Category Archives: How I became a registrar

FAUX Real – How did I get here?

How I became a registrar V

Matthew C. Leininger

matt condition reportWell Trekkers it is great to write to you once again after seeing the world premier of Art and Craft at the Tribeca Film Festival! The film is great and is going to make history with this whole Landis deal. As I said in the film ‘he messed with the wrong registrar’! Cool thing is gang, Art and Craft will hit the big screen in theaters in the USA late fall, early summer, then the DVD and eventually will be televised. Really neat stuff and I was the registrar to make this all happen.

But why me and how did I get here?

After being encouraged from a young age by my high school art teacher, Barb Sailor, I worked hard at art all my life and went to college to study the arts. My concentration was in printmaking and stone lithography was my gig. I began my career as an unknowing intern at the Kennedy Museum of Art at Ohio University where I was working on obtaining my Master of Fine Arts degree. Eventually I was hired on at the Kennedy as curator, registrar and preparator. You can say I jumped in head first into what turned out to be an over fifteen year career in the fine art museum field. I met my wife Jen in 1996 and was married in 1997. 17 years wedded bliss this month! I graduated OU in 1998 and took off with my new wife to become the registrar at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. There I was challenged to move their entire collection from the old fairgrounds building to the new facility which is now downtown. Carolyn Hill was the director at that time, sadly she is no longer with us. Carolyn use to tell me that I was the heartbeat of the museum; she even did so to donors and trustees about me. Pretty big shoes to fill! Eventually I was made Curatorial Department Head overseeing registration, the curators, film and education. I was a whiz at making budgets and keeping them in the black and eventually I was responsible for well over 150 exhibitions during my career.

mattcleanEight years in Oklahoma City, we decided to move back to Ohio where the end was coming for my career as a registrar, but I did not know it at the time. The Cincinnati Art Museum hired me on as Chief Registrar and I oversaw three fellow registrars that I miss… three good people with much experience. My position, believe it or not, was ‘eliminated’. The reasons I was told I was let go were all bogus and I finally burned my copy of the letter. I believe it was due to financial issues as I was making a seriously big salary for a registrar with full benefits. I think a big contributor however was my link to finding and tracking Mark Landis. A few weeks before I was let go, I was told not to talk about Landis on museum time. So I did not. No phone calls or emails. But you all knew where I was working and if you wanted information on Landis, you called or emailed. I adhered to CAM’s wishes and only talked and worked on Landis at home. I really did not do personal work on Landis at CAM anyway so not sure why they were worried. CAM is in Art and Craft and Cincinnati, OH is pasted all over the big screen. My gain, and a big win for Cincinnati even though the city is not aware of the film hitting the theaters!

After looking for museum work for 14 months, and anything I could find to produce an income, I was hired on by a franchise shipping company. That lasted four months and I knew something was wrong with the company when my direct report had to borrow against life insurance to pay me. So out of work again and back to being a stay at home dad with my six year old angel! But the story goes on to where I am today. I am currently a Fulfillment Associate with Basically what I have been doing for them in this monster size warehouse, is if you order something online, I go get it to have it shipped to you! It is a whole new world but refreshing and showing me that my career as a registrar can pay off in other fields.

Delivery1When I left Ohio with my new wife in 1998 I had no clue as to what I would be doing 17 years later. So take my life as a prime example, you will never know what the plan is for your life or career. So be happy where you are today and make each day count as tomorrow brings changes. Sometimes small changes or big, but be prepared. Change is coming. I was scared and worried three years ago when I lost my job which was the first time in my life. But here I am today, a hard working blue collar man with an awesome wife and daughter and I am honored to share how I got here!

Talk Soon,

This post is also available in French, translated by Marine Martineau.


