Susan Faxon: 31 Years at the Addison Gallery

After 31 years as a curator at the Addison Gallery of American Art, Susan Faxon has announced that she is retiring on November 30. Faxon is currently the curator for art specifically made before 1950. The new curator to replace Faxon has not yet been determined.

“I was recruited to come here to be a curator, and curating means research, writing, educating, caring for the collection – to curate means to take care of. So, I’m in charge of the well-being of the work in our collection, the old work, the traditional work before 1950,” said Faxon.

According to Faxon, she has been interested in art since a very young age. After attending college in New York, where she majored in painting, Faxon became a curator at an exhibition art gallery. She then became the curator at the University of New Hampshire’s gallery. After 11 years at University of New Hampshire, Faxon came to Andover, where she has remained ever since.

Since the Addison frequently changes their exhibitions, Faxon often has to create exhibits in a short amount of time. According to Faxon, this fast-paced environment is what she loves about working at the Addison.

“It’s not like working in an office where there’s a repetitive quality to everything you do. Here, it’s almost always like Christmas — you bring the work up, you think about it, you choose the work, you write the loan letters, they come in, you take them out of the crate, and it’s exciting… That’s why so many of us have been here for so long… we all love this process, the ability to work with the objects and to come right up face to face with a work of art,” said Faxon.

For Faxon, curating is more than just looking after works of art. She describes it as a process to actively engage with patrons.

“The challenge of reinstalling our collection three times each term means looking at the collection in a new way, looking at work that’s well-known and putting it in juxtaposition with other work to make some interesting questions in the minds of the people who are coming to see it — that is the greatest pleasure for me,” Faxon continued.

Faxon has worked closely with Allison Kemmerer, her fellow curator of art past 1950 at the Addison. Kemmerer says that she will miss Faxon’s sharp insight and creativity.

“I have been at the Addison 26 years, and in that whole time, she has been my partner in crime. She began as my mentor. She is incredibly generous, nurturing. She is extremely intelligent, creative. She has I don’t know how many shows that she’s curated over her 31 years, but each one of them has been completely fresh and innovative and insightful,” Kemmerer said in an interview with The Phillipian .

In addition, Kemmerer enjoys the collaborative dynamic between her and Faxon.

“We each have our own shows on the docket, so we’re working side-by-side doing certain areas of the museum, but there’s not a single show that we’re installing that we don’t bring each other up and say, ‘This is what I’m thinking. What do you think?’ We help each other reshuffle [and] rethink. We’re always talking and overlapping,” Kemmerer said.

David Freilach, Director of Development at the Addison Gallery of American Art, also works closely with Faxon to find donors for possible exhibitions or acquisitions.

Freilach said, “[Faxon] has a ritual of doing the Boston Globe crossword puzzle in her office during lunch every day, and I wonder if it is that break which keeps her so calm. She has so much to do — selecting works from the collection for exhibition, working on exhibition catalogues, researching art that has been offered as a gift, to name a few — yet she never seems flustered. I’m thinking we all need to do the crossword puzzle.”

One of Faxon’s favorite exhibits to curate has been about the history of Andover’s architecture.

“I did a show that looked at the architectural history of the campus, its buildings and its landscape, and that was a great milestone because I have a graduate degree in architectural preservation and restoration. This was the perfect melding of my interest in museums, trying to explain through and exhibition, through objects, a history that we also wrote about,” said Faxon.

When asked about the legacy she hopes to leave behind, Faxon said that it has been more about the Addison as a whole rather than her own self.

“I don’t think I have a legacy. I think that we’re all part of a grand effort, and I think that will continue. I don’t think that will ever be different as I leave. What will be different is that there will be another curator of historic American paintings who will have different interests. I think that I’ve done some great work… and I know there will be others who will come and see it fresh. I think that’s good,” said Faxon.

She will move to Portland, Maine following her retirement. Her one reserve is the weather. Faxon’s advice for future curators is simple: love your job.

“Just enjoy this place. Enjoy the art. I hope that whoever it is that comes has the passion for the art that all the rest of us have. That’s a really important part, and they’re going to have fun,” said Faxon.