There’s a new face here at Morikami. She comes to us all the way from Indiana, by way of New Mexico – and Japan along the way – so we are excited to finally introduce you all to our new Chief Curator – Tamara Joy! Tamara has an impressive history of working to preserve and promote Japanese art and culture, and we’re glad to have her on our team. To help you all get to know her a little better, we asked Tamara a few questions – so without further adieu:
Q: Tell us a little about your background – education, professional experience, etc.
As a freshman at Indiana University, I was interested in languages and art, in general. However, after a spending time living and traveling in Asia for a year, I returned to I.U. with a focused interest in East Asia and an absolute passion for all things Japanese. I earned a degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures, viewed primarily through the academic disciplines of art history, anthropology and folklore. I went on to get a Master’s degree, which combined continued study in Japanese arts and culture with a specific focus on textile traditions.
While a grad student, I stumbled upon the idea of museum work through independent study practicums in various museums at Indiana University. I was hooked. My first two jobs out of school included working with Middleton Place Gardens in Charleston, SC and the Wisconsin State Historical Museum in Madison, WI. Anxious to return my focus to Japan, I moved to the city of Yamagata, Yamagata Pref. in northern Honshu to teach and conduct research, specifically on traditional paper-making and various textile dyeing traditions such as indigo and safflower.
After a year, I returned to the States and took a position as Curator of Asian and Middle East Collections with the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM. After several wonderful years there, I was excited to expand my horizons with different types of institutions and collections of Japanese material and was fortunate enough to work with both the Japan Society Gallery in NYC and Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
In 2011, I had the special opportunity to purchase 10 acres of my grandfather’s property in Bloomington, IN that had been sold out of the family and was in dire need of attention. My husband, Paul, and I embarked upon a two-year vigil of clearing invasive plants and planting trees. During that time, I was hired as Executive Director of the Brown County Art Guild, an organization that was established by a handful of artists in 1927 in the tiny village of Nashville, nestled in the hills and valleys of Southern Indiana. By the 1930s, Brown County had become renowned nationally and internationally as one of the most important art colonies in the U.S. The current Guild Member Artists are still devoted to the tradition of plein air painting and the style of American Impressionism that made the area famous.
Q: What brings you to a Japanese museum and garden in sunny South Florida?
Being invited to be the Chief Curator at Morikami Museum is not only a dream job for me, but it feels as though I’ve been working my way toward this opportunity my entire professional museum career. It will allow me to bring together all of my hard-earned experience and skills, and apply them to this truly unique institution.
Q: You’ve only been with us a short time, but what has been your favorite part of working at Morikami so far?
Even though I am overwhelmed at the moment, I also feel a sense of calm – as if I’m right where I should be – the art, the gardens, the cuisine – I’m enjoying all of it.
Q: Cuisine is one of our favorite things to talk about, so we just have to ask – what is your favorite food?
Having lived in the Tohuku, or the Northern, region of Japan, I’ve become a big fan of soba, a specialty of Yamagata. It’s the ultimate comfort food, served hot or cold. Perhaps I can persuade the Cornell Café to include some dishes!
Q: As you look to the future, are there any projects you are particularly excited to start working on here?
From the start, I’ll be working on AAM (The American Alliance of Museums) museum re-accreditation and collections refinement. I am thrilled for the opportunity to be a part of it.
Q: How do you spend your free time?
My free time used to be devoted to long trail rides on horseback. That’s been replaced by long excursions on the back of a motorcycle with my husband Paul at the helm.
Q: And remind us one more time – how do you pronounce your name?
Tah-Mah-Rah – accent on the Mah. I used to tell people in New Mexico to think “manana” (tomorrow) and they always remembered after that.
We’re excited for all of you to meet the newest member of our team, and we hope you’ll give her a warm welcome to the family!