How I became a Registrar IV

Preparator, Collections Manager, Registrar, Teacher – Never stop learning

Derek Swallow

My attraction for the cultural historical sector began in the mid 1970’s when I worked as a guide at Ft. Edmonton Park, a reconstructed fur trade post, and a volunteer information officer for the Strathcona Historical Society in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. This stimulus led me to study Anthropology and History, earning me a Bachelor’s Degree in these subjects. Following my degree I became acquainted with Museology and through self-study learned about registration/collections management work.

springcleaningSince then, and for almost three decades, registration, collections documentation and loans of cultural collections have been my focal career goal. My experience, in this area, started in 1982, when I took on a long-term voluntary position as Assistant to the Registrar at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV). In 1984 my association with the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, began with volunteering in Ethnology cataloguing First Nation’s collections. This inspired me to study First Nations art and do a subsequent BA and MA in History in Art. In 1990, I undertook a one year Collections Management Internship (which included several University of Victoria Cultural Resource Management Courses). In 1991 I joined the BC Archives as Preparator/Collections Manager. To augment my experience, I also volunteered for nearly a year at the Maritime Museum in Sidney, BC – just outside of Victoria – its collection’s strength being Natural History. I worked in the area of registration and collections management. With the union of the Royal BC Museum and the BC Archives in 2003 many exciting avenues of learning opened for me. The most rewarding was an arrangement where our head of registration offered to fully mentor me in the registrar’s profession. Over the last ten years my official role has transitioned from that of collections manager/preservation specialist to full-time registrar.

From the outset of my career, I understood the significance and importance of the registrar as the linchpin position that maintains cohesive control over collections location tracking, proper handling, storage and preservation, as well as the critical paper and electronic records which carry the important data about these collections. Further, the registrar understands and carries out the processes and safeguards required to timely, and securely loan out artifacts and care for those which are brought in for exhibit, research, etc.

Derek behind the scenes:

I’m married with three children: a son; daughter; and a large shaggy dog who thinks he’s one of my offspring. I enjoy reading well-written fiction, writing articles, dinghy sailing, and taking my dog for long walks on local trails or the beach. I’m also devoted to what my wife refers to as my second, full-time unpaid job: I coordinate, create lesson plans, and teach, as a volunteer, at an adult-targeted, free-to-participant ESL program which focuses on developing verbal English skills (I have a TESL Certification, and am a certified British Columbia School teacher).

I have the great fortune to live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, one of the most beautiful cities in our country and with one of the mildest climates. While hardly the tropics we say with slight exaggeration that we have only two seasons: the wet season – winter and the dry season summer. The city is situationed on Vancouver Island on the west coast of Canada.

I grew up in Alberta, one province to the east of British Columbia. My home city is the provincial capital: Edmonton. In spring we slog through drifts of slushy snow, too hot in our winter coats and too cold in our lighter jackets. Relief comes with our relatively hot and dry summer, dramatically punctuated with fierce thunderstorms. The downside, areas of standing water create breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The beautiful warm evenings are disrupted by clouds of these blood-thirsty insects driving everyone indoors. Autumn is beautiful. The mosquitoes are gone and the trees blaze, red, orange and yellow – then comes winter. From November often to May we have snow. The temperature fluctuates but we frequently suffer savage cold and wind, sometimes with temperatures dropping to -40C or below, which can freeze exposed fingers or parts of the face in under a minute.

Now you know why I fled to Victoria, where average winter temperatures range between + 6 C to + 9 C. It’s heaven out here but a wet heaven. We have lovely summers but rainy winters.
I am so pleased to be a part of Registrar Trek: The Next Generation. The blog is such a great idea. It not only opens up the opportunity to communicate globally with other registrars but acts to disseminate information about our profession and potentially could provide training information for small museums and new registrars worldwide.


Derek Swallow
Registrar Royal BC Museum


How I became a museum registrar III

Breaking News; Journalist discovers she’s a registrar

Tracey Berg-Fulton

GUAlumniProfileKI remember the day I decided to go in to museum work quite clearly. I was sitting on a bench in the Ulster Museum in Belfast, Northern Ireland, having just finished interviews for a newspaper piece I was writing. As is the custom, it was a rainy gray day, and I took shelter in the museum.

