibition: initial budget estimates, loan negotiation, venue negotiation, insurance, assembly, installation, tours — all the way to dispersal. Soup to nuts!

What brought you to your current position?
When I was about 10 years old, I had a lot of books. Still do! In fact, there were so many that it was necessary to group them to see if I had any books missing in a series. I actually gave them catalog numbers in black marker on the spines. Some of the spines didn’t last, but the will to organize was obvious at an early age. I guess that was the beginning of it all. After many years of museum work, I found myself getting further and further away from the art itself. I had often hired experienced contract registrars so I knew it was a viable field. I also had a rich professional background, a double rolodex, and my husband’s full support to give it a whirl. So, I did the research to establish an LLC, created a graphic identity, a website, a boilerplate contract and haven’t looked back. I stay engaged in the profession and have served as a formal and an informal mentor over the years.

What does a typical workday look like for you?
When I work at a client’s site, I get up early so I can be there at 9, not a small thing as sometimes the commute is 2 hours each way. I might supervise an installation crew, I might review and adjust policies, do some cataloging and/or data entry, take photos of new acquisitions, and with corporate clients there are always meetings. Generally all clients like lots of reports sorted in various ways — ways that are not always an easy call and necessitate the creation new reports on the backend of the database.

But as much of my work (maybe 80%?) can be done in my home office, I first check email while still in bed (a bad habit, but doesn’t everyone?). Once at the computer, I review my todo list, set priorities for the day and I plow through them. I record my tasks and time spent by client for the monthly billing. Email is an annoyance and when I need to concentrate for a prolonged period I will turn it off. My phone is on stun too and I often leave it in the other room and check it whenever I get up to stretch or feed the cats.

Do you have any advice for current students and/or those on the job market?
A variety of internships will stand one in good stead, but it is important to stay engaged, write, attend even local conferences or online seminars. Seek a mentor, keep learning, participate in webinars, join professional groups – c’mon they aren’t that expensive – what? Maybe 4 pizzas? Some associations have student membership levels.

What are some of the current challenges you see in your field or the art/information science field?
Just one example, the international aspect of recording bibliographies in a database can be daunting. I often get bibliographic references in Chinese. Did you know that there is an online ARTFORUM in Chinese?? I can cut and paste Chinese characters into my database, but I have no idea what it says or if the data is in the correct field. That, and the challenge of obtaining archival materials in India and the Far East (with the exception of Japan).

Tell us something fun about yourself! What do you do in your spare time?
I find that cooking a huge meal for friends and family and having the timing come out perfectly is a wonderful diversion. I also like to look out the window of my office. On a clear day I can see the blue mountains of the Catskills on the other side of the Hudson River, about 12 miles away. In the heat of the summer, we like to stay at a thatched roof cabin on a bay in the north of Donegal where our neighbors are cows or sheep.

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