Meet Hadley Jerman

Passion for Art and Museums Leads to Career as an Art Curator

Art has always been a part of longtime Norman resident Hadley Jerman’s life. Actually, you’d be right on target if you called art Hadley’s lifelong passion.

Hadley credits her parents for fostering her love for art and museums early on. The family often visited museums and made frequent trips to Santa Fe. They also made her a believer in the importance of continuing education: her father was a writer and marketing director for Outreach (which targets adult learners) at the University of Oklahoma, and both parents taught humanities and art history courses in the OU College of Continuing Education (which also targets adult learners).

Hadley earned her B.F.A. in visual communication (graphic design) and M.A. in art history from OU, then set out on a career as a graphic designer. In that role, she served as a print designer for OU Outreach, for the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and for the Sam Noble Museum.

While pursuing her master’s degree, Hadley had the opportunity to pursue internships at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art in Cody, Wyoming—opportunities that ultimately led her into a different career field: that of museum curator.

“It’s both intellectually and creatively challenging and fulfilling work—there’s a lot of research and writing, but also the creative challenge of arranging artworks in the most coherent and visually engaging way in the gallery,” she says. “I also find it satisfying to help our audiences understand art and art history—to foster lifelong learning.”

So, what exactly is an art curator?

“Art curators are typically art historians who are entrusted with researching, writing about, and exhibiting the objects in a museum’s collection,” Hadley explains. “The term curator is used in all sorts of ways these days (coffee shops provide ‘curated’ coffee, for example!). However, the term traditionally and in the art world implies someone who has expertise about certain kinds of art, typically gained through advanced degrees.”

With her eye on becoming an art curator, Hadley again enrolled at OU, this time to pursue a Ph.D. in art of the American West. In addition to her studies, she taught art history and design history as an adjunct and graduate student.

In 2016, Hadley was hired as the Eugene B. Adkins Curator at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, located on the OU Norman campus. She expects to earn that doctorate this semester.

Hadley says she has been fortunate to have had many mentors along the way. “Dr. Mary Jo Watson [director emeritus and a professor in the OU School of Art and Art History] was the first person to ever encourage me to consider a Ph.D., way back when I was an undergrad design student,” she says. “But I owe a great deal to two professors who changed the course of my career: B. Byron Price and Dr. W. Jackson Rushing III. Byron’s “Photography of the American West” course is the reason I pursued an art history M.A. rather than an M.F.A. in design. I owe much of my museum experience to him. Dr. Rushing has been an invaluable mentor in terms of how I approach researching and writing about art.”

True to her continuing education emphasis, Hadley says she still has much to learn and loves researching the history of graphic design and typography. Her Ph.D. dissertation, in fact, concerns American advertising posters of the late 1800s and early 1900s. For the museum, Hadley’s focus is primarily on western American art, especially art produced by members of the Santa Fe and Taos art colonies, as well as 20th-century Native American art.

At the FJJMA, Hadley plans exhibitions and gallery rotations in addition to researching and writing about works in the museum’s collection. She also responds to public enquiries, gives tours, and manages six or more interns a year.

“I don’t consider myself a collector, at least not at this point in life!” Hadley says, noting that most of the art in her house is personal—by family or friends—"although there are definitely some artists I keep an eye out for in auctions!”

Asked about highlights of her time at the OU art museum, Hadley says one was winning the phone bid on a painting the museum acquired two years ago. “That was a heart-stopping two minutes!”

But her most memorable and meaningful experiences involved opening her first large exhibition, Ticket to Ride, in 2018, and the opening of the museum-wide reinstall last fall.

“Seeing visitors enjoying the galleries you’ve devoted so much thought and time to is really rewarding,” she says.

Hadley continues to be passionate about her work, which she describes as “both intellectually and creatively fulfilling,” and she also finds it satisfying to help others understand and enjoy art and its history.

She offers the following advice for Lifestyle readers who may be considering starting their own personal art collection: “Buy what you like! People purchase art for all sorts of reasons. But if this is something you will wake up to every day, it should be something that makes you happy.”

Hadley also encourages readers to visit the museum, located at 555 Elm Ave. “We reinstalled (changed the artwork) throughout the entire museum last fall and the galleries look fantastic! There are a lot of works on view that visitors will not have seen before.” (Bonus: admission to the museum is always free!)

As energetic in her personal life as in her career, Hadley enjoys playing with her three cats—Zuzu, Theo and Girlfriend—as well as sailing, hiking and spending time outside.

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