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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Berkshire Profile: James A. Ganz

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, May 28, 2006

James A. Ganz, curator of prints, drawings, and photographs at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute [Photo by Art Evans]
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.

Art historian James "Jim" Ganz sees the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute as among the finest museums and more.

Ganz, the Clark curator of prints, drawings, and photographs, said the art museum provided the backdrop for much of what what is good in his life.

"I Owe The Clark So Much"

"This is an institution that has given me so much," Ganz said during a May 24 interview.

"It's given me my career. I trained here. I met my wife here. I feel as if I owe the Clark so much."

Ganz is married to Berkshire Museum Director of Marketing and Public Relations Sherrill Ingalls, who held a similar post at the Clark.

Ingalls and Ganz met after Ganz accepted the curator post in 1996.

The couple once worked together on a daily basis and while that was certainly enjoyable, different work venues have an upside, Ganz said.

"It's really turned out to be nice because I'm in touch with what's going on at the Berkshire Museum," he said. "Now, we don't have to talk about the same issues. We have different things to talk about with each other."

Ganz has viewed the Clark from differing perspectives. A Connecticut native with a passion for music, Ganz spent time at Tanglewood, and traveled north from Lenox to explore the Berkshires during a long weekend during the mid 1980s.

"I came to Williamstown for the first time, and I was astounded by the Clark, by the Williams College Museum of Art, and the beauty of the area," Ganz said.

First, A Student

During that turning point trip, Ganz learned about the Clark's graduate programs, and he was subsequently accepted as a graduate student. He studied and worked as a Clark student from 1986 to 1988.

"The master's program here is a great opportunity for young people to continue their education and get some work experience, if they want, without the commitment of a Ph.d," Ganz said, and added that one of the genuine thrills of his student days at the Clark was working for Rafael Fernandez, a former Clark curator of prints, drawings and photographs and Ganz' predecessor.

"He was a great mentor, not only to me but to other students as well," Ganz said. "Rafael introduced me to this field of works on paper."

From Philly To Yale

When Ganz completed the Clark program, and at the suggestion of Fernandez, he sought and was offered an internship at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The move was a big stone in the foundation of Ganz career, he said.

"They have a very important print room," he said. "It's exactly the kind of place that people can get experience at the entry level. It's a great training ground."

He spent five years at the museum and was not seeking change. But he was interested in earning a Ph.d in art history and believed that the time to embark on the intense process was sooner rather than later.

"I had fallen in love with the PMA," he said. "It's a special place, and I still feel that way about it. And I don't like being a student. I like working."

At that point, Ganz had married and had a child and felt a now or never urgency to continuing his education. He applied to a Yale University program and was accepted.

"Yale has two excellent art museums and I worked in both of them," Ganz said.

He was fully immersed in his studies when he received a telephone call from Fernandez.

Fates Conspire To Deliver "Dream Job"

"He told me he was retiring for health reasons a little sooner than he wanted," Ganz said. "I thought to myself 'that job is really my dream job,' but the timing was not right for me. I needed to be farther along at Yale."

Ganz believed that the Clark opportunity would ultimately be handed to another person, but then David Brook, who was the Clark's director, retired soon after Fernandez. A new director was to be hired before a new print curator was put into place, and Ganz would be further along in the program by that time, he said.

Clark Director Michael Conforti was the man who replaced Brook.

"By that time, I was working on my dissertation," said Ganz.

Ganz applied for the print curator job believing that his chances of being selected were slim.

"The job hadn't been open in 20 years," Ganz said. "And everybody loves this place."

And while Ganz was acquainted with many Clark folks because of his days enrolled in the master's program, he had not met Conforti.

"I went through a series of interviews," Ganz said. "This was a long process and that worked to my advantage."

"He Said 'We'll Hold The Job'"

By the time the job was offered, Ganz was what is termed "abd [all but dissertation]" and was close to earning his doctorate.

"It means you are a free agent," Ganz said. "Some people [at that stage of their doctorate pursuit] do what I did out of necessity; I took a job and then wrote the dissertation."

Accepting the job wasn't without a complication; Ganz had planned to spend five months at the Paul Mellon Center for Studies of British Art [founded by Paul Mellon and a sister insititution to the Yale Center for British Art] in London doing research for the dissertation. When Conforti invited Ganz to join the Clark, Ganz told Conforti about the planned London trip.

"And Michael said 'go to London, we'll hold the job '" Ganz said. "This was a great thing for me."

