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Art Institute of Chicago Appoints Melinda Watt as the New Chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator of Textiles


Monday, March 12, 2018

CHICAGO—President and Eloise W. Martin Director James Rondeau announced today the appointment of Melinda Watt as the new Chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator of Textiles. Watt most recently served as Curator in the Department of European Decorative Arts and Sculpture (2016-2018) and supervising curator for the Antonio Ratti Textile Center (2009-2018) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she oversaw exhibitions, research, and collections management for over 16,000 Western European textiles and 500 fans, and led one of the largest, most technically advanced facilities for the study and storage of textiles in any major art museum in the world. She helped define a comprehensive, inclusive strategy for the care and research of works from all of the world’s civilizations—archaeological fragments, tapestries, carpets, quilts, ecclesiastical vestments, silks, embroideries, laces, velvets, and more—dating from 3000 B.C. to the present.

Watt will now lead the Art Institute of Chicago’s internationally renowned Department of Textiles and oversee its extensive collection of more than 13,000 textiles and 66,000 sample swatches ranging from 300 B.C. to the present, with particular strengths in Pre-Columbian textiles, European vestments, tapestries, woven silks and velvets, printed fabrics, needlework, and lace. The department has also strong holdings in 16th- and 17th-century English needlework, printed and woven materials of the 18th and 19th centuries, American quilts and woven coverlets, Eastern textiles, and 20th-century fiber art.

In announcing this appointment, Rondeau said: “Melinda has an outstanding reputation as a talented curator, an expert researcher and respected scholar, and brilliant administrator and leader. I am thrilled for our museum and our visitors that she is joining us in this crucial position and will re-energize our ambitious efforts to grow and elevate the reputation of our renowned Textiles department and present innovative and dynamic exhibitions.”

Watt shared: “From the earliest days of my career, I have admired the supreme quality and breadth of the textile collection at the Art Institute, so it comes as a great honor to be asked to lead the Department of Textiles. This is truly a unique opportunity to augment the museum’s already stellar collection and to have an impact on the scholarly field at large.”

Watt began her tenure at The Met in 1994, in The Costume Institute as a Study Storage Assistant, and soon took on increasingly complex and leadership roles, culminating in her leadership of the Antonio Ratti Textile Center beginning in 2009, and a curatorial rise within the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts to become a full Curator in 2016. Her exhibitions at The Met include: The Secret Life of Textiles: The Milton Sonday Archive (2017-2018), American and European Embroidered Samplers, 1600-1900 (with Amelia Peck, 2015-2016), Elaborate Embroidery: Fabrics for Menswear before 1815 (2015), William Morris: Textiles and Wallpapers (with Connie McPhee and Alison Hokanson, 2014), Interwoven Globe: The International Textile Trade, 1500-1800, (co-curator with Amelia Peck et al., 2013-2014), An “Industrial Museum”: John Forbes Watson’s Indian Textile Collection (2013-2014), Renaissance Velvet: Textiles for the Nobility of Florence and Milan (2011-2012), European Textiles from the collection of Friedrich Fischbach (2010).

Earlier in her career, Watt lectured and instructed at the Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, at The Graduate Center at the City University of New York, at New York University, and at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, NY. She has also lectured and published widely, from New York to Chicago and Copenhagen to Beijing, on subjects as diverse as Renaissance and Baroque luxury textiles, Anglo-Indian hangings, flora and fauna in English embroidery, Isabella Stewart Gardner’s pearls, mid-century American fashion, nature in western art, and dressing for 17th-century portraiture.

Watt earned her BFA, with a concentration in Art History, at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. She holds an MA in Costume Studies from New York University, NY.


Melinda Watt, Chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator of Textiles at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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