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The Scarlet & Black

Career spotlight: Dan Strong, curator of Faulconer Gallery

Dan Strong, associate director and curator of exhibitions at Faulconer Gallery, has been with the College since the museum’s inception. Photo by Scott Lew.

Daniel Strong, associate director and curator of exhibitions at Faulconer, has played a large role in gathering a diverse array of art to the College’s permanent collection, which currently contains 550 pieces.

Strong came to Grinnell in 1999, along with Leslie Wright, director of Faulconer Gallery, to join Milton Severe, director of exhibition design and Kay Wilson, curator of the collection, in opening the gallery, and building it into the staple of the College. He came from a 2-year term position at Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum, following an internship at the Smith College of Art.

“People wonder … I came here as an associate director, and what is the next step? It’s been too good of a job to want to walk away from. I mean, you don’t get many opportunities to help create an institute out of nothing,” said Strong.

Strong was born in Rochester, New York and took art classes throughout high school. He was the first person in his family to go to college, which he still didn’t even consider until the spring of his senior year of high school. He got his bachelor’s degree at Nazareth College, followed by a masters at Williams College in conjunction with the Clark Art Institute. Additionally, he went to Princeton to work on a Ph.D., although he did not complete it.

“I backed into it. I backed into college, I backed into art, I backed into art history,” Strong said.

He largely credits his trajectory to taking art classes in high school to his position at the College to the people who inspired him along the way.

When he was in tenth grade, his art teacher took his art class on a field trip to Nazareth College, which is how he decided to apply there. A curator he worked for at a local museum became a professor of art history at Princeton, eventually becoming his advisor.

“It’s a long, convoluted story and it’s all weirdly connected but almost none of it had to do with me — it happened to me,” Strong said. “When I think about how motivated you students have to be in directing your careers, I lucked out so much. I’ll never forget what was done for me by the people who guided me along the way because it certainly was not self-directed.”

As the curator of exhibitions at Faulconer, career highlights for Strong have been some of the exhibitions that he has either originated, curated or managed. Because of his connection to Smith College, when they renovated their museum and brought their collection on the road, Strong was offered the opportunity to schedule one of their exhibitions featuring many prominent pieces.

“I said yeah, not knowing if it was going to be financially possible. It turned out that Smith made it very financially doable, it was within our realm of affording,” Strong said. “So we took their highlights of their American art collection, largely 19th-century paintings, things that we don’t own and could never own. And that was very popular — things from John Singleton Copley, from the American colonial period right to the present day.”

During the American highlights exhibition, somebody dropped out of the summer rotation of Smith’s European Art Collection, “From Corot to Picasso.” During the summer of 2000 when this exhibit was showing, Faulconer attracted 20,000 visitors.

“I said yeah again, not knowing if we could afford it. Well, of course we put to the College administration the potential to exhibit Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre Renoist and Pablo Picasso, and of course they bit.”

Along with acquiring diverse art and curating exhibitions, Strong’s entire life is made up of works of art. At this point, it is safe to say that it is  his calling.

“So art is my quasi-religious vocation so the fact that I get to do it and get paid for it by a liberal arts college is an honor and a privilege and something I take very seriously. The mission that we have to serve the students at this college is something I take very seriously,” Strong said. “And I don’t just say it, as you can see the tears well up in my eyes.”

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