Current Issue / DU Alumni

Curator collects, preserves history

Alisa ZahllerTucked in the basement of the Colorado History Museum and surrounded by row after row of filing cabinets, associate curator Alisa Zahller (MA art history ’97) works painstakingly to research and preserve history.

It’s a job that requires careful attention to detail along with some basic detective work. Who created an artifact? How was it used? Who owned it? These are questions that Zahller and her colleagues spend a lot of time researching. The reward is creating exhibits that not only educate and enlighten but also highlight ordinary people from Colorado’s past.

“You don’t have to be rich or famous — everyone has a story to tell,” Zahller says. “That’s a really valuable aspect of empowering the community.”

Based in the museum’s decorative and fine arts department, she focuses on three main areas: collecting, preserving and interpretation. Some of that work involves interviewing families about their ancestors as well as giving community presentations. At the same time, the millions of objects in the museum’s collection must be maintained and catalogued.

It’s a job that Zahller — who has worked there for seven years — believes is tailor-made for her.

“I feel really fortunate to be doing the kind of work that I was trained for,” she says.

A fifth-generation Italian American, Zahller curated the exhibit “The Italians of Denver,” which opened April 20 and runs until summer 2008. The exhibit was five years in the making and features more than 100 families. Zahller also authored an accompanying book.

Next, she’ll begin work on a 2009 exhibit featuring the works of Allen Tupper True, who painted the water murals in the State Capitol rotunda.

Zahller says her work continues to evolve as the museum expands its focus beyond just the types of artifacts collected.

“I’m interested in the context of things. The personal story behind artifacts and images is of great importance,” she says. “It takes additional time and money to meet with people and record their stories and information, but it’s worth it.”

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