Artwork and heirlooms become touchstone objects with the power to maintain a physical connection with people and places lost to time, says the owner of Illumine Creative Solutions.
By Jennifer Proe
Who: Jennifer Souers Chevraux
Where: Mercer neighborhood
Business: Illumine Creative Solutions, LLC, a private curatorial practice helping organizations, individuals, and corporations inventory and manage their collections using museum standards and best practices.
Mission: I am passionate about researching and preserving family stories. Artwork and heirlooms become touchstone objects with the power to maintain a physical connection with people and places lost to time. I want to preserve this link to our past so we can learn from previous generations.
What I Love About My Work: I need variety and the chance to move from one interesting project to the next. Working in museum curation, exhibits, and education is a perfect fit for me, as rarely are two days the same. When I started my curatorial practice in Shaker, I wanted to bring the same professional enthusiasm to private collections as I’ve had working with institutions.
I love helping both individual collectors catalog, care for, and pass on meaningful pieces to their families, even as seemingly fewer young people are interested in keeping “old stuff.” I can also help collectors with institutional loans and gifts to museums or academic collections. Applying a curatorial approach, I help select the most compelling pieces, find relevant connections, and then share the provenance, or historical context. I think my experience helps clients feel comfortable sharing their unique treasures with me.
Personal Background: My first home was actually an apartment just off Shaker Square, but I grew up in Canton, Ohio. My family visited the great museums at University Circle throughout my childhood, and I remember climbing on Steggie [the dinosaur] in front of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History as a little girl. As my parents drove us up the hill to Shaker Square and out to Shaker Boulevard, I remember goggling out the car window at the beautiful homes and tree-lined streets. I always thought it would be a dream come true to live in a community as beautiful as Shaker Heights.
Obviously, those childhood experiences made a big impact both personally and professionally. My husband, Mike, and I moved to Shaker in 2011, and have two daughters, a sixth-grader at Woodbury and a third-grader at Mercer. Now my phone contains a 10-year timeline of photos of my girls climbing on Steggie.
I always knew I wanted to work in museums. I studied Anthropology and the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium at the University of Michigan. Then I went on to the University of Missouri for a masters in anthropology, where I studied the archaeology of northern Europe from the Roman occupation through the Migration Period and Viking Age.
My first museum job was as a college intern at the Canton Museum of Art. After graduation I worked for a season as an art history “carny” in a traveling art museum on a train. I feel like I blinked and somehow I’ve been in the museum field for 25 years. From the McKinley Presidential Library to the Children’s Museum of Cleveland and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, I’ve been responsible for objects from moon rocks to firearms, and prehistoric arts to fine arts.
On Working and Living in Shaker Heights: The ever-elusive work-life balance is so much easier to achieve when my kids’ schools, activities, and extras are all within a 10-minute drive. I can take an hour and volunteer in their classroom, or spend lunchtime together on Spirit Day, which was hard to do when my office was 35 minutes from home. Plus, I am still just a short drive from my museum colleagues and clients.
I love our amazing Shaker Library and all of the resources it provides for my clients and me. My favorite Shaker hangout has to be J. Pistone. They have the best tea selection in town, and every time I walk in I see someone I know. It’s my nexus for networking with Shaker neighbors.
Our family loves to ride the Rapid downtown for baseball games and St. Patrick’s Day. My husband and I recently took the Green Line to the Cleveland International Film Festival for a great night out.