As I sat, I thought about what I had been doing – journalism – and asked myself if I could really sustain myself in it for thirty years.

The answer was a clear, resounding, heart-sinking, no. So having incurred thousands of dollars in educational debt to get to this point, what on earth will I do now?

And then I looked around me.

This. This is what I want to do. I had always loved history, art, libraries and museums, so why not make it my life officially?

I applied to an art history postgraduate program at the University of Glasgow on a whim, thinking that I’d be rejected out of hand, lacking British qualifications and only tangentially related undergraduate degrees in photography and journalism. I was shocked to be accepted to start in autumn of 2007.

At Glasgow, I was thrown headlong into research and writing, and took the opportunity to do work placement with a stained glass conservator at Glasgow Museums. Our work focused on an inventory of stained glass, and during that process I learned about the various roles within the museum. I couldn’t get enough of the objects and spending time in the vaults, and then I discovered that the person who has the most contact with the most stuff is, of course, the registrar.

My course was set. Famous last words, right?

I graduated in December of 2008, and returned to my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the United States. I had heard about the recession in the US, but being in Scotland I hadn’t fully understood the impact. I began applying to every museum I could, and then any related businesses, and then just any job in general. Nothing.

Finally a connection introduced me to another connection that helped me get in to a volunteer role at the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh. Having had a job since I was 14, I was relieved just to be working, even for no pay. I also began volunteering at a small community run museum, creating an inventory of their collections.

Then in April of 2009, I had an accident while running that left me with a broken hip and temporarily unable to walk, sit, drive, work, or do anything but lie in bed. I lost six months of my life to my recovery.

After I recovered, I returned to my volunteer work at the Carnegie, and had a change of roles after a successful application, into a part-time position as an imaging technician. Not quite registrar work, but still interacting with lots of objects. I enjoyed my work, but I kept hoping for a registrar opening, and applying for open positions around the country.

375_513434167185_2390_nOne of those applications was successful – and I left to take an assistant registrar position in Oklahoma in 2010. It was a wonderful learning experience, but the economy had made it so that I had to work in Oklahoma while my husband remained in Pennsylvania. Then came a string of health problems in my family, and the need to return home was too strong. I left my position with no museum job to come home to.

Returning to Pittsburgh was rewarding in that I was home with my family, but the job situation was dire. I returned to working retail with an outdoor retailer while I sorted out where I was going to go next.

Then one day it dawned on me- why not be a contract registrar? If there isn’t a job, why not create one for myself? One of the benefits of living in a mid-sized city, I discovered, is that there aren’t a lot of folks doing contract work here (presumably they’ve all been snapped up by clients already!).

I sought out a mentor from the Registrars Committee of the American Alliance of Museums, and began to network and mention that I was doing independent work. Then I filed my papers to incorporate as an LLC. I had a surprisingly strong response from the Pittsburgh community, and I was off and running.

Contract work really suited me- I got to be a registrar, but really, my title was more appropriately “fixer”. I loved solving strange problems for my clients, everything from figuring out how to ship a massive photograph across the country overnight to how to replace the handle of a toilet (hint: turn the plastic nut the opposite way from every other nut and bolt you’ve ever tightened). It was the perfect blend of art history, carpentry, power tools, and diplomacy. I made my own hours and got to choose my projects, which was a blessing when a family member was diagnosed with cancer.

But something was missing. While my dog is a wonderful listener, he’s not much of a conversationalist, so I desperately missed having colleagues. I missed having a collection that I know down to the finite detail. I missed having a building that I know like an old friend. I missed having semi-regular hours- what no one tells you about “flexible working” and working from home is that it really means you’re working 24 hours a day, answering e-mails, billing, doing taxes, doing actual client work, looking for clients, keeping up on best practices, networking, etc.

