Posted on July 16, 2020 at 4:00 PM by Quinn Vandenberg
The East Coast is home a variety of world-famous museums. Washington D.C. is home to the enormous National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian, while The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City receives over six million visitors each year. University Museums’ associate curator of collections and education, Adrienne Gennett, has professional connections to them all.
Adrienne hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received her bachelor’s degree in Washington, D.C. She originally studied political science, but majored in anthropology and found her true life’s passion in art. “As a senior after taking one art history course the year before, I also fell in love with art,” Adrienne said. “I spent my entire senior year in the dark taking art history classes.”
Fresh out of college, Adrienne received an administrative position at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. and found her love for museum work. She then moved to New York City for her master’s degree at the Parsons School of Design. “I attended a unique program. It was based at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum,” Adrienne said. Not only did I have classes in an amazing museum focused on design, my instructors were curators and administrators from some of the best museums in New York City and around the world. I even had classes in the storage area of the Metropolitan Museum, it was an amazing experience.”
Adrienne’s work in New York City earned her a master’s degree in the history of decorative arts with a specialization in 18th century English silver and 19th century French furniture. She continued her museum career working in Philadelphia and upstate New York, and also taught courses on the history of modern design in Philadelphia before arriving at Iowa State University. At the encouragement of her mother, a Midwest native, Adrienne left the East Coast for Iowa.
“I was so fortunate that University Museums was looking for my position at the same time and with their large decorative arts collection, I knew it would be a great fit for me,” Adrienne said.
IMAGE LEFT: Adrienne Gennett (center) stands with gallerists, collectors and donors Marlene Olson (left) and Janelle McClain (right).
IMAGE RIGHT: Adrienne Gennett stands by the Topel Art Collection in the Periodical Room at Parks Library.
Throughout her time at University Museums Adrienne bolsters Iowa State’s collection of decorative arts with her expertise; the acquisition the Lobmeyr Met Chandeliers for the Brunnier Art Museum was her brainchild. However, she holds special regard for the sculpture 180 Degree Rotation, Red by Harvey Littleton.
“Littleton was the father of the Studio Glass movement and an incredibly important artist that was missing from the collection,” Adrienne said. “He is the link we needed between our historic and functional glass and contemporary glass sculpture in the permanent collection. I was able to meet with his daughter in Washington D.C. and work with her to find the right sculpture to add to the collection.”
Along with the coordination of acquisitions, Adrienne has curated numerous exhibitions for the Museums. One of her personal favorites is the exhibition of Wedgwood pottery at the Brunnier Art Museum.
“I believe we have about 250 examples of Wedgwood pottery in the permanent collection, and I think I put out at least 200, maybe a few more than that!” Adrienne said. “I already loved Wedgwood and this was a great opportunity for me to examine the importance of science and art in functional wares and the decorative arts, perfect for a science and technology focused university.”
Adrienne also worked with Iowa State University architecture alum and artist, Mohamad Hafez, to exhibit Unpacked: Refugee Baggage. “The powerful exhibition [Hafez] created with university student Ahmed Badr used both art and audio recordings to tell the stories of a group of refugees from around the world, including the story of Hafez and Badr. It was an incredibly humanizing exhibition that perfectly displayed how art can broach difficult subjects and create discussion amongst visitors,” Adrienne recalled.
As with all great educators, Adrienne’s proudest moments come from her work with students. “The arts are intertwined in every aspect and the world we live in truly affects who we are,” said Adrienne. “The ability to reach a student through art is why I wanted to work at a university museum. Those moments are what make this job amazing.”
Adrienne lives in Ames with her husband Bill Carter, who is an Associate Professor of German at Iowa State, and their two photogenic dogs, Toussaint and Mabel. In her spare time, Adrienne enjoys to exercise, stemming from a childhood performing ballet. She also spends time embroidering tiny cross stitch patterns, a practice that “will make me blind one day” Adrienne jests.
“Not only did coming to Iowa and University Museums allow me to do all the amazing work I was dying to do with art and students, but I met my husband here 6 months after arriving. I would never have met him or had this great job if I didn’t listen to my Mom and just give Iowa at try,” said Adrienne.
IMAGE LEFT: Toussaint
IMAGE CENTER: Mabel
IMAGE RIGHT: Adrienne Gennett and her husband Bill Carter on vacation in Thailand.
TOP IMAGE: Adrienne Gennett, Associate Curator of Collections and Education, levels Summer Afternoon Enveloping a Barn by Gary Bowling.