Photography by Caitlin Abrams
Joanna Reiling Lindell, director and curator at Thrivent Financial
Joanna Reiling Lindell is in the middle of a story about her late mentor, Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom, when the webbing of her black leather Andalucia gallery bench gives way. She plunges partially through with a “Whoo!,” her cheeks flush as she slides herself to a safer perch. “See? That’s why I’m so glad I had you sit in that one,” she says. And then, in almost the same breath, she’s analyzing the Michelangelo-esque stippling in a 16th-century drawing in the gallery’s current exhibition, Curious Creatures: Animals on Paper. At 37, Reiling Lindell is not only poised beyond her years, she’s employed beyond them, having curated Thrivent’s religious art collection for 15 years and counting.
Being a historical art curator is basically just like being Nicolas Cage’s character in National Treasure, right? Totally! When I was a little girl I did want to be Indiana Jones. In reality, my time breaks out into thirds. I spend one part taking care of the objects, making sure that incredible master drawing comes down the month that it’s supposed to come down and comes out of its frame, is covered by the right kind of paper, and tucked away. I spend another part of my time researching and writing for internal programming, which includes our gallery here, and events and talks for employees. And then what’s growing into a larger percentage of my time is dreaming up ways to share the collection all over the world.
How did you choose this path? In college I was an English major with minors in art history and theology, and I wasn’t quite certain which path I would ultimately take. In fact, when I graduated I actually thought, well, I’m going to go the English route. I’m a writer at heart. But I had studied religious prints at St. Thomas, and one of my professors knew the founding curator of this collection really well. His name was Reverend Richard L. Hillstrom and he was looking for somebody to take over and he hadn’t found anybody, and my professor kind of made the connection between us. So I came in as assistant curator and really learned very quickly on my feet. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had fallen into my dream job.
How cool is that? People send me their daughters and sons all the time for informational interviews because it’s kind of like, “This is a job that you can get with an art history degree.” Which is why I feel lucky every day, because, yeah, there aren’t very many jobs like this.
Is it safe to assume that once an exhibition comes down, it goes up in your house? Totally. Yeah, no, no. I have a very modest house. I do collect art, but I collect secular prints from the 19th and 20th centuries, mostly French and American. Every print curator I know has stacks of prints at home and nothing is hung or framed. I’m actually having a good curator friend over for dinner in a couple of weeks [who] I’ve never had over to my house, and I did think, “Maybe I should frame some art.”
Curious Creatures: Animals on Paper is on public display through the fall. Thrivent, skyway level gallery, 625 4th Ave. S., Mpls., 612-844-6433, thrivent.com/offers/art.html
Works from Thrivent’s collection will also be on display in Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation at Mia from October 30–January 15, 2017, artsmia.org.