And so that brings me to today. I’m one month in to my full-time staff position as Registrar at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. We are a young institution, and it is exciting to be able to help implement policies, troubleshoot challenges, and break new ground when needed. I’m happy to be working in an organization that serves an important cultural function in our city, and my work is incredibly rewarding.

It’s been a long and winding road to get to this point, but I’ve seen some amazing things along the way. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and learning from so many of my colleagues at conferences, over coffee, and through the RC-AAM listserv. I also have the pleasure to serve as Chair of the Website Committee of the RC-AAM. Every day I learn and do something new. Every day I see the most amazing and intimate objects of civilization- from baptismal gowns to goalie pads. I get to indulge my love of shiny things. And I get to scratch my technology itch (and I’m still waiting for a responsive designed web-based database, developers!). What could be better?

Going forward, I hope to continue growing in my profession, and I hope to become more involved in the wider world of museums, and to actively participate in bringing museums to a 21st century visitorship.

Text: Tracey Berg-Fulton


How I became a museum registrar II

A vagabond in the museum field

Angela Kipp

picture by Bernd Kiessling

View of my recent working place.
HDR photo by Bernd Kießling

This should better read: How I realized that I was a registrar, but let’s start at the beginning…

I always loved old stuff and I climbed castles and went to museums as long as I can remember. So it was somehow logical that I chose museum studies when school was finished. By the way, my job center agent considered it a very dumb idea… Anyway, I decided to study in Berlin, at the „Fachhochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft“ (FHTW, University of Applied Sciences). This meant that I had to do 6 months of internship at a museum or archive to fulfill the entry requirements.

I did this in the Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit (museum for technology and work) in Mannheim. This was the first time I came into contact with the work in museum collections because one of my tasks was to document a collection of about 500 tin cans, reaching from very tiny medication containers to large coffee containers.

The advantage of this internship was not only that I was accepted as a student of museum studies in Berlin in the fall of 1998, but also that I had a museum job in my first semester break. The Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit had an exhibition on „coffee, how to make it and how it tastes“. I was a combination of a visitor guide and a bartender, explaining how to roast coffee at a roasting machine and afterward selling cups of coffee to the visitors. When there was nothing to do I documented coffee machines and coffee mills and I can still give you a five minute lecture on the principle of the „recirculating percolator“ and why it’s a dumb idea to brew your coffee with it.

In my next semester break I did an internship in the Museum für Kommunikation (museum of communication, the former postal museum) in Berlin. They were building up their new permanent exhibition, and so, „unfortunately“, I had to take a break from my studies for one semester because they signed me as project assistant. It was a thrilling time and I learned many, many things about exhibitions, research, textual work, copyright questions, object handling and troubleshooting.

I went back to my studies in May 2000 but from this project on there was never a time I haven’t worked for a museum or similar institution. I was working as a freelancer as a side job during my studies. It were different jobs but most of them were linked with special exhibitions. So I learned much about the encoding machine Enigma, Prussian military, clay bricks, paper manufacturing, the agricultural development in the state of Brandenburg, paraments and church history, the human brain and screw manufacturing.

I finished my studies in the spring of 2002 and kept working as a freelance museum professional, mainly for the Deutsche Museum in Munich and for the cathedral museum in Brandenburg/Havel. Alongside I was looking for a time contract or permanent job in a museum. One day when I was searching job announces on the internet a very known name popped up: The Landesmuseum für Technik und Arbeit was searching a curator for their permanent exhibition on synthetic materials and their collection of chemistry objects. Feeling I had nothing to lose, I sent an application, considering my chances very dim, because they searched for a specialist in chemistry. Very much to my surprise they invited me for a job interview and in February 2003 I was back in my „old“ museum which felt like coming home.

Developing Banana Key Rings (from left to right): Polypropylene let the key ring break too easy, blue was the wrong color, polyethylene with yellow color was just perfect.

Developing Banana Key Rings (from left to right): Polypropylene let the key ring break too easily, blue was obviously the wrong color, polyethylene with yellow color was just perfect.

