Biggs curator Grover leaves behind museum and memories

By Dee Emeigh
Posted 7/18/21

DOVER — Ryan Grover has acquired so many memories of exhibitions, community and educational events in his 18 years as curator of the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, that it is impossible …

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Biggs curator Grover leaves behind museum and memories


DOVER — Ryan Grover has acquired so many memories of exhibitions, community and educational events in his 18 years as curator of the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, that it is impossible for him to pinpoint one singular thing that stands out.

Last week may have changed that, however, as he left the Biggs to assume his new role of director at Rockwood Park and Museum in Wilmington. His last day at the Biggs is Tuesday, July 13, but over the course of the next several months he will continue working on small projects at the Biggs.

He will pass the torch programmatically to the Curator of Community and Academic Programs, Kristen Matulewicz, who has worked both alongside Mr. Grover and behind the scenes to cultivate the museum's virtual presence.

In 2018, when the Biggs Museum, named after founder Sewell C. Biggs, celebrated its 25th year, Mr. Grover wrote, “In its first ten years, Mr. Biggs opened and nurtured a small American art museum with a teaching collection that reflected important early artforms of Delaware. In its next 15 years, the museum’s staff and trustees cultivated his foundation to build one of the finest regional art museums in the country.”

There were no outreach efforts to involve the community when Mr. Grover arrived in 2003.

“Not even a regular exhibition program,” he said. He is pleased to have published more than a dozen catalogs and organized more than 200 exhibitions since then.

Additionally, community events, such as adult education series, receptions and calls for artists, have become the norm. In 2020, for example, there were 12 exhibitions and 65 public programs.

Since its inception in 1993, the museum has housed a notable collection of American fine and decorative arts. Originally housed on the second and third floors, the permanent collection has been preserved and enhanced by more recent acquisitions, doubling its original size. The entire gallery, including the façade, was remodeled and expanded between 2011 and 2014.

Modest about the imprint he leaves behind, Mr. Grover is nevertheless hopeful the museum will continue the trajectory he has set. He believes it has a solid framework for the future, expanding on the question, “What is American?”

“Traditionally,” he explained, “America has meant northern North American and largely white.”

He has been intentional about expanding that tradition to encompass more of the community in terms of ethnicity, color and gender and he hopes to see that diversification and expansion continue in a new strategic plan reflecting that.

Mr. Grover seems to thrive on plans involving the community. He thinks going out into the community to make friends there will be a nice way to start his new job.

He leaves the museum while there are two exhibitions currently featured at the Biggs.

“Winslow Homer From Poetry to Fiction – The Engraved Works” is a major exhibit of 220 engravings by the 19th-century American artist.

Mr. Homer (1836-1910) is considered one of the most important artists of American life of the 1800s.

Featuring Mr. Homer’s early work that was produced in New York’s Hudson River Valley, this exhibition is accompanied by never-before-exhibited period photographs of his subjects.

In “Inventing Illustration: Illuminating Vintage Children’s Literature & Other Stories,” Wilmington-based artist Frank E. Schoonover (1877-1972) created thousands of book illustrations throughout his career, including the cover art for such well-known stories as “Swiss Family Robinson” (1921), “Gulliver’s Travels” (1921) and “Treasure Island” (1921).

This exhibition traces Mr. Schoonover’s design steps, beginning with preparatory photographs, drawings and sketches for illustrations and ending with paintings and book covers that he created for best-selling children’s literature. “Inventing Illustration” is loaned to the Biggs Museum by the late Dr. Edward Burka’s estate.

Both exhibits will run until Oct. 2.

Running from Nov. 5 to Feb. 13, 2022 will be “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray.”

In May 1931 the imminent photographer Mr. Muray traveled to Mexico on vacation where he met Ms. Kahlo, a woman he would never forget. The two started a romance that continued on and off for the next 10 years and a friendship that lasted until her death in 1954.

Approximately 40 photographic portraits taken by Mr. Muray of Ms. Kahlo comprise the exhibition. The photographs, dating from 1937 to 1946, explore Mr. Muray’s unique perspective; as Ms. Kahlo’s friend, lover and confidant.