Q&A with Hannah Wirta Kinney
“Q&A with…” is a series dedicated to introducing staff members to the Oberlin community. Is there someone you’d like to nominate? Please get in touch.
Hannah Wirta Kinney, assistant curator of academic programs, works in the Allen Memorial Art Museum. There, Kinney finds new ways to support the intellectual, professional, and personal development of Oberlin College and Conservatory students and faculty through their engagement with the museum and its collections.
“I do this—with great support from my curatorial assistant and student employees—by helping faculty to plan class visits to the museum and by designing workshops, programs, and events that highlight the museum as a place of inquiry and conversation,” says Kinney. She began her role in September 2019.
Get to know more about Kinney in this Q&A.
Describe your role in six words.
Thinking through things / performing intellectual gymnastics
What’s your passion?
Exploring the world's aesthetic pleasures
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
When I was in graduate school, a visiting scholar who specializes in 18th-century French interiors gave a talk about her career trajectory. It surprised us all when she revealed that she started her dissertation work focused on Modern architecture—which is visually the opposite of 18th-century France. She said that working on 18th-century French architecture and decorative arts was born out of the fact that she thought it was ugly and couldn’t understand why people in that era were so enthralled by it. What I took away from this story is that it is important to think and learn about the things that we don’t like—even if just a little bit. Doing so allows you to more deeply understand not only a wider range of things, but also yourself.
What’s your favorite place on earth?
Italy. I first lived in Florence during my undergraduate study abroad and have since traveled and lived in Italy during my masters and doctoral research. As a pragmatic Midwesterner, I am intoxicated by how Italians live for and through beauty. They taste, see, feel, and experience life so fully. Italians, and Italy, taught me how to find pleasure and delight in the everyday and attuned my senses to look for aesthetic wonder, wherever it may be.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Reading gossip about the British Royal family. I had never been interested in celebrity gossip, but somehow when I was working on my doctorate at the University of Oxford in the UK I got drawn in. Even today I can’t help but occasionally scour Instagram for pictures of the Royal family.
What’s your favorite piece of clothing?
Accessories, such as glasses and jewelry, are the most important part of my wardrobe. My most precious necklace is one that my husband made for me, which I always wear to important events and conferences. At the center is a bronze hand. My research focuses on bronze sculpture and he is a bronze sculptor, so this hand is a symbolic meeting point of our interests. Surrounding the hand are big wooden beads which he made from the scraps of a butcher block counter he installed in our Brooklyn apartment. The necklace is for me a material manifestation of many of the common interests and passions we share.