Walter Wilson installing "Hive", 2020. Photo by Della Perrone.
Walter Wilson installing "Hive", 2020. Photo by Della Perrone.

Museum Director Jon L. Seydl and longtime Design and Installation Specialist Walter Wilson sat down recently to talk about Walter’s experiences installing art and teaching his craft to others.

JLS: You have a really interesting job! How did you find your way to it?

WW: I was in this field for 15 years before KAM. As an art student in Chicago, I found a way to make a living as an art handler. I began with Terry Dowd, where I trained in handling art and crating. Then at Icon I was operations manager and their New York art shuttle driver. After that I moved to the Conservation Center, where I was director of disaster response, including in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Coming to KAM was exciting because I draw on all those experiences at once, but from a fixed location.

JLS: You’ve had your hand in virtually every exhibition KAM has done since 2007. What are the most memorable?

WW: I did the math recently, and I worked on over 200 exhibits! I was really proud of Hive, which encompassed so many different layers for me as an artist, creative person, and problem solver. The fact that it was visible during COVID when the rest of the museum was closed meant a lot. Challenging and interesting projects are what I like best. Hive was two large inflatable sculptures, with embedded sound and light, none of which we had ever done before. In this case, I started with the sketch from the artist Nancy Davidson and worked through all the dynamics with the curators and artists.

Blown Away (a 2007 KAM exhibition) was also incredible because we needed to build floating walls instead of using the gallery walls. I loved the visitors’ expressions as they saw the exhibition. Working with so many people and materials, helping curators and artists negotiate challenges and tell stories, and the changing nature of the work is all great.

JLS: You also regularly teach a class in the iSchool, Exhibition Design and Installation IS573. What happens there?

WW: I have 12 to 14 awesome students each time, all excited to use their hands, since most don’t have any hands-on experience in their coursework. They physically get to move and handle things, which will help them understand how to make their future exhibitions and installations come together. We work on art handling, vitrines and pedestals, installing vinyl, and creating mounts.

My students leave the course with a more dynamic understanding of how exhibits are produced, because they have physically navigated challenges in the museum while learning how an exhibit is designed.