Museum curator steps down

Published 12:40 am Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A 2006 Nor’easter and flood forced the Isle of Wight County Museum to close. When curator Tracey Neikirk joined the staff months later, she played a leading role in bringing the facility in downtown Smithfield back to life.

“It was an interesting challenge,” Neikirk said. “The museum was actually kind of torn apart.”

The storm overwhelmed a drain, and several feet of water flooded the basement.

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“I understand a staff person came in, turned on the lights and stuff was floating,” Neikirk said.

After nearly two years of work, the museum was once again able to welcome visitors.

“All of the issues with the flood, the artifacts, all the conservation that had to happen, all of the cleaning, the engineering that went on, that was all in progress when we got here, but Tracey was really responsible for opening the museum again,” said museum director Jennifer England.

After more than 12 years, Neikirk is leaving her position July 17 to join her family in Maryland.

“We’re very sad to lose Tracey. … She and I have really worked together for a very long time and we’ve grown together and we’ve learned together,” said England. 

She credits Neikirk for moving the museum into the 21st century by bringing a professional look, feel and attention to exhibits and artifacts. Museum staff also oversee many of the area’s historic sites, including Windsor Castle, Boykins Tavern, Fort Boykin, Fort Huger, Nike Park and Ivy Hill Cemetery.  

Neikirk agrees that the community has recognized the fruits of their labor. “We get a lot of compliments from folks going ‘I didn’t know it was like this — it’s been 20 years since I’ve been in here.’” 

Last week, the museum announced on social media that it plans to reopen at 10 a.m. July 6.

During the coronavirus shutdown, England and Neikirk say they’ve worked every day behind the scenes, producing virtual programs, engaging the community through social media, re-evaluating exhibits, and undertaking a deep cleaning of the facilities.

“It’s been, honestly, busier than ever,” England said.

Neikirk started her career at the Mariners Museum in Newport News. She worked there about 15 years before coming to Smithfield and plans to continue working in museum curation or education.