Georgia Tech’s Renewable Bioproducts Institute has announced Virginia Howell as Director of the Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking. Howell has served as Education Curator at the Museum since 2013.
The Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking, supported in part by RBI and housed in its buildling on campus, was founded by Dard Hunter in the 1930s and integrated into the Georgia Tech system in 2003. It is an internationally renowned resource on the history of paper and paper technology. In addition to more than 2,000 books, the museum features a remarkable collection of over 10,000 watermarks, papers, tools, machines, and manuscripts.
“I am honored to have been selected to lead the Museum,” Howell said. “It will be a privilege to serve in a new capacity, and to put my skills to work in new ways. The museum has a long history of being supported by people who are passionate about paper, and I will do my best to live up to those expectations. I’m incredibly excited to be starting this new chapter.”
Prior to her appointment as director, Howell was responsible for developing and leading the education programs at the Paper Museum. These programs serve all ages — from kindergarteners to adults. Experiences focus on an introduction of the history of papermaking with hands-on workshops on paper-related themes, such as bookbinding and marbling papers, as well as papermaking experiences.
“My favorite part of being an educator here is getting to share just what an incredible material paper is with people,” she said. “We take paper for granted, and it’s really important for so many parts of our daily lives that its absence would be quickly noted. The universality of paper is impressive, too. It doesn’t require complicated materials to make, but you can take a lifetime to perfect it. Sharing with someone the magic of making pulp turn into a useful, familiar material is a pretty great feeling. “
Howell’s passion for paper and books was present even as a child. You could say it ran in the family.
“I have always been a paper and book person. My grandfather worked for Mead Paper his entire career, and my great-grandfather was a typesetter. As a child with my nose in a book, paper provided the foundation to explore thousands of worlds and stories.” The George Mead Education Gallery is located within the Museum.
“I was drawn to this museum in particular in because it provided the opportunity to blend science, art and history — all topics I had a passion for and that had been part of my professional experience up to that point,” she said. “The museum’s collection is spectacular, and having the resources of a major university available to support the museum were also a draw.”
The museum’s mission is to “collect, preserve, increase and disseminate knowledge about papermaking — past, present and future.” Howell said she takes that mission to heart, and it inspires her to create her own vision as director to continue to move the museum toward that goal.
“A big part of my vision coming in as director is to make the museum more visible and known to everyone, particular our students on campus. I want to hear students say they’ve visited and not only learned something, but enjoyed the experience.”
And Howell believes the story of paper — and that of the museum — are compelling.
“We’re a small museum, yes, but with a focus on a global topic. I think our story is one people should know and experience,” she said. “Having a home at Georgia Tech gives us the opportunity to blend together the science, art, and history of papermaking in unique and exciting ways. We are fortunate to have dedicated student workers and volunteers who help us serve a diverse audience, and we hope to be able to better utilize the technology of the future to share about the technology of the past.”
Rotating exhibitions are also housed in the museum gallery and often reflect what is happening within the papermaking community. The museum has hosted works of artists who have made names for themselves by utilizing paper as their artistic medium of choice. Exhibits have been featured from institutions as diverse as Dieu Donné Paper Mill to the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature.
Howell has served as Museum Educator at Reynolda House, Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, NC; Program Coordinator at the North Carolina State Capitol; and an Educator at Cape Fear Museum of History and Science in Wilmington, NC. She sits on the board of the Georgia Association of Museums and Galleries.
Born and raised outside of Nashville, Tenn., Howell earned her bachelor’s degree in History and American Studies from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She earned a Master’s in American History from the University of Mississippi where she also worked in the University museums.