Ann Shafer

If you’ve been following the Math for Grownups blog, you know how often math plays a role in art.  Turns out that it’s not only useful in creating art but caring for it as well.  

Ann Shafer, associate curator of the prints, drawings and photographs collection at Baltimore Museum of Art, uses math in surprising ways–and surrounded some of the greatest artwork of the 20th and 21st centuries.  

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I curate and organize exhibits, like the Baker Artist Awards, which runs from September 7 to October 2.  I also teach classes using the BMA’s world class works on paper collection, and I search out and present objects for acquisition.  Finally, it’s ultimately my responsibility to be sure that the BMA’s collection of 65,000 prints, drawings, photographs and books is well cared for.

When do you use basic math in your job?

We are always calculating how much an acquisition fund might generate, given market levels.  This allows us to secure funding for new purchases for our collection. I often assign accession numbers to complex objects like books, sketchbooks and portfolios.  A piece’s accession number is unique and follows a pattern that tells something about the piece, including when it was acquired and which collection it belongs to.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I confess I use the computer to check currency rates when I’m looking at overseas dealers’ prices.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Without math, I couldn’t keep such a large collection in order!

How comfortable with math do you feel?

Math still intimidates me.  But the more I practice, the better I feel about it.  We always ask dealers for discounts, so my percentage figuring has gotten pretty good!

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I really liked geometry because it was more visual than theoretical.

Spoken like a true art lover!  If you have questions for Ann, ask them in the comments section.