Curator and Collection Educator of the Mott-Warsh Collection & Gallery
Interviewed by Valerie Fair
Artist On The Cutting Edge: Can you tell our readers exactly what you do?
Stephanie James: I am the Curator and Collection Educator for the Mott-Warsh Collection, a private collection of art primarily by artist of the African diaspora, mostly African American. It’s based in Flint, Michigan. As curator, I advise the collector on purchases of art for the collection, curate exhibitions, and oversee the general care of the collection. As Collection Educator, I research artists represented in the collection, write didactic materials to accompany exhibits, and organize programs. I’m also Director of the collection gallery, the MW Gallery located in downtown Flint, Michigan.
Stephanie James is the Curator and Collection Educator for the
Mott-Warsh Collection and the Director of the MW Collection Gallery in Flint, Michigan. Pop Mod Photo
AOTCE: How long have you been a Curator and Collection Educator for the Mott-Warsh Collection?
Stephanie James: I started with collection in 2011 and became Curator in 2012.
AOTCE: What advice would you give to a potential collector?
Stephanie James: It depends on what stage of collecting they’re in. For a beginning collector, I’d advise them to give thought to what type of art interests them. Figurative? Abstraction? Conceptual? Is there certain media that they’re drawn to? I’d suggest visiting museums and art galleries as often as possible to help them identify their interests and aesthetic taste. As a collector identifies their preferences, it’s also important that they do some reading.
The collector, Ms. Maryanne Mott, I work with is very seasoned. She’s pretty much established themes and aesthetics that she’s drawn to. My work with her is more about directing her to new artists that fall in those areas and the availability of additional works by artists already in the collection.
AOTCE: Do you advise only one collector?
Stephanie James: Formally, yes. I am employed by Maryanne Mott. Maryanne and her late husband, Herman Warsh, are the collectors who started the Mott-Warsh Collection.
AOTCE: Does Ms. Mott continue to collect?
Stephanie James: Yes, Maryanne continues to collect. When either of us finds interesting work or receives recommendations from art dealers, we share them with one another and assess our responses. At this point (working together for almost 9 years), we’re pretty much in agreement in our responses to works of art.
AOTCE: You recently curated a show by the well-known artist Alison Saar. Can you tell us about her work and at what capacity was your involvement?
Stephanie James: I think you’re referring to the exhibit I curated titled, “Off the Wall: Sculpture from the Mott-Warsh Collection,” currently on view at MW Gallery. It isn’t a solo show of Alison Saar’s work, but she’s well represented in it. We recently invited her to Flint to speak about her art in conjunction with that exhibit. Alison is a remarkable artist who works in many media—drawing, painting, a prolific printmaker—but, she’s best known for her sculpture. She typically transforms found objects, especially rough-hewn wood, old tin ceiling panels, nails, shards of pottery, and other urban detritus. The resulting figures and objects are powerful forms that explore issues of gender, race heritage and history.
Stephanie James: I think that’s a question Alison Saar frequently gets. She openly shares the influence that both her parents had on her. She credits her mother (Beyte Saar) for taking her to visit museums, galleries, and sites such as Simon Rodia’s Watts Tower as a child in Los Angeles. She was also encouraged by her father, Richard Saar, a ceramicist and conservator who taught her about materials and techniques. No doubt, Alison’s choices in materials and themes were influenced by her upbringing, but she clearly has her own distinct voice. She has a sister Lezley Saar, who is also an artist.
AOTCE: Who are the artists in the exhibit?
Stephanie James: There are works by 22 artists represented in “Off the Wall” including Nick Cave-a fiber artists whose creations include mixed-media sculptures, collages, installations, and performance. He’s best known for his Soundsuits--part sculpture, part costume creations, named for the sounds they make when worn or used in performance. Then, there’s Barbara Chase-Riboud, who is primarily known for her sculptures, often created using the lost-wax bronze casting technique and combined with braided, knotted, and wrapped fiber skirts. And, there’s British-Nigerian artist, Yinka Shonibare, who is best known for his dramatic displays of life-size, headless mannequins, elegantly dressed in 18th and 19th century costumes made from elaborately patterned textiles popular in Africa. We commissioned him to make the piece we have in the show; it's called “Magic Ladder Kid VI."