I'm A Museum Person

I’m A Museum Person: Sarah LaVigne

Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Photo by bobistraveling via Flickr.

Winterthur Museum and Gardens. Photo by bobistraveling via Flickr.

My name is Sarah LaVigne, and I am a Museum Person.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I’m in the last semester for my master’s in American Material Culture through the Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware. I’m very interested in architectural history, religious history and objects, and collective memory of the past. My thesis is about the revival of vestments in the Episcopal Church from 1870-1920. Doing research at historic churches is always challenging but fun – their sacristies are like little uncurated museums.

Why do museums matter to you?

They are a tangible, accessible connection to the past that anyone can experience. Objects and buildings help tell stories in ways that books can’t.

What is your favorite museum memory?

It’s too hard to pick just one! In college I spent an amazing day at the Museum of the American Indian with a group of friends. We even sat down and had a discussion about culture and how we can express our own ethnic heritage. Being a costumed interpreter at the Colonial Williamsburg Apothecary my senior year at William and Mary was also very memorable. There was this wonderfully bittersweet moment on my last day when I closed the door behind me just as the fife and drum parade was going by. I’ll never forget my first tour of the Winterthur collections, either. I was completely overwhelmed by the 8 floors of decorative arts!

The Fife and Drums at Colonial Williamsburg. Photo by ktylerconk via Flickr.

The Fife and Drums at Colonial Williamsburg. Photo by ktylerconk via Flickr.

What museum would you love to visit?

I’d love to return to the Museum of London now that their new galleries are finished. The Louvre, the Prado, and the Vatican Museums are also on my must-see list.

What is your dream museum job?

Any job where I can do research but also interact with the public audience. It would be cool to teach a university course or two on the side to aspiring museum people. I’d love to work at a major historic site like Mount Vernon, helping people consider the history they learned in grade school with new eyes.

When you think of the perfect exhibit, what is in it?

There would be lots of interdisciplinary context – a good combination of many types of objects. (The new MFA Boston American Wing is a great example of this.) There would be fun hands-on activities to try and electronic stations that don’t overwhelm with text. There would be a clear narrative and path so that visitors don’t get lost. There would be something I’d never seen before that would make me think about the world in a new way.

Who is the funnier museum twitterer…@SUEtheTrex or @NatHistoryWhale?

My parents are from Chicago, so I have to go with the Field Museum’s T-Rex.  I love that her user name is her museum accession number.

What is the most random item you have bought from a museum gift shop?

On a high school trip I went to a re-created Canadian First Nations village. Because of the exchange rate and tax exemption the gift shop had really low prices, so we kids went a little nuts. I left with about ten maple sugar lollipops, and a rabbit pelt just because I could.

Photo by Foxtongue via Flickr.

Photo by Foxtongue via Flickr.

To test your museum knowledge…put these museums in order from earliest founded to most recently created: The Smithsonian, The British Museum, The Rijksmuseum, The Louvre, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Don’t worry if you don’t know…just make a guess!

Hmmm, the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum,  the British Museum, the Smithsonian,and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

You may have heard of the Month at the Museum contest recently held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. What museum would you move into for a month if you could?

Do I get to sleep in an antique bed like in The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler? I’d pick the Victoria and Albert Museum because you could never run out of things to see, and they have some really fantastic religious artifacts.


Thanks to Sarah for sharing her experiences. If you’re interested in participating in the “I’m A Museum Person” series, send us an email at editor@museumist.com, and we’ll get your story up on the site.

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