On the beautiful campus that is home to the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Francoise Hack’s office is tucked into a small, windowless corner of the Education Building. A Caravaggio poster from the Art Gallery of New South Wales hangs over her desk, which, like the room outside her door, is cluttered with oddments like John Ringling’s Roman glass collection.
“Museum registrars have a hard time throwing stuff away,” said Hack, who started at the museum as a volunteer in the mid 1990s. Over the years she’s had many roles at the museum, and now holds the title of assistant director of collections. She’s responsible for overseeing the physical care and cataloging of the museum’s thousands of objects, from the huge Rubens tapestries that hang in the main galleries to the inventory of John Ringling’s personal effects from underwear and cigars to doorknobs and light fixtures.
A native of The Netherlands, Hack studied art history at the University of Groningen, with a focus on early Netherlandish art, which makes the many Flemish pieces in the Ringling collection a particular joy for her.
Her first paying job at the Ringling was as research assistant for the 1996 exhibition “John Ringling: Dreamer Builder Collector.”
“My task was to install the exhibition of the tapestries and write the labels,” said Hack. The research opened her eyes to the intellect behind John Ringling’s collecting patterns.
“There was this wealth of information about someone who really wanted to learn about what he was buying,” she said.
The 18 years Hack has spent at the Ringling have been ones of significant change. By the late 1990s, the museum had fallen into significant disrepair. Cà d’Zan was closed for six years for a $15 million renovation; the building that housed the Historic Asolo Theater was condemned; and the museum’s roof was on the verge of collapse. In 2000, governance of the museum was transferred from the Florida Department of State to Florida State University, which pumped millions into the facility to fix a myriad of problems.
Most significant to Hack was the completion of the Education Building with its plentiful storage.
“Especially for this department, that has been a huge improvement,” said Hack. “Storage is the last thing people think about, but it requires specific features, including humidity control, pest control, security, and prevention of water intrusion.”
Much of Hack’s job is keeping track of the history of objects in the museum’s collection, and of making sure that the information is available to researchers inside and outside the museum. Staffers working on catalogs for exhibitions or papers to be presented in the museum community depend on Hack for background information.
“We have boxes and boxes of old exhibitions catalogs,” she said, awaiting digital cataloging. Interns number and catalog items for the museum.
“I love capturing that information and making it accessible, and not having to do it over and over again,” she said.
It’s a long process; two fulltime positions in her department are unfilled.
Her job also includes drafting the contracts and ensuring the safety of the artwork in visiting exhibitions — for example, the 2016 “Samurai: The Way of the Warrior” exhibit of armor, swords and painted screens coming from the Museo Stibbert in Florence, Italy.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “It’s making me step out of things I thought I could or couldn’t do, out of my comfort zone.”
The best part of her job is getting to handle artwork in the collection — something the guards in the galleries will prevent visitors from doing.
But touching the pieces helps her to look at things differently, she said.
“It’s definitely a privilege,” she said. “There are still treasures at the Ringling for people to discover, and they’re right out in the open.”
Address: 5401 Bayshore Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243
Hours: 7 days a week from 10:00am – 5:00pm; Open until 8:00pm on Thursdays
Phone: (941) 359 – 5700
For more information about the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art please visit http://www.ringling.org/