The permanent exhibition on synthetic materials included some injection molding machines that were still working. So when the museum showed a special exhibition on bananas we managed to find a local manufacturer of molding forms who designed, manufactured and donated us a molding form for a banana key ring. It was great fun for the demonstration technicians and me to find the right synthetic material and the right color to have a perfect banana. We had white, pink and blue bananas and even one that looked like a rotten banana because the temperature was too high and it burnt a little. After a while we were able to produce perfect yellow polyethylene banana key rings. Visitors loved it. (Sorry for the side note, but for it’s not a registrar’s story, I won’t have the possibility to tell it elsewhere.)

As a side note: The little blue banana is travelling the world as a geocaching travelbug, see

As a side note: The little blue banana is travelling the world as a geocaching travelbug and is recently in Sweden…

Being the curator for synthetic materials meant not only curatorial work, but also a lot of registrar’s work. There was a large collection of magnetic tapes dating back to the very first developments from 1934 until the present time and it needed to be sighted and documented. Most difficult was the research on how to store them and how to save the information on them – a problem that is still not solved to a satisfying extend.

As you can imagine time past quickly and it was only a two year contract. In my second year there the Landesmuseum announced the position of the „Depotverwalter“ (administrator of outside storage facilities). Having again nothing to lose, I applied and was chosen. This marks the point where I switched completely from exhibition work to collection work.

It was much later, after we had managed the closing of one of our storage facilities and the relocation of the collection in the remaining two storage halls in 2006, when I tried to explain to an American colleague what my occupation was. I searched the internet and digged out two job descriptions: one of a collection manager and one of a registrar. Deciding my occupation had more to do with the practical issues like physically moving the collection I chose collection manager. Later on I realized that the using of the terms differ from institution to institution, and I’m doing a lot of data base and loan work as well, so I’m a registrar, too.

That’s it, folks! That’s how I became – or realized I was – a registrar.




How I became a museum registrar I

The artist that became a registrar – and is now professor

Fernando Almarza Rísquez

Fernando today, in front of the ILAM in Costa Rica.

Fernando today, in front of the ILAM in San José, Costa Rica.

I studied fine arts for four years, and developed an activity as an artist in three exhibitions. Later I studied graphic design for two years, having worked briefly as an assistant designer. I was then 26 years old, and had some knowledge of art history and aesthetic sensibility.

In 1986 I began studying art history in college (BA, MA History Art), and I saw a notice posted requesting an assistant to the registrar at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (MACC, in spanish), Venezuela. Required studies art history, knowledge of art handling, conservation, English, organizational skills, responsibility, etc. I submitted my CV. I did the interview rigor, including the translation of a press report that made the museum on a grand exhibition of the English sculptor Henry Moore few months earlier.

This was in April 1986. I was excited but worried because there was another candidate who studied Arts in England and had excellent English. But on the 28th I was called to give me the good news that I had been selected for the position. Very happy, I started on 2 May.

I had some “advantage” because I knew quite well the largest museums of Caracas, and much of its permanent collections, including the Museum of Contemporary Art itself. The English translation was done very well, as I concentrated on the Spanish translate ideas and concepts rather than to translate word for word. Anyway, I began my career, and to date (December 2012). I have accumulated 26 years of continuous experience, always intense study. Common sense has led me to investigate how different objects are registered, whether cultural, or technological, natural or naturalculturales.

I was at the MACC until 1993, after which I began to provide advice to other museums of Caracas and Venezuela, where I developed a record structure and current computerized cataloging. In 2006 I started writing articles in newspapers and magazines specialized museological on that experience, and develop virtual catalogs for some museums of the Western world. Since 2007 I started as a professor at the Latin American Institute of Museums (ILAM, in spanish), sited in Costa Rica, where I teach courses online and face on the same subject, plus related topics.

I have always held to reflect on our profession, and I am actively linked with institutions and professionals from many countries.