Meet Our Staff: Five Questions for Virginia Catherall

It’s that time again! This month, Tuesdays mean a chance to get to know some of the staff working behind the scenes of your museum. Last week we met Mike Farfel in Security, and today we get a glimpse into the Education Department to chat with Virginia Catherall.

5 Questions for Virginia Catherall

What is your role at the UMFA? Describe a typical (or memorable!) day on the job.

I am Curator of Education and am in charge of family programs, visitor experience and community outreach. What that means is that I have the best job at the Museum: I get to plan how families that come to the Museum interact and learn from the art. From creating interpretive exhibitions to family activity days, it’s all about having a fun, interactive, dynamic learning experience. On any given day I could be shopping for interesting stuff like Egyptian scarabs, French curves, or cochineal beetles. I can usually be found in the classroom experimenting with artwork for our next activity, then in the afternoon, I might get to tour in the Museum and have interesting conversations with people about the art.

What is your favorite work in the collection, and why?

Jasmine Sidewinder by Gene Davis. I have always loved this piece. I am a sucker for Minimalist art because it is so orderly, pristine, and uncluttered. I can visually relax while looking at the work and concentrate on just the colors or the lines of the piece. I sometimes lose myself in the artwork especially because it is so BIG. Plus Jasmine Sidwinder vibrates when you look at it!

What are your favorite parts of this city and this state? When you’re not at the museum, where might we find you?

I love visiting all parts of the state, the variety of scenery, and climates is so incredible. You can usually find my family and me camping around Utah. When I am not camping with friends and family, I like to spend time alone at the Great Salt Lake. Exploring Antelope Island, Black Rock, or the Salt Flats is a wonderfully serene experience. But in Salt Lake City, the best kept secret is Hidden Hollow in Sugarhouse. It is like a little oasis of forest in an urban center.

Virginia Catherall at Tree of Utah

Virginia Catherall at Tree of Utah, another of Utah’s best kept secrets

What is your favorite way to pass the time—what are your hobbies, your talents, your interests?

I am very interested all types of textiles; the history, ideas, and culture of textiles are so fascinating. But most of all I like to make things out of yarn and fabric. I am an avid knitter and create my own designs as well as art with knitting. Along that same vein, I like working with wood (I have a degree in woodworking that I received as a way of deferring student loans after graduate school!). Although I have not had the chance to do much woodworking lately, I am hoping to get back to it once my small children have grown up.

You are one of the UMFA’s many talented artists that we have on staff. How and when did you begin working with yarn, and what prompted you to continue to explore it as a medium? Do you have a favorite piece you’ve made?

My grandmother was an expert knitter and tried to teach me but unfortunately it was the 1970s and everything she knit was so ugly, I thought knitting had to be ugly. Then in graduate school I saw knitting patterns that were incredible, intricate, beautiful and I realized that knitting didn’t have to look like my grandmother. So I taught myself to knit and instantly fell in love with it. That was 20 years ago and since then, I have begun designing patterns as well as creating art pieces with knitting as the medium. I think for me it took becoming a master at the craft before I ventured into the creative side of it. One of my favorite pieces is actually on display right now (until Nov. 22) at the Rio Grande Gallery as part of the Statewide Annual exhibition with the Division of Arts and Museums. It is called Silver Queen and is a silver leafed Victorian handkerchief that I designed. It was inspired by Utah’s Silver Queen, Susanna Egera Bransford Emery Holmes Delitch Engalitcheff. She was a woman lucky enough to strike it rich after investing in the Silver King mine in Park City in the late 1800s. Over the years she married five times (including a Russian prince!), lived a lavish life and spent almost all of her vast fortune during her lifetime. I just love her as a character!

Virginia Catherall's silver leaf work, currently on view at Rio Grande in downtown Salt Lake City

Virginia Catherall’s “Silver Queen”, currently on view at Rio Grande in downtown Salt Lake City

With my art and design work, I am continually inspired by the Utah landscape and history. Another favorite design of mine is West Desert Hood. It is a wearable hood that was inspired by Utah’s West Desert, an amazing landscape full of insects, hardy plants, and great stretches of desolate wilderness; but the muted colors and stark landscape are beautifully serene. In the piece, dusty colors from natural dyes echo the colors from the West Desert and contrast with the tans and browns of the desert background. I used reclaimed silk from an old sweater and dyed the yarn using all natural dyes found mostly in my backyard.

Virginia Catherall's naturally dyed "Western Desert"

Virginia Catherall’s naturally dyed West Desert Hood


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