Philly Faces: Tessa Haas

Tessa Haas. Courtesy of Tessa Haas

By Leah Snyderman

Tessa Haas, 24, wouldn’t call herself an artist.

During her high school summers, she would attend precollege programs and take classes in the arts. One of these summers she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. There was a compulsory curatorial studies lecture every Friday that lasted five hours where she heard from “really serious curatorial people.” The final project was what sparked something in her.

The directions were to curate anything. Haas was able to work with art without actually making it.

As a curator, she could bolster other artists’ work and careers.
“Particularly artists who haven’t developed being able to advocate for themselves the best,” she said. “Helping them is what’s really exciting to me.”

What made you decide to go back to school for your Ph.D.?
One of the things that drew me to Bryn Mawr’s undergrad programs specifically was the five-year master’s. I stayed on for the additional year for my master’s, and that’s what I was planning on doing. I was planning on getting a job and working and then going back for my Ph.D. later. But, there was an open spot, so they invited me to join the Ph.D. program a couple days before graduation for my masters.

To do any kind of curatorial work at this point in the field you really need a Ph.D., so, in a more practical sense, I needed it. I’m also a creature of habit. I want to go as deep as I can into something, but what I have learned is that you don’t learn everything in your field.

Was there a specific moment in your life that made you decide you wanted to work in art?
I grew up in the D.C. suburbs and my parents both work in the D.C. area, so we would go in a lot and visit museums. That’s really how I learned most of the things I was interested in. Museums were such interesting and engaging places.

There were people in my life who encouraged me to try art at a really young age. I had a really good elementary art teacher, and I would have lunch with her most days. My dad’s high school adviser, Robin Wood, was a huge person engaged in the arts. She just really encouraged people to make things. My mom comes from a line of women who do textile art, so we had a lot of embroidery around the house growing up. I had small bits of the arts in my life.

My mentor and boss, Ruth Fine, is a huge inspiration. I work in her home, and it’s filled with the most incredible artwork. She’s in her 80s now, so she’s collected things over time. I admire her space and her openness to hearing about different ways things are done.
My partner has a very big influence on me. He does architecture work and we’ve worked on some design projects together.

Do you prefer to work with art over actually making it?
I do. I like making art, but I don’t think I make art in a serious way. I go through these phases where I’ll get really deep into something, but not for very long. I was on a painting kick a few years ago, but I don’t do it anymore. Same with weaving. I’m making earrings right now. It depends on how busy school and work is. I like the phases that happen.

I’m not the type of person that can sit down and make something for eight hours. I’m not as disciplined of a person that one would need to be an artist.

How does Philly inspire you?
There’s so many artists and the arts community is very tight knit. It’s small, but it’s also big enough that you’re still meeting new people. There’s always new exhibits and new ideas and new ways of engaging people with the arts. There’s a lot of public and private funding in Philly for the arts. The communities I’ve engaged with really put time and/or money into the arts. However you can give is so meaningful.

There’s a really strong DIY arts scene which is probably what I’m more engaged with. I do freelance work at Fleisher Art Memorial as a contract archivist; I’m a curator at AUTOMAT Gallery, and I’m an assistant to Ruth Fine, a freelance curator. We’ve been working on a retrospective of her late husband’s work, the artist Larry Day. The show will open at Woodmere Art Museum, The University of the Arts and Arcadia Exhibitions.

Leah Snyderman is an intern for the Jewish Exponent.


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