Last fall, after serving as a summer docent, Johanna Batman became The Mount’s development associate. We sat down with her for a few minutes for a brief Q&A.
Q: Did you always see yourself working in a cultural nonprofit organization?
A: No, I had my heart set on being a paleoanthropologist. I was determined to have my Ph.D. by the time I was 28. But during my sophomore year in college, I realized I needed a break. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to be a college professor who lived in Tanzania or South Africa for three months each year.
My senior year of college I did an internship in curatorial work at an historic house in Rhinebeck, New York. There I became very interested in museums, and that’s been my focus ever since.
Q: Why did you come to The Mount?
A: I fell into it serendipitously. I’m from a small town in the Finger Lakes, and I thought I needed to get a little further away from home. I looked on Craigslist and saw the listing for a tour guide at The Mount. I thought: I’ll do that for the summer. In November, I was offered a full-time position as development associate.
Q: What do you find most gratifying about working at The Mount?
A: I’ve really loved both being a docent and working in development. I love that The Mount makes such a strong commitment to its staff and personnel, recognizing the staff is the institution and not just accessories. Knowing you are a priority is unusual in this kind of setting, and it makes all the difference.
I’ve also been constantly impressed by the strong connection between The Mount and our members and supporters. The Mount has seen its share of ups and downs, but the staff here has worked hard to build enduring relationships with the local community through outreach and partnership that is a wonderful model for non-profits everywhere.
Q: What have you learned about Edith Wharton you didn’t know before?
A: Everything! Before coming to The Mount, I knew nothing about Edith Wharton. I’d read The Age of Innocence but didn’t remember it well at all; I made the mistake of reading it back-to-back with The Wings of Dove. Henry James is hard work, and I was worn out and didn’t approach Edith Wharton with a fresh perspective.
After I was hired as a docent, I read Ethan Frome, and I then read about 20 more Wharton books over the course of the summer. She’s a fascinating woman—and I love how, on this spectacular property, you can approach art, literature, and history through the lens of this one remarkable woman.
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I enjoy cooking and gardening. My feminist forbearers would be ashamed! I also love my dog, and hiking, and I’m hoping to get a plot in a community garden. I’m very much an amateur foodie.