PHOTO: Kristen Jones, senior curator at the Harley-Davidson Museum, stands between aisles of motorcycles stored in its archives last week. Some were used in movies.
Kristen Jones is senior curator at the Harley-Davidson Museum. A native of Setauket, N.Y., she was the curator of traveling exhibits at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for six years before she was hired by Harley-Davidson two years before the Harley museum opened in 2008.
Jones earned a bachelor's degree in European history and classics (Greek and Roman civilization) from the State University of New York at Albany and a master's degree in museum studies from the Cooperstown Graduate Program. While at the Baseball Hall of Fame, she put together the national traveling exhibition "Baseball as America."
What does she do?
"I tell stories using pictures and objects rather than just words," Jones says. "Objects have the power to elicit emotions from people. That's what I like to do."
There's also a lot of research involved, and it starts with analytical thinking.
As a curator, she has to strike a balance between "eye candy" objects and information that goes deeper and provides details sought by hard-core motorcycle enthusiasts.
"You always have to take a step back and realize the exhibits are not for you. They're for the people who are coming here to learn something," Jones says.
Recently, she co-curated temporary exhibitions for the Harley museum including "True Evel: The Amazing Story of Evel Knievel," "Collection X" and "Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket," which will travel to several domestic venues over the next two years.
What's the hardest part of being a curator?
"You get deeply embedded in the content and have to make some very hard choices because there's only so much space in the museum and people can only absorb so much information. It's a big challenge making sure you are getting your thesis statement across in an effective way, without overloading people, and still having enough layers of information for people who really want all of that."
How did you get into this career?
"I was always interested in history. I grew up outside of New York City, so I had the opportunity to visit museums pretty regularly. As a kid, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Temple of Dendur exhibit from Egypt. I found it amazing that I was walking through something that other people had walked through 2,000 years earlier. The feeling I got from it was something hard to describe. It was what sparked my interest in history."
What are some of the interesting challenges you've faced?
Curators have to think long-term, as in hundreds of years, about how they're going to preserve something. This fall, for example, the Harley-Davidson Museum is getting a motorcycle that floated across the Pacific Ocean in a crate following the Japanese tsunami in 2011. The bike is in rough shape, and experts will be consulted for the best ways to preserve it without ruining its dramatic story.
While Jones was at the Baseball Hall of Fame, the museum displayed a bloody sock worn by Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series. It was a challenge because, over time, iron in blood stains will break down.
"As stewards of these kinds of things, we have to think 900 years into the future. It will be the same way with the tsunami bike," Jones says.
What's your advice for someone considering a career as a curator?
"I would recommend internships. You have to get yourself out there, get experience and volunteer. You also may end up on a different path than you planned on. That's what happened to me. I volunteered in an archaeological lab and realized it wasn't what I wanted to do."
This is the latest in a monthly feature on careers in a dynamic economy.***
Compensation: The average annual salary for a curator in Wisconsin was $49,510 in 2011, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. Entry-level curators earned $29,420 a year, while experienced curators earned $59,560.
To get in: Although some curator jobs require only a bachelor's degree, many employers require curators to have a master's degree combined with related work experience, according the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Outlook: Nationally, employment of curators is projected to grow 16% from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations.