Meet Claire Grothe, Manager of Internal Affairs
With a background in history and museum studies, Claire Grothe works to ensure that Barrett Barrera Projects will leave a collection’s legacy of its own. The administrative anchor of the company, Grothe first connected with Susan Barrett through the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2015 and came onboard with Barrett Barrera in 2016. Working under Jessica Baran and Kelly Peck, she’s currently preparing the exhibitory and objects for A Queen Within for travel next year.
What drew you to the museum field?
What I really enjoy about museums and museum exhibits is taking very high concepts and making them available and accessible to new audiences. Because I was a history major, I come at it from that perspective. So often, history is terribly taught at schools — just a teacher talking in front of a room. Creating exhibits that are interactive and multimedia does such a good job at bringing abstract concepts to life and showing how they have applications in the real world.
How would you describe your typical workday at Barrett Barrera Projects?
I do a lot of office management-related stuff. I order office supplies. I assist Susan Barrett, our president, with anything she needs help with. I do any mailings that need to go out. I try to keep the day-to-day office running smoothly so people can focus on their projects and not worry about whether there is coffee!
The other big part of my job is collections management. We have a big art and fashion collection, specifically the A Queen Within exhibition. Working on getting those garments prepped and organized for tour is a significant part of my job right now.
What does that entail?
After being in storage and on display, some of the garments need repairs, so we consult with a conservator for that, and I assist with the repairs that need to be done. We do condition reports when they arrive at and leave a museum, so getting those organized from the venue they were just at [is another part of my job]. In preparing for a larger tour, we create the installation and care instructions for each of the garments so those on site at the venue know how to put it on the mannequin. Some staff from Barrett Barrera will travel to the site, particularly to look over the garments themselves. The bigger pieces of exhibitry we leave to professionals, but the pieces in the collection are obviously important, and getting those right really falls to our staff.
Collections management sounds like such detail-oriented, meticulous work. What professional and character strengths do you bring to your position?
I don’t know what it is in my personality, but I’m the de facto proofreader for everything that comes in. For some reason I really like sitting at a desk. I’m a little bit of an introvert at heart and am perfectly happy staring at a computer screen or spreadsheet for several hours at a time. In previous positions I was more on the education and development side of things, but I kind of fell into collections management and am finding that I really enjoy it.
What would you like exhibit visitors to know about your behind-the-scenes work?
The thought and care that goes into putting the garment on the mannequin. There are between 90 and 100 garments in the show, and for each one you have to consider how each mannequin is padded and figure out the perfect angle for a dress to be displayed. There’s so much thought that goes into each piece, and when you multiply that by 100, it’s a very time-consuming process. We work with curators who have the final say, but they’re not on site 100 percent of the time, so it’s up to us to create the scene, and then they go in and put the finishing touches on.
What are you most looking forward to as Barrett Barrera evolves?
Because so much of my job is taken up with A Queen Within right now, I feel like that’s kind of my life at the moment. The next six months will be really fun but also a little harrowing as we prep that exhibit for touring.