Meet the Curator - Kim Robinson

Kim Robinson at Cowdray Heritage, the ruins of one of England’s most important early Tudor houses.
Kim Robinson at Cowdray Heritage, the ruins of one of England’s most important early Tudor houses.

NPS Photo

How long have you worked with museum collections? At what parks?

Since 2003, I have had the opportunity to work with a wide range of incredible NPS museum collections. Starting with my first internship with the museum program at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, I have studied, managed and cared for historic furnishings, textiles, historic firearms, artwork, prints and numerous drawings during my time with the NPS. Following my time at Harpers Ferry, I applied for and completed two stints as a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern. My first internship as an SCA was at Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greenville, Tennessee, followed by a term as a Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program Intern at Fort Stanwix National Monument in Rome, New York.

After graduating with a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from George Washington University in 2006, I worked as a museum technician at the National Capital Region’s (NCR) Museum Resources Center for two years caring for collections across NCR before arriving at my current park, the George Washington Memorial Parkway in 2008. I have had the privilege of working at a variety of sites at the parkway during my tenure here, including Clara Barton National Historic Site and Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.

What do you like about being an NPS curator?

One of the best things about being an NPS Curator is the power of the place where our collections our housed. The incredible museum collections at our national parks tell the story of our natural and cultural heritage against the backdrop of important sites in American history and help visitors gain a deeper understanding of the complex stories of our great nation.

While it can be a challenge to serve as a curator with the NPS, as resources become tighter and tighter, there are so many opportunities to learn from experts and cross-train with experts from a variety of disciplines.

Stereoview of Selina Gray, enslaved servant at Arlington House, and two of her daughters.

What’s your favorite object?

Hard question! I am not sure I could truly narrow it down to just one object, but if I had to choose one object from out of all of George Washington Memorial Parkway’s museum collections, I would select our recently acquired stereoview of Selina Gray. This powerful artifact from the Arlington House museum collection is one of the few images we have of Mrs. Gray. Selina Gray was an enslaved woman who lived and worked at the Arlington House estate with her husband Thornton and their eight children. She served as the personal maid of Mrs. Robert E. Lee and played a critical role in saving priceless artifacts associated with President Washington at the outbreak of the American Civil War. But this is not her only legacy. The stereoview serves a brief glimpse into the struggle for freedom at Arlington that echoed the experiences of so many other African Americans in the 19th century.

As a graduate of the GOAL Leadership Academy, what can you tell us about the program?

Participating in the 2015 GOAL Leadership Academy was one of the highlights of my NPS career! While the program has evolved since my graduation, the core experience of interacting with your colleagues from multiple disciplines across the NPS was invaluable. Having access to the ever growing network of GOAL graduates is one of the best parts of the program. The leadership skills training, the in-depth focus on personal development, the hands-on workshops, and the access to NPS Leadership such as the National Leadership Council were all unforgettable.

What did you do on your recent trip to England?

From July 12-29, 2018, I attended the 2018 Attingham Summer School where I joined a class of 47 students that included artifact conservators, architects, museum directors, curators and collections managers on a 2 ½ week journey through the history, care, interpretation and exhibit of the English Country House. Our group of scholars visited sites in southern and northern England along with the midlands and received numerous lectures on critical issues related to the history of the English Country House. This invaluable training and exposure to care and exhibit techniques in England also offered the opportunity to network with scholars and experts in numerous fields.

The Attingham Summer School was established in 1952 by the Attingham Trust, an educational charitable trust. The school was originally created to offer American curators the opportunity to become acquainted with the realities and complexities of British country houses. Today, the program offers specialized study courses for those who are professionally engaged in the study, care and interpretation of historic houses and palaces and their collections and garden and landscape settings, whether they work in the museum, university, historic house, or conservation sector.

During the 2 ½ week program, we visited a variety of sites across England. Highlights of the course included visits to Harewood House, where we explored slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade with lectures from the owner of the property and Professor James Walvin, stops at famous sites in British history such as Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall (associated with the famous Bess of Hardwick, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and Mary, Queen of Scots), where we received access to special collections and hands-on training and lectures on archival, ceramics, textiles and silver museum collections. With special nightly lectures such as “Wives, Widows, Sisters and Daughters: Female Patrons and Collectors and the Country House,” “Plasterwork in the Country House,” “Robert Adam and the Birth of the ‘True Style of Antique Decoration’,” we covered a wide range of topics related to historic house museums.

Last updated: November 6, 2018