Published: June 4, 2019
On May 13, Jim Craig was officially appointed the new executive director of the Rockport Art Association & Museum (RAA&M) in Rockport, Mass. His appointment came after an exhaustive director’s search and fills a two-year vacancy within this position. The appointment heralds a new era of vision and growth for the nearly 100-year-old organization. We caught up with Craig shortly after his ascension to the post to ask him about his upcoming tasks.
What’s on your to-do list?
One of my first tasks is to heighten the public’s awareness of our museum collection. We have more than 650 oil paintings, watercolors, drawings and sculptures created by several of Cape Ann’s – and America’s – finest artists, and the vast majority of these works have never been publicly exhibited. We’d also like to increase the profile of our annual auction. And then there’s broadening the art education programs, like our figure classes for adults, our creative community painting in the wintertime initiative and our free indoor and outdoor painting programs for US military veterans. Launching a host of new exhibitions, offering a regular museum lecture series, increasing our endowment, converting the space above our Maddox Gallery into an art class studio and exploring the possibility of establishing anything from a frame shop to offering art appraisals, to perhaps a café on the premises, are also on that list.
Describe your museum experience.
In a word: serendipitous. It all started in 2002 at the famous The House of the Seven Gables house museum in Salem, Mass. I had not studied for a museum career, but under the tutelage of Dr Alexandria Mason, I started my career at the Gables as a curatorial assistant. From there I made the leap to the Cape Ann Museum in Gloucester, Mass., where I served as associate curator for the permanent collection. It was during my tenure there that, with invaluable help from the late maritime historian Joseph Garland, I published my first book, Fitz H. Lane: An Artist’s Voyage through Nineteenth Century America, the first definitive biography to appear on Lane in more than 30 years.
Can you tell us a bit about some of the key works in the association’s permanent collection?
Childe F. Hassam’s “Granite Pier, Rockport” is the first piece that comes to mind. Created in 1919, this mixed media work illustrates our sleepy seaside village at a time when it was a bustling center of industry. It is a priceless window into a past that is no more, captured in that way only Hassam could. Fredrick Mulhaupt’s “Gloucester Harbor, Winter,” is one of the association’s most treasured pieces. It stands out, not only due to its superb execution, but also due to the fact that – as any collector can readily attest to – Mulhaupt’s work is exceedingly rare to come by. Two other personal favorites are William Lester Stevens’ “The Forge” and Marguerite S. Pearson’s “Irene: Lady with Peonies.”
Exhibitions, educational programs, annual auctions – what else do you envision as a way to foster the creation and appreciation of the fine arts?
In 2021, the Rockport Art Association & Museum will celebrate its 100th birthday. It’s essential to not only celebrate the past of one of the oldest art associations in the country, but also to look towards its future. One of the challenges that faces us is how to remain true to and promote the unique artistic heritage of Rockport, even as we welcome into our association the new forms of artistic expression that are blossoming here on Cape Ann right now.
What are your interests when not performing duties for the RAA&M?
Try as I might, it seems I can’t really separate my life from my work. For me, my life is my labor and vice versa. I not only get to work with a legion of amazingly talented artists here, but when I go home I get to hang out with artists, too. My wife, as well as all my oldest and best friends, are artists – photographers, writers, musicians, woodcarvers. When you are hanging out with such people, you are destined to discuss the arts. And make some, too. I regularly assist one photographer friend who is exploring the four elements of western culture via a series of late-night photo shoots. As well, I have my own art to pursue, crafting stone sculptures and painting primitive compositions on the heads of traditionally hand-made Irish bodhráin drums. And then there’s spending time with my family. And continuing my writing career. And somewhere in there I get to sleep…
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