Claire Pingel ’95

DEGREE: B.A., art history

JOB TITLE: Chief Registrar and Associate Curator at the National Museum of Jewish American History (NMJAH)

REPORTER: How did you get involved with the NMJAH?
PINGEL: As a volunteer in 1996, I started to assist the collections curator in converting artifact collection information from handwritten log entries and card fi les into the museum’s first electronic database. A few months later, I was hired as an assistant, dividing my time between the curatorial and development departments.

REPORTER: What was your role in its founding?
PINGEL: The museum was originally founded by The Congregation Mikveh Israel in 1976. In the 1990s, I had the opportunity to attend some of the first planning meetings for our recent expansion. I later joined the team that was working on the core exhibition. This exhibition explores our core theme, the history of the Jewish people in America from 1654 to the present day. I worked as a member of the team that researched and selected artifacts and stories that are now on display in our galleries. I also worked on the exhibition’s media components and hands-on activities. I oversaw the coordination of over 100 artifact loans to the exhibition, and the installation of nearly 1,000 artifacts in our show. I made sure that those artifacts would be displayed safely while on exhibit and oversaw the artifact collection’s move from our old building into an off-site storage facility last summer.

REPORTER: What does your current role at the museum entail?
PINGEL: I oversee the artifact collection’s management and development; I manage the care and upkeep of our large core exhibition; and I participate in planning temporary exhibitions.

REPORTER: What are some of NMAJH’s programs that you are most proud of?
PINGEL: Before our expansion, we noticed that children were bored in many of our exhibitions, which were often more targeted to adult visitors. This is not an uncommon problem for history museums. For our new building, we worked hard to make sure that there were activities that would interest kids built into every gallery in our exhibition. We wanted kids to have memorable and educational experiences here and not leave feeling like they had wasted a day in a museum. Working on these activities was particularly satisfying to me. Judging by reactions we’ve gotten from kids and families, I think that we succeeded in engaging kids of many ages.

REPORTER: Was there any experience, professor, or course at Trinity that inspired you to do the work you’re doing now?
PINGEL: Working as a student library assistant in the Watkinson Library was a defining experience for me. I made enclosures for fragile materials, organized and wrote catalog cards for a collection of sheet music, and worked with patrons in the reading room. This was the first time I was entrusted with artifacts from the past that were being preserved for the education of present and future generations. It felt like I was participating in something important, and I feel the same way about what I’m doing now.