Historical Society: New Year, New Director

Maria Vann

The East Hampton Historical Society has hired Maria Vann as its new executive director, a position that has been vacant since October, when the previous director, who had been on the job for only about seven months, stepped down due to a family emergency.

Ms. Vann, who will start on Feb. 5, grew up in Port Jefferson Station and has been the director of education at the Albany Institute of History and Art since last August and was the director of the Maritime Museum at Battleship Cove in Fall River, Mass., for some two years. Before that, she was the director of the Iroquois Indian Museum, the New York State Historical Association, and the Fenimore Art Museum, all upstate. She had been one of the final two contenders for the East Hampton Historical Society job in 2016 and early 2017, during the recruitment process to find a replacement for Richard Barons, the society’s much-esteemed longtime leader, that had ended with the hiring of her immediate, short-lived, predecessor.

“There’s a lot of opportunity to bring the historical society to the next level,” said Ms. Vann, who mentioned adding more high-tech elements‚ “such as online exhibits and a greater social media presence,” to the museum mix. As head of the historical society, she will work with its board of trustees to run several museums: Clinton Academy, along with its small adjacent structures, the Town House and Hook Schoolhouse, Mulford Farm, the Osborn-Jackson House, which houses the society’s offices and administration spaces, the Marine Museum, and the Thomas Moran Studio. 

Ms. Vann, who has written on maritime subjects, including the role of female owners of slave ships, has in the past expressed “a passion for maritime history.” She also described herself this week as a “big fan of collaborations with local organizations” and said she looks forward to “bringing in community voices not just with stories of the past but stories of the present.”

“Maria is the consummate professional,” said Hollis Forbes, the president of the historical society’s board of trustees. “She’s well grounded in all aspects, and I can tell she’s really excited about the job.” 

One of the first projects Ms. Vann will have to tackle is the upcoming opening to the public of the house and studio of the painter Thomas Moran, facing Town Pond. “The Studio,” as the unconventional Queen Anne-style structure is still commonly called, became a registered national landmark in 1965 and is soon to be handed over to the historical society by Guild Hal, via the Thomas Moran Trust, the nonprofit group that had led the charge to raise more than $4.5 for its intensive restoration from ivy-choked shambles to resplendently eccentric doyenne of Main Street.

Moran was known for his paintings of the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, as well as his East End landscapes, and is sometimes called “the father of the national parks,” said Ms. Forbes. “We want to get the right programming around the Thomas Moran home, and Maria is the perfect person to do that.” 

A grand opening of the Moran house is planned for the first week of July.