Máire Noonan, whom many of you will remember from her years as Ethnography curator at Glasgow Museums, died on 15 February, 2013 after a short illness. Originally from Ireland, Máire did her undergraduate degree there in archaeology, but moved to London to do a postgraduate degree in conservation at the Máire then worked as a conservator throughout Northern Europe, including Denmark, before moving with her husband and daughter to Scotland, first to Inverness Museum and then, in 1985, to Glasgow Museums where she spent the remainder of her life. She was appointed Senior Conservator for the Human History department, just before Glasgow was European Capital of Culture in 1990. Máire worked closely with Antonia Lovelace, then Glasgow Museum’s curator of World Cultures as conservator in the development of St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in the early 1990s, now an established part of the museum scene, but at the time regarded as a risky adventure, which Máire embraced not only professionally, but through her interest in cultural diversity. According to Antonia Lovelace, “Máire introduced great visual labelling on the exterior of object movement boxes, so we could find things quickly for the many mock-up displays we did with the full project team and designers. She was both enthusiastic and meticulous, and also a great calming influence in disasters.”
Máire’s work for St Mungo set in place many of the core processes for the documentation and care of object goings on display. She married this care of objects with an interest and enjoyment of the people involved with the objects. Once St. Mungo was open Máire was part of the conservation management tasked with providing a unified conservation cover for the whole of Glasgow Museums. This involved exploring the philosophical and practical differences of the branches of conservation and the collections.
When Máire left conservation and became a senior curator in Glasgow Museums she took with her a knowledge of the physical requirements of the objects and a strong awareness of its human aspects. Her love of the Indian subcontinent determined the way she approached projects like the Vaisakhi and Singh Sisters exhibitions and the community-led I Belong To Glasgow display in Kelvingrove’s Glasgow Stories gallery, by working from the people to the objects.
Máire had been involved with the Lakota Ghost Dance shirt from the time of its display in the exhibition “Home of the Brave” at McLellan Galleries. It was following this exhibition the requests for repatriation came. Over the years in which this claim was pursued, Máire became the curator responsible and worked to display the shirt and other Lakota material in ways that would tell the multiple stories of the shirt and the other pieces. Máire combined the museum correctness of the physical care of the objects with an equal care and concern for the people of the past and the present connected to the Ghost Dance Shirt. Her last major contribution before she left the service in 2008 was to the refurbishment of Kelvingrove, for which she was senior curator for the Cultural Survival Gallery and a number of other displays. In the years after her time as World Cultures curator, she worked on the Riverside Museum Project, and following her official retirement, continued her active involvement with cultural diversity in museums through DivCom, the Committee for Diversity in Museums as well pursuing her many interests and talents such as water-colour painting, steel drum playing and Indian classical dance. She is survived by her husband and daughter.
Máire will be missed by many of us, as a friend and a colleague.