Museum Job Spotlight: Sally Rothemich
We’re profiling interesting jobs in the museum field to show the range of responsibilities and opportunities available. Have an awesome museum job you want to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org!
My name is… Sally Rothemich
The name of my museum is… Plimoth Plantation
My job title is… Living History Educator
What do you mostly work on?
I’m a Pilgrim! The majority of my time is spent in a reproduction 17th century colony, wearing period clothing, telling people I was born in 1603 and came to America on the Mayflower. I also work in plain clothes interpreting a working waterpowered grist mill, and on Mayflower II, a to-scale, sailable wooden ship.
What specific skills enable you to succeed in your job?
Good interpretation always begins with research and a lot of it. You need to be able to read and process primary and secondary sources. Next, comes the art of conversation. You can know more than anyone else, but if you cannot share it in a way that enables a guest to connect with the past, you’re not doing your job. One of my colleagues says “if we got paid by the word, we’d all be rich”, and that is true. You need to be able to talk. We meet people of all ages from all over the world on a daily basis, so being able to know your audience quickly helps us to meet our visitors where they are at. There is an element of playfulness to the work too – the more you enjoy your work, the more a guest enjoys what they experience.
What is the best advice you ever received from a museum professional?
Ask questions. Never be afraid to admit you don’t know something, and be curious about the hows and whys of the way your museum works.
What advice would you give to the aspiring museum professional?
Find a place where your talents can be fully utilized. Good museums need people who have many strings to their bows, so figure out what you have to offer and offer it all. Try everything!
What is your earliest memory of being in a museum?
As a child I lived on the Isle of Wight in the U.K. I remember taking visiting family and friends to Osborne House, the summer home of Queen Victoria, pointing out the tiles that were custom made with “V&A” on them, and wishing I could slide down the bannisters.
How did you find your way into the museum industry?
I was taking a much needed vacation from a job that I absolutely hated. While wondering around Colonial Williamsburg, it occurred to me that working in a museum like that was something I would really enjoy. So I came home, applied for a position at Plimoth, and the rest is literally history. I never knew that I was a seventeenth-century person until then.
Please give a quick overview of your department/museum.
We tell the story of the Wampanoag people and the beginnings of Plymouth Colony by exhibiting traditional native and 17th century English crafts, trades and domestic skills. We have recreated a Wampanoag homesite, an English village, a 17th century merchant vessel, Mayflower II, and a water-powered traditional grist mill.
What’s your favorite object or piece of art in your museum and why?
I wear a wool felted hat that was made by our wardrobe department a few years back. They asked me what kind of hat I wanted and I said “a big tall one”. They delivered. They made a hat block from an extant 17th century beaver fur hat that is in the collection at Pilgrim Hall Museum and attributed to a Mayflower passenger. So my hat is a replica of that original, except that it’s not quite as tall and not quite as broad. Apparently, it’s very hard to find a hat blank that big in today’s world!
What is a story that most people don’t know about your museum or its collection?
Bob Dylan played a concert in the fort in the 70s!
What inspires you about your museum’s mission?
The way in which Plimoth Plantation really brings history to life. A guest at our museum gets to experience the past by being transported to the past. I love the way that we represent colonial history from a native perspective, presented by native people who practice traditional crafts in front of the public. The craft center and grist mill don’t just tell visitors how things were made but show them by doing it.