James Pearson Wright Museum This IS BeloitJames Pearson has lived all over the country. He’s lived in Portland, Philadelphia and Myrtle Beach, just to name a few cities. But Pearson thinks he’s finally found a special place in Beloit that is ideal for both his family and his career.

Pearson came to Beloit in 2012 as curator of the Wright Museum of Art, one of Beloit’s crown jewels. In 1930, the college partnered with the city of Beloit to fund the construction of the Wright Museum. Since then, the museum has undergone several renovations over the years.

The Wright Museum is home to approximately 4,500 objects, mostly European and American prints and paintings, college portraits, 19th century historic architecture photos, and Asian decorative arts, icons, and prints.
Currently, Pearson serves as interim director while the director is on a year-long sabbatical. Prior to coming to Beloit, he worked as the art gallery general manager at Stony Brook University in New York, where he was a teaching assistant and earned his master’s in art history criticism.

In his career, Pearson has held various jobs – everything from a waiter to a lumberjack, while pursuing his love for art. He also wears many hats at the Wright Museum. “My job is to determine what goes up on the walls at the museum,” he says. “I secure the objects, preserve them, and make sure they’re handled correctly. I also review what is being gifted and decide if we will take it.”

Born in Boulder, Colo., Pearson and his family moved to Florida, where his father worked in computer technology and his mother in the medical field. His older brother, Ralph, is a carpenter. Pearson attended high school and college in Asheville, N.C., where his family still reside.

Moving to Beloit appealed to Pearson for many reasons. “I’ve been given the opportunity here to explore facets that I wouldn’t have in other communities,” he says. “That’s the best thing about wearing multiple hats; you can explore other areas. I’m able to write grants, teach, and give lectures. I’m not pigeonholed by my title.”

Pearson also finds Beloit enticing for his wife, Molly, and young daughters, Ella, 4, and Piper, 2, thanks to a number of community activities. “You can get anywhere and still have the comforts of living in a small town,” he says. “Beloit is reminiscent of Asheville. I used to say that everywhere is pretty much the same – the town, the people and the problems. But Beloit has proven to be the exception to that rule. It’s unique among small towns. It’s a strong sense of community that pulls people together.”

That energy is evident at the Wright Museum, Pearson says, through both its extensive collection and community engagement. “I’m privy to 150 years of Beloit College’s gifts from the community and you’d be surprised what we have. It’s teachers and trustees from the College, but it’s also high-standing members of the community who have donated works of art. It’s really an insight into the history of Beloit that I don’t think people understand unless they visit the museum.”

The Wright Museum of Art provides the local community with opportunities to interact and learn about visual arts through exhibitions, collections, and programming. “We’re a teaching museum, working mostly with students,” Pearson says. “I get to teach art students, for example, how to hang a show, dry mount, frame and mat, and how work is photographed. We see aha moments. For the rest of their lives, whether they hang a photograph in their home or at the Metropolitan School of the Arts, maybe they’ll think back to me and the time I showed them how to use a level.”

To Pearson, Beloit has a homey feel. After so many moves, he’s learned to embrace different cultures life has to offer.
“I was a never fan of cheese,” he says, laughing. “Now, you can’t give me enough cheese.”

James Pearson is Curator at Wright Museum of Art at Beloit College.

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