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STAFF PROFILE: Sydney Marshall, Assistant Curator

Posted on 10/24/2020 at 04:00 PM by Quinn Vandenberg

"I'm very much a jack-of-all-trades person," says Sydney Marshall, Assistant Curator. "I have lots of different skills, and that fits this job."

Everywhere on Iowa State University's campus there is art to be cleaned and preserved. Assistant Curator Sydney Marshall can often be found working amongst the sculptures scrubbing them clean and protecting them from Iowa's harsh seasons. Sydney also works with exhibitions and Art on Campus committees to further University Museums' primary mission, to use the visual arts as a tool in enhancing the education of the student body. Sydney views her multiple responsibilities as a perk, not a disadvantage.

"That's what drew me to this job. I knew I wouldn't get bored, and I would be doing different things every day," says Marshall. "I'm not just sitting writing and planning every day. Half of the time, I should be cleaning sculptures or taking down art or talking to people. And that's what I like."

Sydney hails from St. Paul, Minnesota. More notably, she attended Iowa State University and received a bachelor's degree with majors in history and anthropology and a minor in business. Her fascination with history and culture from her undergraduate years serves as the basis for her work with University Museums.

"I am interested in teaching and learning about history and cultures through art." says Marshall. "In anthropology, I like the social movements of history and how groups within society function."

While earning her bachelor's degree, Sydney began working as the education intern for University Museums. This makes her the third current University Museums staff member who began as an intern. Sydney has fond memories of her internship with Museums, particularly the opportunity to get an inside view at the process of creating exhibitions for artists such as Dan Corson and Mac Adams. 

Following graduation, Sydney remained in Ames and worked at the Octagon Center for the Arts in downtown Ames as the events and volunteer coordinator. The Octagon is a gallery and education center for the visual arts. “To me, the end goals between the Octagon and University Museums are the same,” says Marshall. “You’re still trying to engage large audiences with the visual arts. You’re trying to make connections with people’s interests, connections to other curriculum or teaching visual literacy material.”

After two years at the Octagon, Sydney left Iowa to attend graduate school in Colorado at CU-Boulder and received her master’s degree in Museum and Field Studies with a specialty towards museum education. Learning about education theory would provide her the ability to use museums to tell a larger story through collections and share that story with the public. “I thought that Museums would be the way for me to work within education via objects and history without becoming a school teacher,” said Marshall. “It’s good to have an art history background, but I wanted to make sure I felt capable of connecting information into something that people could use and learn from,” says Sydney.

LEFT: Assist Curator Sydney Marshall stands next to Big Horn by Gwynn Murrill in the Anderson Sculpture Garden. She is the caretaker of the Art on Campus Collection.

RIGHT: Sydney is suited up with Conservator Francis Miller to apply a chemical stripper for the recent conservation of Bravo III by Bill Barrett.

IMAGE AT TOP: Sydney works on conserving small works of art in the University Museums' permanent collection.


University Museums provides Sydney with the opportunity to make these connections, both between art and the stories they reveal, but also between those stories and the public. As an assistant curator, Sydney has recently begun formulating exhibitions that can best serve the interest of different colleges and their student bodies. 

This semester, she has focused on the paintings of Iowa artist Rose Frantzen, for an addition to the Art on Campus Collection at the Garden Building and an upcoming solo exhibition. This spring, the Ivy College of Business will receive a new mural painted by Frantzen as part of the recent renovation of the Gerdin Building. Sydney plans to use this acquisition to ignite a conversation regarding Frantzen’s techniques and tether it to the college’s educational goals. Frantzen's work is also the subject of the spring 2021 exhibition at the Christian Petersen Art Museum.

“Students will be really familiar with Rose Frantzen when they pass by her painting every day, and so when I think about the spring 2021 exhibition I want to think about the images she creates,” says Marshall. “I’m thinking about how I can use Frantzen’s portraits, techniques and optical illusions to talk about business concepts like marketing and management.”

Long term, Sydney wants to set firm procedures for the preservation of public art on campus, and engage the University and community in the University Museum’s collection preservation. At the same time, she wants to continue connecting education to exhibitions. 

“I want to make sure that there’s a plan in place for continuously taking care of the collection, and I want to bring exhibitions that are meaningful to everyone on campus,” says Sydney.

On a personal level, Sydney appreciates art that resonates more with a viewer as time passes: visual art that penetrates thoughts over time and builds  memories. For Sydney, this process is exemplified through her experiences with Conversations by Christian Petersen. As a student, she passed by the sculpture nearly every day. Now as a Museums staff member, she’s put special care towards its preservation. With every cleaning, she removes a layer of lichen and leaves the sculpture cleaner than it had been in previous months.  

In her free time, Sydney enjoys volunteering in political elections, socializing, playing volleyball and reading. Similar to her work, her interests in literature are far reaching—or as she would say, “random.” The two genres she mentioned off-hand included non-fiction books her book club reads, and a nonfiction books about moss that not even her book club would read. 

As a Museums staff member, Sydney enjoys the ability to work with a small team that collaborates with different people across campus. “I like that were are working together to build a really strong campus resource and collection for the future,” says Marshall. “I am interested in keeping these objects used and relevant.”


TOP: Sydney (far right) with her family, parents Amy and Cam Marshall and her sister Emma Marshall.

BOTTOM LEFT: Sydney on a solo trip to Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Sydney traveled with friends to Mount Bierstadt in Colorado and completed her first "14er," which is climbing a mountain that is at least 14,000 feet tall.

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