June 9, 2023

Sheldon director, chief curator to retire June 30

Photo of Wally Mason

Wally Mason is retiring after leading Sheldon Museum of Art for nine years. His last day as director and chief curator of the museum is June 30.

Wally Mason, director and chief curator of Sheldon Museum of Art, has announced that he will retire on June 30.

Mason, who has led the University of Nebraska–Lincoln museum for nine years, announced the retirement in a June 8 letter to members of the Sheldon Art Association.

“I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished together since 2014. We’ve experienced profound financial and collection growth, greater student engagement and an unprecedented global pandemic that continues to pose new challenges,” Mason said. “Throughout it all, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Sheldon Art Association board and members, museum staff, donors, grantors and visitors have provided crucial support, and the wisdom they have shared has been a cherished gift.”

Under Mason’s leadership, museum attendance and major support have increased and diversified through the launch of several new initiatives, including a publicly accessible online database of the museum’s collection of more than 13,000 objects and the creation of new jobs specifically dedicated to academic engagement.

To better align Sheldon’s exhibition schedule with the university’s academic calendar, the museum has established an installation process in which all exhibitions in the building are changed between semesters. This facilitates curricular use of the museum’s collections and programs and ensures that faculty and students have access to Sheldon exhibitions for the entire semester.

Mason’s efforts to increase financial support of the museum are exemplified by several contributions that have prompted the naming of six galleries. In addition, a grant is allowing Sheldon to develop online curriculum modules using objects from the museum’s collection to meet state education standards for high school students in communities throughout Nebraska.

Mason has actively identified and brought about acquisitions that strengthen the museum’s collection, including major works by Richard Avedon, Robert Colescott, Lois Dodd, Leonardo Drew, Melvin Edwards, Jane Freilicher, John Marin, Elizabeth Murray, Joyce Pensato, Peter Saul, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Stanley Whitney and Sue Williams.

Sheldon was one of the initial museums to receive artwork through Museum Exchange, the first digital platform for art donations — a matchmaker of sorts that brings together philanthropic collectors with accredited art museums. Since the launch of Museum Exchange in April 2021, Sheldon has received 30 works through the platform.

In 2022, the Barry Lopez Foundation for Art and Environment selected Sheldon to receive the Home Ground Collection, a group of more than 90 works donated by 50 American photographers to honor environmental writer Barry Lopez.

Mason initiated and has overseen improvements to the museum’s landmark building, a high modernist structure that opened in 1963. High-efficiency LED lighting has been installed in all public spaces, and a Collection Observation Lab was constructed to accommodate classes and scholars who visit the museum to study works not currently on view in exhibition spaces.

Together, Mason and Sheldon staff effectuated a five-year strategic plan for the period 2020 through 2025, which provides a foundation on which the next director may build.

A national search for Sheldon’s next director is ongoing.