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Kerry Buckley, longtime director of Historic Northampton to retire; Nan Wolverton named to replace him

Buckley, 66, has been director of the Historic Northampton Museum & Education Center, 46 Bridge St., since 1995, He will be replaced by Nan Wolverton, director of the Center for Visual Arts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

Buckley said he got to know Wolverton when she brought Smith College classes to visit Historic Northampton collections. He said he recruited her for the job and recommended her to the board. “She has a good reputation among museum professionals and scholars,” said Buckley. “I think she’ll be a great fit as we partner more with art institutions.”

Wolverton said her job at the Antiquarian Society is half time, which enables her to take the helm at Historic Northampton in a part-time capacity. She lives in Hardwick, about an hour’s drive from Northampton. She said she will be working eight to 10 hours a week over one or two days.

Wolverton confirmed that Buckley and two members of the board sought her out. “They felt it would be a good fit,” she said.

Working only part time will be challenging but do-able, she said.

“The collections in Northampton are very strong. One of the things we’re hoping to do is to generate greater awareness of the collection among the academic community,” Wolverton said. “The connection with the arts community that’s already been started will continue to grow.”

Wolverton is not teaching at Smith this year but may “on occasion” in the future.

Retirement planned

In a telephone interview Thursday, Buckley said he told the organization’s board three years ago of his plan to retire by October of this year. “As you approach a certain age, you think about turning the page. This is a good thing for me personally.”

Among achievements he said he is most proud of during his tenure is more fully developing the museum and education center aspect of the organization, which sits on 2½ acres on Bridge Street and includes three historic homes and a barn with a working blacksmith.

Buckley said that when he took over as executive director 18 years ago, he was struck by the potential of the place. “It’s a wonderful collection,” he said. “The buildings and grounds were, let’s say, a diamond in the rough.”

Over his tenure, he set about making the site a destination by using its collection for museum displays.

“What I wanted to do was raise the bar in terms of programs, but especially in terms of the museum itself,” he said. “Not only did Historic Northampton have a great collection, but this city has a great story.”

One avenue to that goal, he said, was to create a well-designed exhibit space that would be permanent, rather than having the historic houses on the property opened only “now and again.”

Over the years, he said, he noticed that Historic Northampton “became a kind of visitors’ center” for the city.

With recent initiatives pairing Historic Northampton with arts and cultural organizations, he said, the potential is even greater, noting the possibility that the Northampton Center for the Arts may open not far away in a building on Hawley Street.

“You have the potential for a cultural gateway with the grounds here and the center over there, to enhance the larger cultural scene,” Buckley said. In his retirement, Buckley plans to pursue long-postponed writing projects and intends to take painting lessons to renew his love of creating art. “I’m going to enjoy myself,” he said.

Wolverton assumes her post Oct. 1.

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