Curator of the month: Andrew Woods, York Museums Trust
In our new regular feature, we interview a curator about careers, favourite objects and exhibition tips. Andrew Woods tells us how he ended up working with treasure at York Museums Trust – and why it's important to learn from other curators.
Name and job title:
Andrew Woods, Curator of Numismatics, York Museums Trust.
What inspired you to become a curator?
I have always had a passion for history; I was the child dragging their family around castles or museums. In particular, I loved the displays of the Durham Light Infantry Museum and the Hancock Museum (Newcastle), visiting regularly as I grew up. To this day, I love learning about the past. I was inspired to help curate that past as I enjoy the challenge of trying to communicate this passion to a museum audience.
What was your first job in the art/museum world – and how did you get to where you are now?
My first job was as a documentation assistant, working in the department of Coins and Medals in the Fitzwilliam Museum. I ended up cataloguing all manner of things; in my first six months I think I covered everything from Ancient Indian currency through to 20th-century medals. A great place to start in the eclectic world of museums. It was wonderful to work in such a fantastic environment with an amazing collection and with a group of very knowledgeable colleagues. I can certainly say I learnt a lot. It was followed by a combination of study and short-term contracts which built both experience and character. All good preparation for my current role at York Museums Trust.
What has been the highlight of your career – and the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge of working as a specialist curator is always to justify why the collection matters. It is sometimes a challenge to get over the ‘coins are small and boring’ thinking. As such, the highlight of my career was getting a specialist role here at York Museums Trust. I was fortunate that the trust has recognised the potential and importance of this group of collections, and has empowered me to go and try to make more of that potential both here in York and across Yorkshire.
If you had one piece of advice for aspiring curators, what would it be?
Seek out knowledgeable people and listen to them. I have learnt so much from other curators during my career. A network of peers who you can call upon for advice is absolutely invaluable. I will never claim to know all of the answers, but I usually have a good idea about the right person to ask to find them out.
What’s special about working at York Museums Trust?
There are three things that mark out working for York Museums Trust as special. Firstly, the collections are absolutely fantastic; broad, deep and a real pleasure to curate. Secondly, the audience in York is both strong and varied, with everyone from day-trippers to world-leading academics having an interest in heritage. Thirdly, the trust is a vibrant place to work. It has responded to challenging times by being ambitious, taking part in novel projects working with community groups, other museums and schools.
What is your favourite object in your collection and why?
The Vale of York hoard, even if I do share curatorial responsibility for it. It is perhaps the most important ‘object’ from the most iconic period in the history of York. The fact that it was relatively recently discovered and offers so many possible lines of enquiry means that we will continue to learn more about the Viking Age from it for years to come. It is exciting to be a part of that process, and also to share that with museum visitors.
Away from work, how do you spend your free time?
At the risk of sounding a bit too keen, frequently at other museums or English Heritage sites! If I’m forced to forego heritage then I can usually be found watching or playing cricket. Given a lack of success in the latter, I am often advised not to give up the day job.
What is the best exhibition that you have been to recently?
I had the privilege to visit the Viking Voyagers at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall in Falmouth recently. I knew I was going to see something good when there was a queue out of the door on a wet Wednesday! I wasn’t disappointed as the exhibition was a wonderful exploration of Viking sea-faring, complete with some great replica boats.
At the risk of sounding self-promoting, I was also blown away by the transformation in York Art Gallery when I visited for the first time since its redevelopment last month. In particular, Clare Twomey’s spectacular 10,000 hours installation, displayed in a light and brand-new space, was pretty awe-inspiring.
Interested in treasure? Come along to our Treasure Plus Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday 13 October. Places are fully funded.
Would you like to be our curator of the month? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.