Charles Shepard III figures there are now 12 gallery spaces in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art where before there were only three.
The museum’s executive director admits there are days, however, when he counts his way up to a higher figure than 12.
He can hardly be blamed for trying to envision all the possibilities. Asked whether there will ever be 12 exhibits running simultaneously at the museum, Shepard replied, I think that would rock.
It would be like having 12 chapters going at the same time, he said. Ooooh, I can smell that on the burner.
Shepard uses a lot of literary metaphors to describe the $5.5 million expansion and modernization of the museum that started in July and will end Saturday with a triumphant reopening.
Wyeth: An American Legacy, Treasures from the Farnsworth Museum – an exhibition of works from painters Andrew and Jamie Wyeth and illustrator N.C. Wyeth – will be the show that inaugurates the invigorated museum.
Shepard’s literary metaphors speak volumes about his desire to use the revamped museum to tell more and better stories. He said being a museum director and a curator means more to him than hanging paintings on the wall.
Shepard sees his job as more akin to that of an author or cinematographer. But instead of using words or celluloid to make novels or movies, Shepard crafts narratives out of groupings of art.
It makes the curatorial job a hell of a lot harder, he said. But it’s a lot more exciting, too.
The museum now has an expanded store (please don’t call it a gift shop) and a fully refurbished lobby with plush furniture and WiFi.
The auditorium has been moved into a 10,000-square-foot addition, and the hall’s walls have been constructed in such a way that the auditorium can double as a gallery.
The hallways leading to and surrounding the new auditorium are devoted to a gallery with a regional theme.
The addition also houses three galleries devoted to the museum’s permanent collection, which has never had a lasting exhibition space of its own.
Going through the collection for items to display in the new galleries, Shepard was stunned to discover exciting works by Milt Resnick and Thomas Hart Benton. Shepard said the Benton, one of the few abstract works the man painted, is just killer.
Other new features of the museum include a children’s room with imagination stations and eye-filling artworks by painter Terry Ratliff and sculptor Sayaka Ganz.
I wanted something goofy, quirky and fun, and so Terry immediately came to mind, Shepard said. Who else would bring it in still wet?
Ganz’s sculpture of a jungle cat is made up of kitchen implements and coat hangers.
The library has been expanded from 6,000 volumes to 12,000, and it is now a lending library rather than just a research library.
The library now has tons of educational resources for K-through-12 art teachers, Shepard said.
The crown jewel of the museum’s various crown jewels is an innovative new study center devoted to the museum’s vast collection of prints, drawings and other paper works.
Visitors who make appointments to examine these works will be allowed to hold them in their hands.
Nobody else is doing that, Shepard said.
Additional bells and whistles include an outdoor sculpture garden, a lecture hall that overlooks the lobby and an acquisition plan that will allow the museum to buy about $60,000 worth of new work every year.
Shepard has some big plans that will probably involve hiring freelance curators around the country to create exhibits that will be launched in Fort Wayne and then go on tour elsewhere.
I want to build our reputation as a hot shop, he said.
As ever, Shepard is one of Fort Wayne’s most interesting and essential transplants: a silver-tongued sprite, a font of indefatigable enthusiasm, a whirling dervish with Zen self-assurance and a force to be reckoned with.
Where else would a lunatic like me get to do this stuff but here? he asked. They are so sweet to me.