There’s no place like home…. especially during a global pandemic.
Matthew Siegal of Bedford, president and executive director of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society (LexArt), was until recently “the primary caretaker for one of the best art collections in the world…. Many people would find this difficult to believe.”
For some 20 years, Siegal worked for Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, directing its department of conservation and collections management. Museums, he explained, “borrow and lend from one another all over the world. When we organize exhibitions, we travel with whole exhibitions that we lend or lease to one another. I spent the past five years going to the finest museums in the world looking at art – probably 150 museums in 40 countries.”
But he emphasized that he always nurtured a commitment to the neighborhood. For several years he has been a member of the Bedford CERT (Community Emergency Response Team), backing up first responders and assisting with the food pantry, Covid testing, and flu clinics. He also has consulted with Economic Development Director Alyssa Sandoval on framing the proposed cultural district in the center of town.
“I had been recruited to join the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society about two years ago. I felt it was the next step for me to take…to see what I could do locally in the arts,” Siegal related, adding, “As a board member I actually voted to create the first executive director position.”
“Like any business, the museum relies on public attendance,” he continued. “The MFA struggled mightily with the pandemic and as a result, they offered buyouts to senior staff. I thought it was the best thing to do for the museum and myself” to change lanes.
“After the buyout, I called the head of the search committee – so now I have been president and director of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society since Nov. 1.” The organization was established in 1935.
Siegal moved with his family to Bedford in 1969. At Bedford High School, where he was a member of the class of 1975, “The arts instructors turned out an entire generation of people well-versed in the arts. I can’t say enough about that group of teachers.” He was speaking about people like Bill Mietzner, Tony Pilla, and Fred Petrofsky.
At the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Siegal was in the studio arts program, with a concentration in ceramics. He developed a relationship with Prof. Lyle N. Perkins, who built and taught in a glass-blowing program. “I fell in love with glass-blowing,” he said and pursued that craft in California for nine years.
Siegal is married to the playwright Melinda Lopez; she is also a BHS graduate, but they didn’t know each other as high-school students. “We met as adults after I saw her on stage. A friend arranged for us to meet,” he related.
“Being an artist didn’t really lend itself to being able to share your life with someone, so I went into arts administration – and basically have led an incredibly charmed life.”
His first job was exhibits manager at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and “I think that sort of set me up for everything that followed.”
Around 2007, “We moved back to Bedford basically to take care of our parents. We were happy to be back in Bedford,”
At LexArt, one of Siegal’s responsibilities involves “managing the building and an education program. It’s completely different from an international focus on the arts to a local/regional focus. It’s a crash course trying to familiarize myself with local businesses, galleries, artists, and what the programs are, making all the community liaisons. I’m catching up as fast as I can.”
There are some 230 members, not only from Lexington and but also many parts of New England, he said, a drop of some 100 since the onset of the pandemic 14 months ago. “I assume we will get a good number of them back.”
Siegal said the virus has had other deleterious effects. There are some in-person classes, but many others are virtual. “We need volunteers to staff the gallery and are limited in the number of people willing to come in.”
The venerable building on Waltham Street is “a great facility on the banks of the Vine Brook,” Siegal said. “The building houses nine craft guilds. Members have access to studios 24-7.” The gallery was renovated recently and is now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, he said. “It’s the premier exhibition space around – I hope we can generate some buzz about that.”
There are a number of older members, and Siegal said “I have a lot of respect for those people and the traditional crafts. I met with the weavers guild recently; I think it’s amazing that this level of skill exists here locally and that there’s an opportunity for traditional craft skills to be handed down in the community.”
“At the same time, we are doing our best to evolve,” he continued. “I met with the Korean Society of Boston; they have an annual exhibit here. As part of the Lexington Community Coalition, we try to support organizations.” He is developing an education program aimed at teens. “Kids need an alternative to the screen and we are doing our best to build a program.”
“I just gave a presentation to LexSeeHer about monuments and what I’ve come to know about what makes a successful monument,” he said. The volunteer group is working to establish a local monument recognizing the contributions of women to Lexington.
Lexington Arts and Crafts includes members from Bedford, Siegal said. “There are a lot of bona fide artists in the town.” He added that “Bedford has produced a lot of people who have gone on in music. The legacy of the middle and high school productions has been incredible quality.”
Siegal said he has visited the photography group that grew out of the former Bedford Center for the Arts. “That’s a vital group; people come from quite a distance. I would love to partner with them.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763