Arriving in the ancient hill town of Toledo, Spain, on Oct. 8, 2018, was surreal, especially given the fact that just four weeks prior, I had no plans to be in Spain. On Sept. 13, an email pinged in my inbox. This one caught my eye because it was from MSA, which is always more interesting than most of my emails, and the subject line from MSA President Ione Saroyan — Toledo, Spain Hosted Buyer Program — truly sparked my interest. Upon opening the email, I discovered an offer for two MSA chapter board members to join Susan Tudor (first vice president of the MSA Board from the Cummer Museum) to travel to Toledo, Spain. Having only been a chapter board member for six months — yet never one to pass up travel — I threw my name into the hat. Four days later, I received a message that I would be joining Susan and Mid-Atlantic Chapter vice president and MSA Next co-chair Aubrey Herr from The Walters Art Museum. I was in good company from the start.
The offer was a collaboration between MSA and The Regional Government of Castilla-La Mancha and its Institute of Foreign Trade (IPEX). As in past years, their goal was to connect their regional artists to museum store buyers — an opportunity for them to learn about our needs as buyers and for us to meet their artists in person to forge a connection.
The main event was to attend the Regional Handcrafts Show (FARCAMA) exhibition. We spent the afternoon having meetings with various local artists at their booths while school groups marched past learning the value of becoming an apprentice to a skilled artisan. Through our host interpreting our questions, we were able to connect on a common thread of the importance of handcrafted items to the vitality of their community and for the mission-driven buying that we do as museum store buyers. We were awed by the generational thread that kept certain crafts relevant for centuries. We feasted on a traditional five-course meal overlooking the town along with visiting architects from Latin America who were also guests of IPEX.
We had a good rapport with our hosts and requested a meeting to go even deeper and meet with a local artist in their surroundings. The next morning, we were brought to the boutique NAVA Toledo. We viewed stunning hand-embroidered scarves and learned about the history and technical superiority of their craft. To drive the point home, they shared a picture of the Queen of Spain sporting the fabric. We were sold, and we all placed an order on the spot. This give and take of information benefited us both. They realized that as museum store buyers, we work best when we get to see, touch and gather information from the source. We also like clear guidelines for pricing, shipping and the story. Yes, the story — where is it made, why is it made there and how their product connects to a broader mission of humanity and artistic value.
Most heartwarmingly, we had a chance to meet people across the globe and within the MSA community. Susan, Aubrey and I connected professionally and personally over our roles as museum store buyers, over the artistry and charm of Toledo, and, every night over a glass of wine, we expressed gratitude for the opportunity we were given by MSA.
Next year, when this opportunity comes around, I urge you to throw your name into the hat! And if you aren’t a board member, step up and take on a role; you just might get more than you ever dreamed.
Pam Pesetti is museum store manager at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. She has been an MSA member for three and a half years and currently is secretary of the MSA Western Chapter.