Peabody leader goes to Harvard

Jane Pickering, deputy director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, was praised for the breadth and depth of her contributions to the museum.
Jane Pickering, deputy director of the Peabody Museum of Natural History, was praised for the breadth and depth of her contributions to the museum. Photo by Christopher Peak.

Jane Pickering, deputy director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, will be leaving Yale for its northern rival in January.

Pickering will take on the role of executive director of the Harvard Museums of Science and Culture, a consortium of six partner museums formed last spring, which includes the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Harvard Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. Pickering will be responsible for the consortium’s public programming and exhibitions, as well as general administration, fulfilling a role similar to the one she held at the Peabody. She was named to the position by Michael Smith, Harvard’s dean of faculty of arts and sciences, on Dec. 4, with the goal of directing this new initiative in the Harvard community.

“Under the leadership of Jane Pickering, Harvard is launching a new model for university museums, one that has the potential to be so much more than the sum of its parts,” Smith said in a Dec. 4 Harvard Gazette press release. Smith said he hopes that Pickering, as founding executive director, will develop a coordinated face for the collections in the consortium’s six partner museums.

Pickering, who will replace current interim executive director David Ellis, said she is excited to develop the structure and public image these museums will have within Cambridge.

“It was a hard decision to make because there are so many exciting things coming up here at Yale, but it’s fun to be able to start something new,” she said. “I’m sad because the Peabody is an amazing museum.”

Although she will be leaving the Peabody after more than a decade there, Pickering has been in the museum business for over 20 years. After completing her master’s degree in museum sciences from the University of Leicester, she began her career as assistant curator of zoological collections at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. Pickering then worked as director of the MIT Museum before joining the Peabody in 2002, where her responsibilities ranged from managing public programs to handling day-to-day operations.

Pickering’s colleagues at Yale praised her contributions to the Peabody and her outreach efforts to the New Haven community.

“It’s obviously wonderful for Jane to be going, and it’s a great new responsibility for her at Harvard, but from the standpoint of the Peabody it’s awful,” said Michael Donoghue, Yale professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and former director of the Peabody. Donoghue, who worked closely with Pickering for seven years, said he was impressed with the breadth and depth of tasks she took on, from running public affairs to coordinating educational activities.

Though excited for his colleague, Donoghue said he is nervous that Pickering’s departure will pose difficulties for the Peabody. When he first hired Pickering, he did not realize how much responsibility she would eventually shoulder at the museum, he said.

“When I was the director of the Peabody, I relied on her for so many things day to day,” Donoghue said. “I am sure that whatever success I had is largely due to her.”

Pickering’s colleague Tim White, the Peabody’s director for collections and operations, said Pickering’s Peabody replacement has “big shoes to fill.” Having developed a close personal friendship with Pickering, he has been impressed with her professionalism, expertise in museum management and passion for science. He recalled various exhibits at the Peabody where Pickering not only coordinated logistics, but also displayed passion about the science behind the museum’s works.

“She is definitely the right leader for the Harvard consortium,” he said.

The Peabody was founded in 1876.

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