Dr. Judy Larson: The inner-workings of directing the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art


Alyson Gee

Dr. Judy Larson, Director of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum

Lexi McWilliams , Features Editor

At only 10 years old, Dr. Judy Larson visited her first art museum: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). The joy and wonder that museum instilled in Larson continues to fill her with passion as she enters her 14th year of directing the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. 

Larson was born in Glendale, California and was raised with an appreciation for the arts. Her older sister, Nancy, was an artist and would take Larson to museums and galleries. However, Larson says, “because Nancy was so good, [art] wasn’t encouraged in [her and her other sister].” Larson believes she might have been a great artist if she was encouraged to try as a child. 

Larson attended the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Larson had originally attended UCLA as a pre-nursing student, but after receiving an “A” in an art-history class, she decided to pursue art in her undergrad years. After graduating from UCLA, Larson received her Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Directly after finishing graduate school, Larson worked at LACMA where she researched for the conservation lab and went on to be the acting assistant curator of prints. 

Larson always knew she wanted to work in museums. She says, “When you stand in front of the painting, to me, it takes your breath away. [Good art] should make us all aware of our presence on earth.” As an art curator, Larson is in charge of performing research, organizing exhibitions and publishing catalogs to help create a lasting legacy for the exhibition.

Larson works with artists based on her own interests and expertise, however she also tries to include artists whose work has not previously had a platform. For example, museums around Santa Barbara rarely include local artists. So, at the Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, Larson is committed to featuring artists who live in the area. 

In the past, Larson has also worked at the National Museum of Women in the Arts where she highlighted art made by women around the world. Reflecting on her time there, Larson says, “It made me very aware of the lack of opportunity for women artists.” 

Along with the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Larson also worked at the Taubman Museum in Virginia and the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Larson decided to come back to California to be home with her mother during the last few years of her life. When the museum director position opened up at Westmont, Larson felt it would be the perfect fit for her.

Larson loved the education she received at UCLA, but she believes that the relationships that can be made at Westmont are unique. Larson has come up with several events meant to get the students excited about the museum. She even brings her two adorable dogs to work in hopes the students will come in to see them. However, she says, “If I had one challenge, it would be that there aren’t more students coming to enjoy the museum.” 

The Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art is open from 10am to 4pm every weekday, and opens on Saturday from 11am to 5pm. The exhibition on display at the moment is entitled Wish you were here and it closes Nov. 5. Larson invites Westmont to take advantage of the privilege of having a museum on campus and enjoy the work that has been so thoughtfully put together. 

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