Collections manager at Louisiana Art & Science Museum talks the art of looking after art

Lexi Guillory spends her workday bouncing from her office to spend one-on-one time down the hall with one of the 4,000 items in the Louisiana Art & Science Museum’s inventory.

As the collections manager, Guillory is responsible for organizing and maintaining the priceless items in the museum’s holdings. The Alabama native has worked at the museum since 2014 and was eager to join the museum staff after interning for a year.

In addition to showcasing recent temporary exhibits, such as the photography exhibit “Faces of the Flood” and Alyce Simon’s “Atomic Art”—using a particle accelerator—the museum also houses a massive permanent collection of art, scientific objects and artifacts related to Louisiana culture.

Well-spoken and sparkly eyed, Guillory smiles as she describes what it’s like to work with such a diverse collection. When objects aren’t on display in one of the museum’s galleries, they are kept in a temperature- and light-controlled storage room housing everything from miniature furniture to photography prints.

“It’s a nice, quiet space,” Guillory says. “It’s very orderly, and it’s a nice place to just kind of … be. It’s fun to just go through [the items] and remind yourself of the things you’re taking care of.”

The room is kept cool and dark to prevent pieces of art from fading or cracking from harsh lighting.

Guillory also wears nitrile gloves, often ties her hair back and avoids wearing jewelry or buttons when working with artworks and other objects—all part of her mental checklist of daily precautions.

In addition to collection preservation, her duties include updating each item’s digital and print files, forming a disaster response plan in case of flood or major storms, collaborating with the curator of exhibitions if objects need to be handled and transported to the gallery floor, installing the art and writing condition reports.

“You do have to love order to be a collections manager,” Guillory says. “We like to joke that collections managers are born, not made, because if you talk to us, we have tendencies [for organization] even as children.”

With the large amount of students visiting the museum every year—more than 70,000 elementary and secondary students annually—the staff prepares and discusses how they can make the exhibits digestible for a variety of ages. From determining the layout of the displays to making the written art descriptions as interesting and simple as possible, Guillory says, it is important to make art attainable for young people.

“We are art and science,” she says. “There are very few museums in the country that do what we do. It’s taking a subject that you normally just consider as one or the other and making it both.” lasm.org

Guillory’s museum collection highlights

Her favorite item: Chris Burkholder’s “Rice Fields Evening,” an Impressionist-style painting she says captures “the hazy light of dusk, when the outlines of the world blur before they turn to black”

The museum’s oldest item: The 23,000-year-old mummy, from the Ptolemaic period (323 BC to 30 BC)

Her most memorable moment to date: Watching renowned conservation specialist Mimi Leveque from the Peabody Essex Museum inspect and examine the mummy and offer preservation expertise to LASM

This article was originally published in the August 2017 issue of 225 Magazine.