UW Major: Art
Associate Curator of Indigenous Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Every summer, art historian and curator Patricia Marroquin Norby (Purépecha) migrates back from her path-making work in New York City to enjoy her six-acre farm in rural Wisconsin. There, she cultivates milkweed to help monarch butterflies expand their numbers before they embark on their annual autumn flight back to Michoacán, Mexico — which is also home to Norby’s ancestral pueblo, the Purépecha community.
It’s a seasonal ritual that keeps Norby connected to her childhood roots in the Midwest. Growing up in Chicago, Norby was deeply influenced and inspired by visits to the Art Institute of Chicago (where she later studied as a graduate student) and the Field Museum of Natural History (where she eventually joined the Board of Trustees).
After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in fine art from Clarke University in Iowa, Norby was drawn to UW–Madison for an MFA in fine art. In Madison she found a robust community of fellow Indigenous students and faculty, including Professor Truman Lowe MFA’73 (Ho-Chunk), who pushed her to grow both as an artist and an academic. Thanks in part to his mentorship, Norby realized she was primarily passionate about studying rather than making art, and she trained to become an art historian alongside her studio work.
In 2003, Lowe pushed her forward yet again after his appointment as curator of contemporary art for the Smithsonian Institution’s then-new National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). Lowe invited Norby to join him in Washington, DC, as a visiting scholar. There, Norby contributed to the museum’s inaugural Our Lives exhibit. Years later, Norby became a senior executive and assistant director of NMAI-New York.
Her work at the Smithsonian was complemented by a directorial role at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Norby also resumed her own scholarly work at the University of Minnesota, where she obtained a doctorate in American studies by researching the intersections of art-making and environmental issues along the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico. Her dissertation is now forthcoming as a book, Water, Bones, and Bombs, from the University of Nebraska Press.
“The impact and positive platform [Norby] is creating for untold artists across the country and around the world will continue to have a long reach for many years into the future,” says Derrick Buisch, chair of the UW–Madison Art Department.
In 2020, Norby became the first-ever curator of Native American art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she serves as steward of the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection, which includes paintings, drawings, sculptures, textiles, quill and beadwork, basketry, and ceramics from more than 50 Indigenous nations across North America. Norby is shifting the museum’s practices toward more culturally appropriate care of the collection, as well as collaborating with Indigenous communities to reimagine exhibits of the collection’s items that foreground Indigenous perspectives. Her curatorial debut at The Met, Water Memories, an exhibit that explores the significance of water for Indigenous peoples, was selected as a top exhibition of 2022 by the New York Times and the online arts magazine Hyperallergic.
Among the artists featured in Water Memories was her long-time UW mentor, Truman Lowe, who passed away in 2019.