“I thought that as I progressed in my career, my interests would narrow,” says Ghenete Zelleke. “Instead, they keep getting broader.” That’s by design. As the Samuel and M. Patricia Grober Curator of European Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, Zelleke is building a collection spanning centuries and styles. Her keen eye, refined in classrooms and museums, and her curiosity are invaluable resources. “You have to be open to extraordinary things—they can transform your collection,” she says.
As an undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, Zelleke knew she wanted to “use objects to tell stories.” New York’s unparalleled collections and Parsons’ faculty drew her back to the United States, where she entered the MA program in the History of Decorative Arts and Design (now known as History of Design and Curatorial Studies). Working with the collections and staff of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, she discovered her passion for European decorative arts.
Zelleke shares her expertise in decorative arts by contributing to scholarly works for a variety of publishers, including the Art Institute of Chicago. Now, with the help of Emily Robichaud ’07, a fellow graduate of her Parsons program, Zelleke is also finding new ways to help museumgoers explore the collections. She recently developed LaunchPad, an iPad-guided tour of the collection. “Visitors get hooked on learning about objects,” she says. “The app lets you delve into what interests you most.”
The tour was a great success, and Zelleke is envisioning new tools to bring her collection to the public. “That’s the legacy of a great education—you’re always expanding on it.”