Fruitlands’ new director embraces the eclectic museum
Last week Lynch-McWhite became the executive director of the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard. Before that, she headed the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton. Located on 200-plus acres of forests and meadows, Fruitlands takes its name from transcendentalist Bronson Alcott’s short-lived utopian community. Fruitlands, which bills itself as “a quintessential New England gathering space,” is home to an eclectic collection of historic buildings, art, and artifacts, plus miles of scenic hiking trails.
Q. Why did you leave the Fuller Museum?
A. Really, to do a broader type of work. The Fuller is an awesome place with some of the greatest staff members I’ve ever worked with. I wanted something with a wider focus and Fruitlands fit that bill. I couldn’t be happier.
Q. Why did Fruitlands appeal to you?
A. I’ve worked in lots of different museums over my career. What Fruitlands has that’s very unique is a combination of different elements. I’ve worked with American art before, and I’ve worked with Native American art before, and Fruitlands combines these things, and other things I’m personally interested in.
Q. Such as?
A. The story of the landscape and the history that caused Clara Endicott Sears to found it in 1914.
Q. Were you familiar with Fruitlands before?
A. I’d known a little bit about it, but it was fairly new to me. I had never been there before. I was amazed by the landscape and could see what drew Bronson Alcott and others to that space. It’s breathtaking. When you walk into the farmhouse, for example, you are transported back in time, as if the Alcotts are still there.
Q. Fruitlands seems very eclectic. It has a farmhouse, a Shaker office building, Native American artifacts, and an art gallery with landscape paintings and 19th-century portraits. What ties it all together?
A. I think what ties it all together is its connection to the landscape. It was certainly important to the work that Alcott was doing and it was very important to the Shakers and to Native American culture. And the collection of Hudson River School landscape paintings are the ultimate landscape paintings.
Q. By the way, what is a Shaker office building?
A. It was an office from the Harvard Shaker community. Within the building are decorative arts, furniture, ephemera, and a document collection that is very valuable to researchers. It includes information about their agriculture seeds, their apothecary work. It’s quite extensive in its scope.
Q. Do you think the mission of the transcendentalists is still relevant today?
A. I certainly do. I heard a curator mention the other day that Bronson Alcott invented recess, and in my mind that makes him very relevant. Anyone who invented recess is OK with me.
Q . What’s the first thing on your agenda as executive director?
A. I want to undertake to get to know the Harvard community and the surrounding towns. Those folks are really important to the work the museum does, most able to share what a gem it is. Also, 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the museum, and I want to focus on that.
Q. Will you be making any acquisitions?
A. Fruitlands is not a place that buys a lot. But I was very pleased to see two new Native American acquisitions in the gallery. At this point, we think the framework of the museum is a good one. We want to enhance the visitor experience. No thoughts about a dramatic shift.
Q. What challenges do you face?
A. Every museum has the same concerns when times are tough. Making sure it’s a valuable experience when you’re spending your money. Making sure the visit is a really good one. And people need to know you are there and what you have to offer. It’s not just marketing — it’s making sure they are interested in visiting and supporting you by being members and donors.
Q. Would you say Fruitlands has a low profile?
A. I think a lot of people don’t really know enough about it to know what a gem it is.
Q. Why not?
A. In some ways it’s a testament to how great Boston is as an art community. There are so many quality things to do and Fruitlands is a wonderful museum in the midst of other excellent institutions. It’s smaller and doesn’t have resources, in terms of marketing dollars, to compare to something like the MFA or Peabody Essex Museum.
Q. Is Fruitlands a year-round museum?
A. It’s not. The museum buildings are open from mid-April through the end of October. Most people wouldn’t find it comfortable in the historical properties in January. I can’t wait to go sledding, personally.
Linda Matchan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.