Looking Ahead

Museum Curator Heather Yenco’s future plans for showcasing the past

It wasn’t always clear to HEATHER YENCO what career path she should take. She found herself searching for what appeared to be an elusive life path while studying at the College of Charleston.

“I’ve always been interested in a lot of different things. I changed my major three or four times; couldn’t make up my mind, but I was always interested in the arts and other cultural activities,” says Yenco, adding that learning about museum sciences became the ah-ha moment she was looking for. “When I started looking at what that work entailed, it really sparked my interests. It fit my personality of always wanting to learn.”

Her insatiable hunger for knowledge turned out to be the key to her new position as the Cape Fear Museum curator. She replaced the esteemed Barbara Rowe, who retired in March. Prior to this new position, Yenco served as the museum’s registrar, where she was responsible for maintaining the physical and intellectual integrity of the museum’s artifact collection. She dealt heavily with matters regarding loans, insurance, and image reproduction requests, along with caring for the collection itself.

Before arriving at the Cape Fear Museum, Yenco acquired her Bachelor of Arts degree in art history, with a minor in arts management in 2007. In 2009, she went on to earn a master’s degree in museum studies from the University of Toronto. Afterwards, she volunteered at Upcountry History Museum in Greenville, South Carolina. She worked her way up and into a position as the curator of collections and exhibitions and remained in that job for five years before taking the registrar position at Cape Fear Museum. Given her background, it seemed natural to move into an opportunity that’s ripe with a set of new responsibilities.

“As a curator, I am responsible for when the public offers donations to the collection. I am first line assessing what that offer is and continuing to advise the rest of the staff and museum director on the acquisition all the way through to the official donation,” Yenco says.

Unlike her predecessor, she will not only be the curator of the museum, but she’ll also maintain her registrar duties. That means that no two days will be the same, which can be a good thing when you enjoy a daily challenge.

“Like today, I’ll be installing a new exhibit that’s opening up on Friday,” she says. “Some days, I’m working on the collection. I’m involved with object researching and incoming donations, determining if they fit in the parameters for being used in the Lower Cape Fear (collection). Other times, I’m helping students or volunteers – and I have a lot of those – or working on exhibit developments with historians or other exhibit staff. Or, I’m physically in the gallery hanging artwork.”

Her most recent installation includes her work for the Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective exhibit. The traveling exhibit, created by UNC Library’s North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, features images from the Wilmington-born photographer, including those taken locally. That exhibit will be on display through the end of September 2018.

There’s no doubt that Yenco is keeping busy as she’s dived into the position headfirst, but she says she’d have it no other way.

“I think it’s a pretty exciting time. We’re really looking at growing the museum and looking into some new exciting exhibits and programs,” Yenco says. “I’m excited to be here for the ride. It’s an exciting time for change at the museum.”


To view more of photographer Chris Brehmer's work, visit chrisbrehmerphotography.co

Take 5 with Heather Yenco


“I was an art history major in college, but I’ve always had a love of learning and a curiosity about a wide array of topics. Museums are the perfect place for curious people. I learn something new with every artifact donation, exhibit, and museum program.”


“We have a mess kit from Rachel Loman, who served in World War I in the Army Nursing Corps, that is engraved with a list of the nurses who served with her in France. I think it shows how important these women were to her, to commemorate them on such a simple but essential object as a mess kit.”


  “I really enjoy the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. And, I always make time to go to the Andy Warhol Museum and the Mattress Factory when I visit family in Pittsburgh.”


“Working with the museum’s collection every day, people sometimes assume I don’t have much contact with other people. But, I have a lot of contact with the public. I meet with people donating artifacts, and I regularly give tours of the collection to members of the public. I love to share my work and the collection with people, and people love seeing another part of the museum that houses so much of Wilmington’s history.”


“I find Anna Pennington really interesting. She earned her private pilot’s license in 1940 and was one of the   pioneers of flight in Wilmington. She kept scrapbooks filled with photographs, mementos, and articles of her flying days. We are photographing her scrapbooks at the museum, and I’m learning a lot about her. She had a fascinating life.”