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A Day in the Life of an Art Museum Curator

As curator of art for Springfield Art Museum, Sarah Buhr is responsible for several exhibits in different stages of development at any given time. Go behind the scenes as she prepares for the museum’s newest exhibition.

By Evan Greenberg

Jun 2018

Sarah Buhr Springfield Art Museum Curator
Photos by Brandon Alms9:15 AM Purchase Photo
Springfield Art Museum model scale
Photos by Brandon Alms9:55 AM Purchase Photo
Sarah Buhr and museum guests
Photos by Brandon Alms10:05 AM Purchase Photo
Untitled O'Neill portrait
Photos by Brandon Alms10:20 AM Purchase Photo
Sarah Buhr
Photos by Brandon Alms10:45 AM Purchase Photo

9:15 A.M. – After a morning staff meeting, Buhr retreats to her office to answer emails. It’s decorated with nods to galleries she’s working on; her desk is adorned with art books. She works on several projects in various stages at any given time, so there’s a lot to keep up with. She’s been working for five years on the gallery she’s debuting this week, a showcase of the Ozarks’ own Rose O’Neill of Kewpie doll fame.

9:40 A.M. – It’s Tuesday, and the gallery debuts Friday, so any finishing touches need to be put in place, well, now—a group, Decor Feminique, of the Southwest Missouri Museum Association, is coming for a preview in about 20 minutes. Buhr tests an audio component she’s really excited about; it’s a clip of O’Neill singing that plays on a loop. It’s one of many testaments to the depths and lengths Buhr has gone to create as comprehensive an exhibit as possible.

9:55 A.M. – There is an exhaustive amount of prep that goes into the planning and execution of a gallery of this magnitude. The day-to-day tasks include constant back-and-forth communication with museums and galleries around the country to secure pieces on loan, organizing shipping and myriad other things. It all comes together in the final planning stage: a scale model of what the finished product is to look like, with mounts, portraits and paintings plotted out.

10:05 A.M. – Buhr has a captive and curious audience, oohing and aahing at O’Neill’s artifacts and relics. They hang on everything Buhr says—and there is a lot to tell. Buhr is careful not to give too much away, encouraging the group to come back when the gallery opens.

10:20 A.M. – Buhr is asked about her favorite piece in the gallery, and she directs the group to an O’Neill portrait she calls “The Joker.” It’s officially untitled, but it’s the name Buhr has given it because of its disposition and the way the figure plays its instrument. “It encapsulates what Rose was about,” she says.

10:45 A.M. – The tour ends. Everything goes well and the group is reticent to leave. The most action-packed part of the day has now concluded. Buhr retreats to her office to sort out any final kinks before the opening.

Frolic of the Mind

Sarah Buhr edited Frolic of the Mind, a book of essays about Rose O’Neill.

The book consists of four essays: a principal biography of O’Neill written by Buhr; an essay on O’Neill’s poetry by poet and Drury University professor Jo Van Arkel; an essay on O’Neill’s involvement with the suffrage movement by Katie Gilbert, who has a doctorate in English literature; and a piece by Bonniebrook Historical Society President Susan Scott on O’Neill’s ties to the Ozarks. This book, $35, is only sold at the Springfield Art Museum gift shop. Photo courtesy Sarah Buhr.

See the Exhibit

LEARN MORE

The Frolic of the Mind exhibit, which runs through August 5, features artifacts, relics and works by artist Rose O’Neill from throughout her life. See it all at the Springfield Art Museum (1111 E. Brookside Drive, Springfield, 417-837-5700, sgfmuseum.org). Admission is free.

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