What a Decade It Has Been! A Tribute to Matt Thurlow
by Brock Jobe
Over the years, I have saved a smattering of old emails. One of my favorites is dated November 18, 2013. The wording is straightforward but the impact, immense. “On behalf of the Decorative Arts Trust Board of Governors,” the message begins, “it is our pleasure to announce the appointment of Matthew A. Thurlow as the Trust’s next Executive Director.” His starting date was set for January 1, 2014. The news marked a significant step for the organization, but none of us on the Board fully realized how momentous a decision this was.
Matt came to the Trust with a promising pedigree. After graduating from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, he served on the curatorial staff of the American Wing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art for eight years, followed by a four-year stint at Winterthur as Assistant Director of Development. I had the privilege of teaching him when he was a student and collaborating with him during his time in the Development Office. He excelled in both arenas. I knew he would be a great hire for the Trust. Here was someone with boundless potential, coming to an organization seeking to expand its programs and educational mission. The combination was combustible.
Matt’s written response to the announcement of his new position was “classic Matt.” After thanking the Board, he immediately requested “a favor.” At Matt’s suggestion, the Trust had scheduled a symposium in Natchez, MS, for October 2014. He had not yet begun working at the Trust, but he recognized the pressing need for speakers and sites for the Natchez event. “With your assistance,” he wrote, “I expect the Trust’s membership will respond with a robust turnout next October, and I hope many of you will be able to join us as well.” Matt has never ignored the opportunity to get down to business. And, indeed, his plea paid dividends. The Natchez program was an immense success.
In his own thoughtful and deliberate way, Matt has guided the Trust through a decade of growth. When he began, he managed a staff of one—himself. That number has risen to five, enabling the organization to broaden its scope and outreach. Through social media, online learning, and joint ventures with other institutions, the Trust has fostered greater interest in the decorative arts. At the same time, two traditional mainstays, the domestic and foreign educational programs, have swelled with additional offerings.
The most dramatic change during Matt’s tenure has been in the support of scholarship, especially for emerging professionals and graduate students. In 2013, the year before his arrival, the Trust gave nine grants valued in total at just under $20,000. A decade later, the number of grants has jumped to fifty and the amount has risen to almost $230,000. Moreover, in recent years, the Trust has added the prestigious Prize for Excellence and Innovation to its quiver. Underwriting these activities has been an extraordinary growth in endowment, masterminded by Matt’s fundraising efforts.
Matt will readily deflect these achievements to others, who have helped through their contributions and commitment to transform the Trust. Yet, today, after ten years at the helm, Matt Thurlow merits our most heartfelt praise. Let us all raise a glass in his honor and offer a much-deserved cheer of congratulations.
Brock Jobe is the President of the Decorative Arts Trust’s Board of Governors and is the Professor of American Decorative Arts Emeritus at Winterthur.