A longtime Dedication to SUNY Potsdam
Alumna Romi Sebald ’85 came to SUNY Potsdam as a freshman in 1981, and never left. Now 35 years later, Sebald is the collections manager for The Art Museum at SUNY Potsdam. She oversees the College’s art collection of around 3,000 works of art and teaches students museum practices, in the same space where she learned how to properly handle artwork years ago.
“I’ve been here ever since graduation, and it was largely due to me taking all of the art museum classes that were offered at the time. We didn’t have a minor like we do now,” she said.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in studio art and sociology, she worked for a year as a residence hall director and was then offered a job as an art preparator in College’s Art Museum. “I happened to still be here when the museum received an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant to build proper storage facilities for the art collection, and it also provided funds for all of the works on paper to be de-framed and then matted and framed archivally,” She said.
As she transitioned from art student to art preparator, she was tasked with taking the art out of their old frames and acid-based mats, to secure them in archival storage. “There wasn’t a lot of understanding of archival care of a collection until those decades after the mid part of the 20th century. There was a big push to get public collections into proper storage and housing,” she said.
She carefully moved the artwork to new acid-free mats and frames. “Some of them had suffered acidic damage, but then we housed them in a way that it stopped any further acidic damage, and some of them were saved completely,” Sebald said.
The Art Museum at SUNY Potsdam showcases works of art all across campus including the Gibson Gallery, Hosmer Gallery, Dunn Hall exhibition space, the mezzanine of student union, Flagg Hall, Raymond Hall and the Crumb Library. The Art Museum includes a diverse selection of post-war American and European art, Contemporary art, ethnographic art, early American and European art. A highlight of the art collection is the Japanese and Italian sub-collections, many of which were donated by Roland Gibson—the curator of the museum from 1970-1989.
For the past 30 years, Sebald has been working to preserve the art collection, install countless exhibitions, and teach students about the proper ways in which to handle works of art. “My favorite thing really is the students. I love teaching museum practices. I love to see them get excited about museum work and go on to graduate school and work in the museum field. I think it’s really important because it’s all about preservation of our cultural heritage and history, so I get really excited about that,” she said.
This semester, Sebald is teaching a museum practices class with April Vasher-Dean, director of the Art Museum, where students have been learning how to properly handle art, pack it and ship it. As part of the class, students visit local museums, where they critique exhibits based on a certain set of criteria. “They learn to look at exhibitions with a critical eye, and how to evaluate whether a museum is living up to their mission statement. It’s really a good useful practicum...I was very pleased to see museum studies become a minor. I would love to see it become a major at some point. It’s kind of an up and coming career field,” Sebald said.
The Art Museum houses world class art such as Andy Warhol’s giant silk screen of Mao, Tse Tung, Marcia Isaacson’s drawings and artwork from Japan and Italy. One of Sebald’s favorite pieces on campus is Bill Gamblings’ totem poles, located between Merritt Hall and the Crumb Library, now in the middle of the Bicentennial Plaza.”
“I’ve always loved those (totem poles), because you could walk through them. As a student, I walked through them all the time and it was this comforting large presence, it just felt like there was energy between those three (poles), because it’s a triangle. I really loved it and still do,” She said.
Sebald’s roots at SUNY Potsdam have extended beyond her own commitment to the College. Of her six children, one is working at the College and two are currently enrolled as students. Her oldest daughter, Liza LaBarge, is an adjunct professor, currently teaching three studio art classes. Her two sons, Brook and Bekk Chudzinski, are freshmen at SUNY Potsdam, both pursuing degrees in business.
To learn more about The Art Museum at SUNY Potsdam visit: www.potsdam.edu/museum.