There were ropes of pearls, a tortoise shell fan adorned with a family crest etched in sterling silver, and a canary diamond as big as a robin’s egg. But Kali Mason ’12 loved the platinum dogwood blossom earrings most of all.
“They were inlaid with sapphires,” said Mason, who spent the summer of 2013 cataloguing the jewelry for private collectors in Boston. “They were made for a woman who loved dogwood trees.”
Handling the jewelry collection, learning about its provenance—even discovering its connection to Italian royalty—was a dream job for Mason, who now works at the Mississippi Museum of Art. But that dream of working with priceless artifacts, one she had nurtured since she was a teenager, nearly slipped through her fingers weeks before she began her junior year at the University of Bridgeport (UB).
At the time, Mason was a literature and civilization major with a nearly perfect 3.8 grade point average. Her grades were buoyed by hard work and inspired by frequent trips to New York, where she frequently wandered through the galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, gaping at its “humongous” collection of antiquities.
One day, Mason hoped, she would work in a museum, too.
But in July 2010, her father lost his job as a logistics director. College, the future, plans to work for a museum—everything suddenly began to spin out of reach. Desperate, Mason called the University’s Financial Aid Office, and was urged to apply for a Eunice and David Bigelow Scholarship. In the past seven years, Bigelow Scholarships have been awarded to 26 UB undergraduate students from the Bridgeport area who have superlative grades and demonstrated financial need. Mason qualified, too, and two weeks before classes started, she got the help she needed.
She could return to school.
The Bigelow didn’t just make it possible to start her junior year. “It added to my motivation,” Mason said. “My UB professors were also part of my motivation, especially Professor [Thomas] Juliusburger. He oversaw my honors thesis and approved my topic of the history of museums.”
When she proposed studying abroad at the Hellenistic Institute for the Study of Art in Paros, Greece, UB faculty “found a way to make it happen,” adds Mason, who spent a semester in Greece, taking classes in art history and philosophy. She also interned at the Museum of the City of New York. And when she applied to graduate school in Florence, Italy, Juliusburger and other UB faculty provided glowing references.
She never forgot that things could have turned out very differently. “The Bigelow made all the difference; I’m not sure what I would have done if it hadn’t been for that,” Mason said when she graduated with honors in May 2012. “It helped me to finish college.”
Now five years and a second degree behind her (a master’s degree in museum studies), Mason no longer speaks about the future. It’s arrived, more dazzling than she could have ever imagined. Soon after cataloging the jewelry collection in Boston, she began flying to in Texas, working for a company that specialized in cataloging private collections brimming with museum-worthy pieces, such as portraits by American artists Gilbert Stuart and Norman Rockwell.
Supporting students, then hearing about their success, is “so heartwarming,” said Cindi Bigelow.
This year, art propelled Mason once again, to Jackson, Mississippi. It’s far from Pittsburgh, where her family relocated after he father got a “great job” for a metal manufacturer, she says.
But she’s thrilled. As the newly hired registrar at the Mississippi Museum of Art, Mason is responsible for ensuring that artwork on loan from 72 museums across the U.S. makes it safely to Jackson. The art, to be on view in an exhibit celebrating Mississippi’s bicentennial, is an improbable collection: paintings by Basquiat, Audubon, and Warhol; black-and-white photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson, rare maps, and fashion by Patrick Kelly.
“But they all have a connection to Mississippi,” Mason said. “It’s great to see it all coming together. It’s what I do.”
For more information about how to make difference in a UB student’s education, visit www.bridgeport.edu/giving
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, firstname.lastname@example.org