“Tiny, but mighty”
Arts Grad: Anna-Maria N. Hand
Course: MLitt – Art History: Dress & Textile Histories (Graduated 2014)
Current Job: Gallery Director & Collections Manager, Southern Vermont Art Centre
A Gallery Director & Collections Manager before the age of 30, Anna-Maria N. Hand had a passion for historic fashion from the start. “I was the only little kid dressed up for Halloween like a Colonial Williamsburg period piece,” she laughed during our phone interview. Currently based at the Southern Vermont Art Centre, Anna-Maria graduated in 2014 from the University’s MLitt in Art History: Dress & Textile Histories.
Originally hailing from Bel Air, Maryland (no, not that one), Anna-Maria had already leapt over many hurdles before getting to Glasgow.
“I originally went to a tiny Catholic college on a track & field scholarship…My sport was the high jump, which was unusual for someone my size [5’4]…I’d show up and I was always the shortest one, so no one thought I could do it, but I had the most spring, and I kept proving them wrong…Tiny, but mighty”.
She had to work to keep this spring in her step when a devastating knee injury meant she lost her scholarship and had to move home. Anna-Maria was determined to find another way to pay for college, so she balanced full-time work in hospitality with full-time study.
“I’d get home [from work] around 2 or 3 in the morning and then I’d have to be up again for an 8AM class start.”
Despite these pressures, Anna-Maria found the motivation to keep going:
“At the new university, my programme required I take Art History. And, right away, I was sold. I fell in love. That was when I decided to switch my major. “
After graduating from college, she went on to work in sales at a private gallery and began investigating international post-graduate study opportunities, as inspired by her Art History teacher and mentor:
“[My teacher] had studied in Italy… She convinced me studying abroad was worthwhile. I’d only been out of the country twice before moving. But it was always in the back of my mind…The programmes in the States were not what I was looking for. I wanted to focus on dress textiles. I had all these ideas for [textiles] research during my undergraduate programme that would get shot down because there were no academics [specializing in textiles] who could guide me. The one paper I was allowed to write was on the Smithsonian exhibition on First Ladies’ dresses. I didn’t have the right resources, but I was so passionate, that my paper ended up being selected and I was one of ten speakers for the annual Art History Symposium. This was the first time I enjoyed speaking as an academic and I thought, ‘hey, I can do this’.”
Anna-Maria ultimately joined the University of Glasgow, primarily for its selection of courses, professors, work placements, and specialization in fashion textiles, but at least partially to “study in a dang castle!” in a beautiful country she’d read about in the Outlander series. She quickly integrated into #TeamUofG and remembers her time with warmth:
“When I first got to Glasgow, I’d never lived outside the country before. Getting my suitcases together. Being in the West End. I remember everything. Going to Sainsbury’s. Taking the train to Paisley to do my internship…I became more aware of my academic qualities, but also myself. What I wanted and needed.”
After completing her dissertation, which examined current and future approaches to sustainability in the fashion industry, Anna-Maria returned to America excited to find work in her field, but had a disappointing start.
“It was really hard. I didn’t even have a job for a couple of months. I was living with my partner at the time and someone, an acquaintance, actually said to me, ‘oh, so you got a master’s degree to become a housewife.’ It really upset me, but also lit a fire under my butt. I found a job at a restaurant, which is hard in its own way, but can be good money and gave me the chance to talk to people.”
Digging into her grit, Anna-Maria continued applying for opportunities and got the chance to work with the Maryland Historical Society, the Textile Museum, Girl’s Life Magazine, and, her biggest break, with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. After a “surreal” year working with some of costuming’s best and brightest, including Andrew Bolton, when Anna-Maria’s contract ended, she decided to take another big leap, this time to China.
“My roommates [from halls at the University of Glasgow] were teaching English in Harbin [in NE China] and they invited me to join them.”
Finding herself on another adventure abroad, Anna-Maria missed working in the arts and committed to doing whatever it would take to remain in this engaging, if unpredictable, field. In early 2018, she left China to return home to Maryland, “to get grounded and focus on applying to jobs” while making money in hospitality.
“I knew I needed to be back in the Arts. I took a step back. I looked at what I was doing, sought mentorship, and upped my game…. I took a day off work and applied to 8 jobs. It was a long day…. But, I heard back from some of those applications that very same day.”
One of these applications was to the Southern Vermont Art Centre and the rest, as they say, is Art History.
“A week before I moved, the Director called me. I had been hired on to be the Collections Manager, but based on my variety of experience, they also offered me the Gallery Director position. All those bits of experience where I didn’t know where they were leading, meant I was qualified. It showed I was able to adapt to situations and I had learned how to provide whatever was needed of me.”
This varied set of skills was useful to take on dual roles with an ever-expanding list of responsibilities.
“[As Collections Manager/ Gallery Director] I handle anything and everything. The previous director had left a week before I arrived, so, although we have a really great team, I had to figure things out for myself.”
Beyond art direction, Anna-Maria handles:
“…Legal contracts. Events planning. Caterers. Shipping. Hanging. Getting and managing volunteers. Labels. Wall text. Press releases. Social Media… The previous director had left a week before I arrived, so I had to figure things through trial and error… It was daunting, but an amazing experience because I learned so much… Now I’m already doing research and planning for next year.”
So, what advice would Anna-Maria give to her former self (or any other enthusiastic arts students in-the-making)?
“I advocate studying the arts. It gives a different perspective on life. Critical thinking…solving problems in a creative way. Okay, so [the process of getting an arts job] was not linear. But it’s like…a sound wave. With ups and down along the wavelength. The lowest low takes you to the highest high. You’ll learn, I mean, those lows hurt, but I learned in those lows, I figured out new approaches. You always find another solution. Studying Liberal Arts, unlike math, there’s not one answer, there are always different ways to solve the problem. Trust me, it took me 5 years. But I wouldn’t be here without the experiences I had along the way.”