Photo credit: Jerilyn @ JL Photography

Newporter Rebecca J. Kelly Appointed as Executive Director at South County Museum

The South County Museum Board of Trustees has proudly announced the appointment of Rebecca J. Kelly as the institution’s new Executive Director and Curator of Collections. Bringing a wealth of expertise and a vibrant vision to her role, Kelly’s appointment marks an exciting new chapter for the museum.

A seasoned historian, museum professional, university lecturer, and artisan, Kelly’s journey to the South County Museum began with her consultancy work last season. During this time, she contributed significantly to curatorial projects and the expansion of the museum’s School of Craft.

Lynn Wagner, President of the Board, expressed enthusiasm for Kelly’s appointment, citing her inspired curatorial vision and her ability to drive dynamic programming. Wagner emphasized Kelly’s fresh ideas and her capacity to unite the museum’s collections with its craft practices in innovative ways.

Kelly’s extensive background includes years of university instruction, where she specialized in textile history and conservation, as well as museum exhibition theory and practice. Her research interests encompass a wide array of topics, including 19th and 20th-century textiles and trade, American fashion history, and the role of women fashion and textile designers.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Kelly is an artisan with a keen interest in the history and psychology of color, as well as the symbolism of plants and flowers. She plans to integrate her expertise into the museum’s programming, offering natural dye classes and hand-sewing workshops at the SCM’s School of Craft Fiber Shed.

A native of Aquidneck Island, Kelly’s museum career began at The Preservation Society of Newport County. She holds a BA in Art History from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s degree in Textile History and Conservation. Her professional journey led her to spend twelve years in New York City at the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she served on the museum staff and as teaching faculty.

Returning to Rhode Island, Kelly’s impact was immediately felt as she guest curated exhibitions at the Newport Historical Society and the Audrain Automobile Museum. Her dedication to preserving history and fostering community engagement is evident in her plans for the South County Museum.

Expressing her excitement for the role, Kelly shared her eagerness to guide the museum in fulfilling its mission of preserving and interpreting its collections while forging new community partnerships and expanding programming. She emphasized her desire to support artisans of all backgrounds and ages.

Among Kelly’s plans is an exploration of the museum’s collections in relation to Narragansett’s history as a Gilded Age resort city. She also looks forward to the upcoming community event, Night at the Museum, scheduled for Friday, May 17, which celebrates the museum’s 90th birthday and offers the community a chance to experience the museum’s new exhibits and demonstrations.

Night at the Museum promises to be a family-friendly affair with free admission, live music by the South County Jammers, exhibits, crafts, games, and culinary delights featuring local vendors. Artisans will showcase their skills in blacksmithing, fiber arts, woodworking, and printing. Attendees can participate in raffles for workshop classes, artisanal pieces, private tours, and even a recreated Declaration of Independence produced in the museum’s print shop.

Rebecca J. Kelly’s appointment heralds an exciting new era for the South County Museum, promising innovation, community engagement, and a renewed commitment to preserving and celebrating local history and craftsmanship.




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