History lessons

Recovering the stories of Yale's scattered treasures.

Mary Christ is the university's first campus art collection registrar.

Bob Handelman

Bob Handelman

Mary Christ unwrapping the plastic bubble wrap protecting a portrait of Yung Wing. (See below.) View full image

Enter almost any building on the Yale campus, and you’ll see stuff: portraits (many) on the walls, sculptures, artifacts—ranging from ten years ago to a hundred-plus years ago. Mary Christ (pronounced krist) took them all on when she arrived at Yale in the summer of 2023, as the inaugural campus art collection registrar. It’s her job to poke around in campus buildings, in order to find and inventory those objects all over Yale that many of us only half-notice.

Christ goes from building to building making lists, and then cross-checks her lists with university databases and old press releases, from the Art Gallery to ancient Yale College records. She’s looking for the stories that have been forgotten: “Who is it of? Who created it? Who gave it to Yale?” This is her mission.

She has found that the most difficult objects to identify are those that arrived on campus in the 1980s and ’90s, when the digital era got underway. “They weren’t writing in triplicate anymore, but they hadn’t quite figured out digital records,” she says, laughing.

When she was a student at Mary Washington College (currently the University of Mary Washington) in the early 2000s, Christ worked as an archeology technician at Mount Vernon. That training took her to graduate work in museum studies at Newcastle University in England, and after that she worked for eight years in the collections of the Library of Congress in DC. In 2016, Christ took the job that brought her to New Haven: collections manager at the New Haven Museum.

A school year into her current position, Christ's research on campus is well underway. What follows are her accounts of some of her favorite finds thus far.
­— Peggy Edersheim Kalb ’86