New KAM director, Jon Seydl, recounts his experience as an art lover

By Paige Blanzy, Contributing writer

Jon Seydl, previously the chief curator of European art and senior director of collections and programs at Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts, has officially begun work as the new director at the Krannert Art Museum.

Seydl was raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania where he found his first love of the arts through his sister, who took art lessons at the Allentown Art Museum, where Seydl said he always wanted to spend his time.

His father was a steelworker, and he described his family as the opposite of the artistic type.

After discovering this love for the arts while growing up, Seydl knew he wanted to be a curator at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Someone told me what a curator was, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool,’ so it’s kind of funny that I ended up in that direction,” Seydl said.

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    Seydl studied art history as an undergrad at Yale University. He then took a break to work for the National Endowment for the Humanities in Washington, D.C., doing grant work. Following that, he decided to go to the University of Pennsylvania for their doctorate program in art history.

    Throughout all of this schooling, Seydl was consistent with being involved in museums and worked at the Yale Center for British Art. While in grad school, he worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

    “Truth be told…I think I loved the museum work even more because you take these great ideas, (and) you can actually work with real art and share those ideas with the public, rather than just writing your own scholarship for a small group,” Seydl said. “You can communicate to everybody.”

    Transitioning to the new position of director, Seydl was able to bring prior knowledge from the Worcester Art Museum. While there, he worked with an interesting combination of curatorial work, having hands-on experience directly with the collection.

    Although Seydl used to have a specialty in Italian art, he never felt confined to one art subject.

    “I think I have a nice appetite for all kinds of art, which is, in a way, what led me toward the director path,” Seydl said.

    Curator of European and American art, Maureen Warren said her position is directly affiliated with Seydl as he shapes the museum as a whole.

    She said Seydl and the previous director, Kathleen Harleman, share the same kind of respect for all of the moving parts in the museum, understanding the different key members and how they all play a role.

    “Just taking the time to meet with us individually shows how thoughtful he is about his first moves as director,” Warren said.

    Coming into an art museum like Krannert, Seydl realized that there isn’t so much he needs to change immediately. He said he is mainly listening and understanding what is currently going on so that he can keep it running smoothly.

    “This is not a turnaround; it’s already really successful, so right now, what I want to do is maintain the success of the program,” Seydl said.

    Seydl is inspired by all original works of art and said experiencing them face to face is always amazing. Seeing them on a phone allows you to learn a lot, he said, but experiencing the real tangible thing is really something else.

    Throughout his work in the arts, Seydl is most proud of working on big exhibitions.

    He recalled a Rembrandt in America project and a show about Pompeii, both during a previous job in Cleveland. While in Worcester, he said he was most proud of being able to assemble a truly great curatorial team, full of young curators and registrars.

    Upon moving to the Champaign-Urbana area, Seydl and his partner have been pleasantly surprised with features. He said everyone in the community has been so welcoming and helpful towards him.

    “We’re very excited,” said Julia Nucci Kelly, communications and marketing coordinator for Krannert Art Museum. “He has a lot of curatorial expertise with a great amount of knowledge, so it will be fun to see what he brings to the types of things we can offer.”

    Seydl sees himself set apart from others by his genuine love and passion for art and hopes that comes through when in a conversation.  

    In five to 10 years from now, Seydl said he sees himself still at Krannert. His goal is to make this work because he knows he wants to be here the rest of his life.

    Eventually, Seydl wants his legacy to remain by the great and memorable work done at Krannert that was collaborative with a successful staff.

    “Everyone was also very happy together doing that,” Seydl said.

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