NORMAN — To hear Emily Ballew Neff say it, there’s long been a joke that her mother left her in a basket on the front steps of a museum and she never left. She admits that in many ways, the joke is true: She’s a self-professed “museum rat.”
The art and museum lover is now making herself at home as the director of the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. Neff comes from working as a curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Neff, a Texas native, said she is excited for the adventure Oklahoma will bring her husband and her two boys, ages 13 and 11.
And with a bachelor’s in art history from Yale University, a master’s in art history from Rice University and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin, it’s safe to say the Fred Jones is excited to have Neff, too.
Q: How did you get into art to begin with?
A: There’s obviously a large number of art historians who come from the side of artistic practice but that’s not me. I’m a terrible artist. [laughing] I am the worst. But I have the greatest respect for it. And I would say it’s probably just from early childhood visits — my mother would always take me to the museum growing up. It was a place I loved to be. I remember going to the museum on school field trips and very quickly it was a place I always felt comfortable and inspired and motivated and excited. So that was always a place I wanted to be.
When I was in college at Yale my first major was history. I had never really intended to take an art history course but I happened to take one and completely fell in love with the field.