Kristen Miller Zohn, a self-described “generalist” and anglophile, always knew she wanted to work in a museum setting. She brought that interest, and a background in Art History and English, to the Art History graduate program at Florida State University, where connections with faculty and fellow students refined her focus. She quickly realized “art historians were my people – as long as I was interacting with them, I would always enjoy going to work.” After earning her MA in 1996, she built her dream career on a progression of professional museum experiences. Kristen now serves as Executive Director of the Costume Society of America and Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art in Laurel, Mississippi.
With each new position in a museum field, Kristen expanded her skills and insights about the profession. In jobs at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Albany Museum of Art, the Columbus Museum, and now at the Lauren Rogers Museum, she became adept at wearing many hats. From writing wall texts to fulfilling the duties of registrar, preparator, curator, and educator, she built on the foundation of her education and familiarized herself with the complicated workings of museums.
Being an educator helped me be a much better curator. I learned to pay more attention to what the public wanted to know, not what I thought they should know. You also come to curating objects a little differently when you’ve actually had to hang them. I think it made me a better supervisor because I’ve had realistic expectations of people.
Since 2015, Kristen has divided her workday between the Lauren Rogers Museum and the Costume Society of America (CSA), a non-profit organization which arranges academic and social events and provides grants and awards to professionals, educators, and students interested in the history of costume. In her role for the CSA, Kristen supports the work of the board of directors.
She was first drawn to the CSA in 2012 because of her background as a portrait specialist. “It’s very helpful to know the history of clothing when you’re looking at portraits.” Just as she had found camaraderie with fellow art historians at Florida State, Kristen discovered in the CSA a group of people with diverse professional backgrounds and a shared fascination with the history of clothing: educators, curators, re-enactors, theater costumers, collectors, and students. As executive director, Zohn participates in the organization’s annual meetings and leads the society forward.
Kristen has also served as president of the Southeastern Museums Conference and was a council member for 10 years. She is a contributing author to The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Vol. 21: Art and Architecture, and she has published articles about Jane Austen and the visual arts in Persuasions.
Obviously it’s a human need to make artwork and to express oneself, but to me it is equally valuable to give other people a platform on which to express themselves – either by commissioning art or purchasing and hanging it or simply the appreciation of it. It makes us who we are, as humans. So as long as it’s important to humankind to make art, it’s up to people like us to study, explain, and promote it.