VOL. 116 | NO. 120 | Friday, June 21, 2002
By RICK RUSSELL
By RICK RUSSELL
The Daily News
The most skilled artisans of our time all have an innate
ability to animate the inanimate and turn nothing into something
Be it a boulder into a man, leaflets into a journey, paint
strokes into a window of a dream, or in the case of Judy Wallace, an old house
with a view into a world-renowned museum.
Wallace, assistant director and resident of the National
Ornamental Metal Museum in Memphis, announced she would retire June 30. Her 20
years there could be considered as unconventional and unique as the museum
Fresh out of college, Wallace and two others were asked to
volunteer at a little known shanty down by the river to help repair various
The smithy (a workshop for blacksmiths) was in a little
shack. There was no air-conditioning, Wallace said. The only thing here was
this big desk.
While the smithy has since been considerably upgraded, the
desk, appropriately known as a partners desk, remains a lasting and symbolic
testament to the museums evolution, as well as Wallaces life.
Sharing the same determination and vigilance that makes the
museum work, the man commonly referred to as Wally worked directly across
from Wallace since 1982.
Judy and Wally,
more formally as Jim Wallace, were married in 1987. Together, they surmounted
periods of near financial collapse and many other obstacles capable of abruptly
shifting the delicate balance between success and failure in unproven realms of
the art world.
Nestled on 3.2-acres on the Mississippi, the museum has
become the creme de la creme of metal museums. Complete with two floors of
gallery space, 25 employees, numerous volunteers, workshops and a spectacular
array of metallic forms fused and manipulated by some of the worlds finest
craftsmen, the museum has effectively been fused by flame and forge into the
Memphis art scene.
In addition to handling day-to-day operations, the Wallaces
often brought prestigious metalsmiths from around the globe to their home,
located on museum grounds.
There is nothing like sitting down to breakfast with three
artists all speaking different languages, Judy Wallace said.
Wallaces dizzying hodgepodge of official duties at the
museum range from typing lulling letters on her vintage typewriter to
prospective philanthropists to organizing what will be the worlds only metal
and metalcrafts library.
As testament to her determination to transform an idea into
a thriving museum, one of her first official acts shortly after arriving at the
museum was to appeal to the city council to have the name of the road changed
from Delaware Avenue to Metal Museum Drive.
Many people had, and still have, a hard time finding us,
but it is certainly much easier now.
While the museum now boasts an annual attendance of roughly
40,000, and an operating budget that has grown from $2,000 to half a million,
Wallace said the museum attendance hinges on a logistical paradox.
I think we are more widely known in New Zealand than we are
in Cordova, Wallace said. We have people coming from all over the world, but
our home-based attendance is still a little low.
However, they are taking steps to attract more Memphians to
Wallace said they have acquired numerous works laden with
gold and other precious metals, as well as gem-encrusted works to complement
the more masculine array of huge heavy metal edifices.
We wanted to offer something for everybody, including the
kids, Wallace said.
Today, Wallace continues the crusade with the same steely
resolve and determination as she did 20 years ago, but after accomplishing the
milestone of securing the future of the museum, Wallace said she is ready to
move on to her next adventure set to begin at months end.
Im going to retire, move to a house on the White River in
Arkansas, learn how to use a computer, and above all else, Im going fishing,