While he was in London, other opportunities came Ganz' way and he turned down all offers in favor of the Clark opportunity. Conforti visited Ganz in London and "kept me up to speed" about the Clark, Ganz said.

Back To His Future

In 1996, Ganz stepped into his new office at the Clark.

"I still remember what it was like walking into my office - what had been Rafael Fernandez' office - for the first time," he said. "And teaching, I teach in the graduate program as Rafael did. One of the best things about my job is working with the grad students. Rafael was a mentor to me and I like to think that I pay back some of that. The program is so good and attracts such a high caliber of students."

Now in his 40s, Ganz said that working with younger people and being surrounded by their youthful passion for art is rejuvenating.

"I feel like it keeps me fresh," he said.

Transitions: Then And Now

He and Ingalls married five years ago and Ganz' 15-year-old daughter [from a previous marriage] is a freshman at the Hoosac Valley High School. His mother recently moved from his childhood hometown to Adams, and suddenly Ganz was grappling with another of life's transitions.

"I'm at this age where my daughter is suddenly in high school and my mother has moved to the Berkshires to be closer to us," he said. "[the move] was as traumatic for me as it was for her. It's the abandonment of my childhood home. I no longer have a foot in Connecticut."

The Berkshires is a "lovely place, a safe place to be," he said.

Ganz recalled the moving to the Berkshires after taking the print curator job. While living in Philadelphia, his apartment had been broken into. When he asked for the key to a just-rented Williamstown abode, the real estate agent told him that the property owner didn't have a key and had left the premises unlocked. Ganz had keys made for the apartment doors.

"The first thing I did was have keys made," he said. "And then I locked myself out."

Nature delivers variety to the region, he said. Fall is rich with color, and winter "brings a whole new landscape," Ganz said. Summers are filled with the excitement of the arts and the performances of the Williamstown Theater Festival.
"I enjoy the proximity to New York City and Boston," Ganz said. "I go to New York for the day a lot."

He is not a fan of winter, Ganz said.

"I hate the cold weather, so what am I doing here?" he mused. "I count the months to spring, so you are talking to me at the best possible time. We are just beginning with the summer, with the nice long evenings."

Summer At The Clark

Also fast approaching is the June 4 opening of the Clark's summer exhibition "The Clark Brothers Collect Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings." Although he is a print curator, Ganz was asked to participate with the creation of the exhibit catalogue. The invitation serves as evidence that the Clark operates with a team approach, Ganz said.

"It is going to be a wonderful exhibit," Ganz said. "This is a painting exhibition and this show has nothing to do with my department, but I was invited to participate by writing an essay on Sterling Clark as a collector for the catalogue."

Researching and writing the piece was a pleasurable pursuit, he said and noted his interest in biography and in art research.

"I have an appreciation of studying art that is more detective than art historian," he said. "I think all art is kind of mysterious and I like archival research. I like to investigate bits and pieces of information."

The summer exhibition features almost 70 paintings collected by Clark founder Sterling Clark and his brother Stephen Clark.

Grandsons of Edward Clark, Sterling and Stephen Clark were heirs to a Singer Sewing corporation fortune and both became influential art collectors. Their relationship experienced tumult and by the 1920s, the brothers were not speaking, according to information provided by the Clark.

Ganz researched documents that offered insights into the relationship of Sterling and Francine Clark as a young couple and also of Sterling Clark's relationship with his family.

"I think the catalogue will be quite a revelation," he said. "Stephen Clark was also a great collector. [With the exhibit] You get this great collection with all the big names, yet neither of these men collected 'names." They had great eyes and they bought very well. I was thrilled to be able to participate in this. It's the first time a joint collection [of the Clark brothers] has been shown. We really see this as a culmination of the 50th anniversary of the Clark. This is about our founders."

The Road Ahead

In 2007, his expertise will take center stage during a summer exhibit "The Unknown Monet: Pastels and Drawings." The exhibit will open in London before coming to the Clark, Ganz said.

The next five years will be filled with change and progress personally and at the museum. Ganz said.

"In five years, my daughter will be starting college and she's expressed an interest in Williams [college]," he said.

At the Clark campus, the Stone Hill building should be opening and a second phase of a planned Clark expansion should be ready to launch, Ganz said.

"It really is going to be an exciting time," he said. "I'm glad to be part of this."

Information about the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute is available at a www.clarkart.edu Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be contacted via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or 802-823-9367.

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