Name: Schuyler Swartout, '11
Major: Philosophy
Academics: Presidential Scholarship
Activities: President, University of Richmond Martial Arts
Poetry Editor, The Messenger (literary and arts magazine)
University Players

Describe your research project.

Transformations is an exhibition of contemporary Inuit sculptures from the University of Richmond Museum’s personal collection.  As co-curator, I researched the Inuit people and their culture, past and present, as well as their art and art-making tradition. Having virtually no prior experiences with the Inuit myself, I tried to create an exhibition that would explain to a visitor with the rapid transformation of Inuit life from nomadic hunting to a western lifestyle. To earn much-needed income, the Inuit have been selling their beautiful stone, bone and antler carvings since the 1950s.

After researching exhibit theory and practices, I worked with University of Richmond Museum staff to write labels, design floor plans, and create promotional material. As part of this fellowship, I also helped to prepare for the traveling exhibition of Inuit art from the Heard Museum, Arctic Spirit and assembled an online portfolio of University Museum artworks for the Facebook application ArtShare. 

How’d you get involved in the project? 

I had been working at the University Museums as a gallery attendant when David Hershey, the Museums’ collection assistant, offered me a chance to work cataloging and researching some of the Museums’ mineral specimens. Spring semester, I spent a morning every week volunteering in the museum’s dusty storeroom, looking at rocks and minerals and entering them into a database. When the Museums’ staff offered me a chance to apply for an Arts and Sciences curatorial fellowship, it seemed like a good way to explore careers in the museum field.

What prepared you for this opportunity? 

I have always been fascinated by museums and the objects they contain. When I was little, my father would take me to the Royal Ontario Museum where we would visit their Bat Cave, complete with the noises, lights, and animal specimens. I was enthralled and terrified. By the time I got to Richmond, I was considering museum careers as a way to work with fascinating objects and people. I think most people are intrigued by museum objects because they represent something bigger than themselves: things so grand that they have been preserved for posterity. Or, in the case of the Bat Cave, it takes them to another place, where they might never have a chance to go.

How do you see this project contributing to your collegiate success during the rest of your time at Richmond?

This project has been great for my work habits because it has kept me on a tight schedule. Whether I study more art history or not, the curatorial and editorial techniques I’ve used for his research will keep my academic work clear, concise, and finished on time. This is also one of the first times that I’ve gone into a serious project without any substantial knowledge of the topic; my knowledge of the Inuit before starting this project was limited to igloos, kayaks, and their 40 words for “snow.”

You’ve got a crystal ball.  What’s in store for you after graduation? 

Fortune-telling is such a serious business! I always change my mind about what I’ll do after graduation, sometimes several times in a day. But whatever I do, I think that my personal values and my focus on self-actualization and learning will not leave me. See? I’m getting too serious already with this fortune-telling.

A full day of research lies ahead of you.  What’s on your iPod?

When I’m editing labels, drawing floor plans, or organizing things, I’ve been listening to Philip Glass’ symphonies.

What has a liberal arts education at the University of Richmond meant to you?

It’s all about the environment. People at other schools do research and things, but they often have a hard time exploring their interests outside their major. Liberal Arts at Richmond means I can do this museum fellowship even though I’m a philosophy major, not an art or art history major. A high school friend of mine is studying chemical engineering at a big state school. He takes all math and science courses, and his professors discourage him from taking, say, an art class. Here, if I take only classes in my major, my advisor would probably look at me and say “Maybe you should try some other things.”