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Megan Paquette Stepe just moved to Highlands County from Orlando. Stepe said she enjoys views not found in Orlando: cows in their fields and the opens spaces free of development.
Stepe also enjoys the Museum of Florida Art and Culture (MOFAC) on the Highlands Campus of South Florida State College. Her pleasure comes not only from its collection of Florida art and artifacts, but from her role as the museum’s new curator.
SFSC tapped Stepe as MOFAC’s curator last month, taking over the position held for 11 years by Mollie Doctrow, who retired at the end of June.
“I think what makes MOFAC special is its varied collection,” Stepe said, as she walked through the gallery during the quiet of the summer as she prepares for the first exhibition in the fall.
“From paintings to sculptures to archeological artifacts, MOFAC covers the broad canvas of Florida art and history,” Stepe said. “That’s the chief reason I was drawn here; that’s why I chose to apply for the job.”
Stepe comes to SFSC MOFAC after six years serving as the curator of the Fine Arts Gallery at Seminole State College in Sanford, a 30-minute drive north of Orlando.
“MOFAC holds a more expansive collection and has larger galleries than I am accustomed to at Seminole State,” Stepe said, as she surveyed the viewing space. “Previously, I worked with a collection with fewer than 150 works in a gallery with far less space.”
But Stepe comes to MOFAC with a background as varied as its collection. The Mt. Clemens, Mich., native recounted that she moved to Florida after earning her associate degree at Macomb Community College outside of Detroit.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but I wanted to be near the ocean,” Stepe said. She enrolled at the University of Central Florida, where she studied art and anthropology.
“My parents fostered a creative environment at home, so I suppose that explains my love for art,” she said. “But I also kept taped to my desk a photo of an ancient man who had been discovered frozen in ice, so I suppose that explains the anthropology.”
After earning her master’s degree in art history and critique at Florida State University, Stepe returned to Orlando, taking up several posts with arts organizations and displaying her own work before joining Seminole State College.
“I work in several media,” Stepe explained. “I do pottery, I paint and draw, and I like to sew, too—I sew aprons.”
Stepe explained she hunts for vintage fabrics, some of which she hand dyes, and stitches them together to create aprons with several layers. “I want to bring back the art of wearing aprons,” Stepe declared.
One of her tasks this summer is coming up to speed on the art scene in Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto counties. Later this month, she will host a luncheon with MOFAC’s advisory committee and friends of the museum.
Stepe also is giving thought to MOFAC’s first exhibition, which opens on Oct. 5. The show, “Florida Waterworks: Friends, Teachers, Students,” will feature the work of artists who have had a relationship with MOFAC, as exhibitors, teachers, or SFSC art education alumni.
How does Stepe approach laying out an exhibition’s pieces? “The works themselves speak. They speak to me,” Stepe explained “They’ll talk, telling me who wants to be near each other and who plays well together.”
But there’s still the minutiae and nuances of learning the workings of a new setting. “I shadowed Mollie for a week taking note after note,” Stepe said. “Here are eight pages of single-spaced notes I typed after my week with Mollie, and I used narrow margins.”
Stepe and MOFAC are one half of SFSC’s cultural programming. MOFAC’s galleries are part of the Wildstein Center for the Performing Arts, the main venue for the college’s live performances, on the Highlands Campus in Avon Park.
“We’re all excited Megan chose SFSC and MOFAC as the place to start the next chapter in her career,” said Cindy Garren, SFSC’s director of Cultural Programs. “Megan exudes an enthusiasm that is sure to catch on with MOFAC’s many friends, visitors, and our students. With her creativity and artistic flair, she’s going to energize the museum, the students, and the art program.”
In addition to her role as MOFSC’s curator, Stepe will teach art appreciation to SFSC students during the fall academic term. “I also taught art at Seminole State,” she said. “My goal in the classroom is to get students comfortable with visiting a museum, appreciating the art, and getting them to a level of comfort where they know their opinion of art is just as valued as an experienced art lover.”
When Stepe is not on campus this summer prepping for the fall, she’ll be house hunting. Her husband of seven years, Kyle, will join her, along with two cats and a dog. All three are still in Orlando.
Returning to her office just off the gallery floor, Stepe stopped to take in the moment.
“It’s a beautiful museum,” Stepe said, looking about. “The collection is thoughtfully placed. It’s placed so that it lends to a greater understanding of not only Florida art and history but its people too.”