(Photos by Eli Burakian ’00)
Matt Zayatz is a steward of the Hood Museum of Art’s collection of 70,000 works of art. With a background in studio art and astronomy, he calls himself an “artist with a strong math mind.” It’s a combination that serves him well in his career.
Job Title: Exhibition preparator at the Hood Museum of Art
How long have you been at Dartmouth? I started January of 2005, so it is very close to 10 years.
What brought you here? I don’t think anyone goes into the planning of their life and says, “I’d like to install artwork.” I had taught wheel-thrown ceramics as an adjunct professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for four semesters. Then came a second-grade sculpture class with the Alliance for the Visual Arts in Lebanon. When the Alliance director heard about an opening at the Hood, she recommended me, I signed on, and 10 years later, here I am.
What is your role at the Hood? I work with John Reynolds, the other 10-year veteran, who was a preparator for 18 years at the Worcester (Mass.) Art Museum. It’s great to work with him. Certainly we hang a lot of pictures, but the 3-D shows are the most fun and the most challenging. We’ve pulled together some great shows, such as the display of African weapons set in a Victorian parlor. There was this beautiful fan of spears, shields, and swords and all kinds of crazy weapons, the likes of which you have never seen. It turned out much more beautiful than I was expecting.
In 2006 we built an exhibit for the art of Papua New Guinea that included a 25-foot tall longhouse constructed inside the museum, using coconut leaves, bamboo, and bailing twine. You had to walk through it to get to the exhibition and it was great. When something like this comes together, we can take pride in it and it becomes a really gratifying moment.
We also do traveling exhibits, such as the recent “Witness: Arts and Civil Rights in the Sixties,” on loan from the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A small team from the Hood went down there and scoped out the show. Then two full tractor-trailers of crates showed up in the middle of the night and we really went to work. There is a lot of behind the scenes work that we are involved in.
What is your favorite part of the job? The most obvious is being one of a very few people who are able to touch artwork. You go to a museum and you are told, “Don’t touch the artwork!” But I’m allowed to touch the art. Then there is the staff at the Hood. They are really great people, intelligent and supportive. They all know how stressful it can be when you are under the gun with an exhibition deadline.
How do you spend your time outside work? I have a 15-month-old daughter who consumes 95 percent of my after- and before-work life. Other than that, I am an artist and musician. I paint and draw, but focus mostly on sculpture and print making. I play guitar, tenor guitar, ukulele, and synthesizer for Lands, a Virginia-based psychedelic folk-rock band. I am known to friends and family as a gourmet cook. I also make modern furniture and enjoy redesigning vintage motorcycles. Somehow, I manage to fit it all in.