April 23, 2020
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Job-shadowing a Kenyon alumnus gave two students passionate about the art world an insider’s look at the midtown Manhattan basement where paintings, ceramics and collectibles are stored for Christie’s, the famous British auction house.
As Brady Furlich ’19 and Kristin Toms ’20 browsed ancient Chinese pottery and early American chairs during their spring break, they were amazed the depth of knowledge demonstrated by their guide, John Hays ’82.
His enthusiasm was not limited to American furniture and decorative arts, which he specializes in as Christie’s deputy chairman. He also has been featured as an appraiser on the popular program “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS.
“It was really cool seeing the art just sitting on shelves — some contemporary art next to an antique, and really cool Chippendale chairs next to old vases,” Furlich said. “Nothing was labeled, so it was all kind of a mystery when we walked through.”
During the warehouse tour, Toms was excited to spot a mixed-media painting of a red rooster by Thornton Dial, who had roots near her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. The economics and art history major is interested in a career in art sales or art law, and hopes to apply for a Christie’s internship program next year, with a recommendation from Hays.
“The job shadow has given me some connections that are really important in the field I’m hoping to go into,” Toms said.
Kenyon’s Career Development Office helps pair dozens of students with alumni and parent mentors every year, organizing job shadows during winter and spring breaks. Hays is a frequent participant in the program and helps facilitate connections to several other Kenyon alumni working at the company.
Furlich, an economics and history major, discovered her love of art while volunteering and taking classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art, within walking distance of her home.
At Kenyon, she installs artwork as a Gund Gallery associate, assisting with student exhibitions and the gallery’s art loan program. “It’s been interesting working at a smaller gallery and being able to work one-on-one with the art and be trusted to handle the art,” said Furlich, who also enjoys stage-managing theatrical productions.
Toms and Furlich got a taste of auction work when they sat in on presentations to families considering Christie’s to sell their art. And they searched Christie’s library of decades-old auction records to find prices of works similar to ones to be auctioned, including some antique chairs.
A liberal arts education is good training for auction house work, Hays said, because graduates gain writing experience and are exposed to key disciplines beyond art history, including literature, religion and world history.
For example, he said he learned how to discuss art and to share his opinions from Barry Gunderson, professor emeritus of art. The art history major also credits Kenyon’s English department as a great influence.
“That intellectual curiosity about literature — that’s a gift,” said Hays, who still appreciates his own college job shadow experience with a U.S. senator. “It’s the whole picture. It’s a good case study for the liberal arts.”
See what other job shadows Kenyon students have completed this year.