Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Curator of Exhibitions and Collections Pamela Schwartz.

I first met Pamela Schwartz, The Orange County Regional History Center Chief Curator three months after the horrific Pulse Nightclub shooting that took 49 lives. I had contacted artist, and History Center Collections manager Whitney Broadaway, about sketching interviews with survivors, family of victims and first responders. It just so happened that Pamela was beginning interviews, so the collaboration made perfect sense. Pamela is an artist herself, so she understood what I do.

Pamela had been working as the History Center museum curator for just four months when the Pulse shooting happened. As politicians and first responders scrambled for a course of action, Pam was making plans on how the History Center could play a role in preserving the history that was unfolding. Multiple memorials were appearing with people leaving flowers candles and personal mementos. Rather than have all these items end up in a landfill, Pamela spearheaded an effort to collect, preserve and catalogue all of the thousands of items in the museum archives.

The collections work happened under grueling conditions in the height of the Florida summer heat. It was thankless work since not everyone understood or appreciated what the museum staff was doing. To date over five thousand items are still being preserved and catalogued. In this sketch Pamela is working late at night cataloguing the 49 crosses that were left at Lake Beauty next to the Orlando Regional Medical Center where people were treated after the shooting. After being collected, each cross was placed in a specially made archival box with a clear front. All of the memorial items left at each cross would fit in another box that slips behind the cross inside the box, keeping everything together. Preservation of the crosses was a challenge since they weren't built to last. Pamela took photos of each cross when they were at the hospital, showing them the first day and then sequentially with memorial items added over time. A large online database was created where memorial items can be seen. The crosses were supposed to go on public display 6 months after the shooting but Hurricane Mathew shut down those plans and canceled the Pride Parade. With one year fast approaching this June, the crosses are once again being considered as a symbolic centerpiece to honor each of the victims.

On Pam's desk are several EMS and fire department rainbow patches which were custom made to honor the senseless loss of life. It is just one example of the many small gestures that people continue to make in order to deal in some way with the tragedy. Such items are often sent straight to the museum since only the memorial at Pulse remains. Lake Eola and the memorial at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts have since been collected and are now being preserved.

On this night the subject for the interview didn't show up, so I sketched Pam at work. She entertained me with stories about her family in the midwest. She has been working in museums since she was 14,  so she was immediately up to the challenge when the Pulse Tragedy occurred. Interviews are still being conducted and likely will continue for years to come. Not everyone is ready to talk about that night. Just locating people is a challenge. Some wounds may never heal. I feel fortunate to be using my art to help document this story.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at analogartistdigitalworld@gmail.com

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