Past Meets Present for Museum Project Manager

Greta Koshenina combines passions for ancient Rome and the modern South

A woman stands at a welcome desk with signs for exhibits behind her.

OXFORD, Miss. – Like most 18-year-olds, Greta Koshenina came to the University of Mississippi unclear of what she wanted to do with her life. But through her studies in the College of Liberal Arts and at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, she discovered her interests and turned them into a full-time position at the University Museum.

Koshenina, the museum's assistant curator and collections project manager, blends a lifelong curiosity for science with her Ole Miss studies in classical archaeology and Southern folklore for a skill set that is helping the museum expand its offerings to a broader range of interests. The Water Valley native is a graduate of the Mississippi School of Math and Science in Columbus.

"I was really interested in going into the sciences because I thought that was the way to make a living and be in the world," she said. "My dad is an engineer, and so I thought about architecture, or engineering or physics."


Greta Koshenina, assistant curator and collections project manager at the University Museum, helps hang a painting for a new exhibit at the museum. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

But a classics course she took as a junior changed her plans. During a class field trip to the University Museum, Koshenina became fascinated by the Mediterranean antiquities and scientific instruments.

She changed her major to classics with a minor in mathematics and Italian, and she studied abroad in Italy, including participating in an archeological dig in Tuscany. She began working at the museum as an undergraduate intern and graduated in May 2020 from the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College.

"I ended up working out a postgrad opportunity, which was a full digitization project on antiquities with (former university photographer) Robert Jordan, and we spent a lot of time in a small room taking photos of thousands of objects," Koshenina said. "As I was doing that, I was thinking a lot about mythology because I've always really been interested in Southern culture and the ties to ancient Rome.

"That led me to the Southern studies master's program because I knew I could do a graduate assistantship through the museum and do something I was familiar with and comfortable with, like collecting oral histories with family members of folk artists."

Once she completed her master's degree in in 2023, the museum hired Koshenina as assistant curator and collections project manager. She began collecting oral histories and making documentaries, including one about quiltmaker Ruby Marzette Adams.


Greta Koshenina examines artifacts in the University Museum's archive area. Photo by Peter Muvunyi

Adams' quilts are dynamically colored and stitched with the great attention to detail. Although the museum houses a vast collection of Southern folk art, little information is available about many of the artists, especially women artists.

"Adams passed years ago, but her daughters Mae Adams Shelby and Ruth Adams Ball live in the area, so I interviewed them and they talked about her quilting," Koshenina said. "Usually you would separate the fine art from the folk art, but kind of elevating all those things to the same level was really nice in our Recent Acquisitions Exhibit that's on display until July 20."

Koshenina's academic background is a unique blend that complements the museum's two largest collections of Greek and Roman antiquities and Southern folk art, said Melanie Antonelli, the museum's curator and collections manager.

"Greta's skills in video editing, recording and photography have been invaluable in expanding the museum's archive, research and accessibility while enriching the visitor experience," Antonelli said. "Through her work, the museum is able to offer more digital content online and in our galleries, as well as generate more museum-produced oral histories."

Antonelli also praised Koshenina for her "passion for storytelling while being respectful of cultures, and mindful of accessibility and equity," traits that Koshenina attributes to what she picked up from her master's program.

"All of the theories we learned about in Southern studies helped me the most, especially with my museum tours and talking to the interns and the other students, and being inclusive," she said. "Even when I say 'folk art' on tours, I explain the more nuanced ideas and I'm able to meld all the knowledge I have and talk about the ways ancient myths have made their way into our common culture." 


Greta Koshenina (right) works with student intern Sydney Lynch to install a piece in a new exhibit at the University Museum. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

Her day-to-day tasks vary, but include figuring out new exhibits, assisting with the annual Harvest Supper fundraiser and editing videos. She also enjoys working with Robert Saarnio, the museum director.

"Robert is always very confident in our abilities and he lets us have a lot of artistic freedom, which is really nice," Koshenina said. "Because it is such a small staff, I've been helping Melanie Antonelli create exhibits for five years now, which is not something that I could do at a bigger museum.

"Having that creative license and making documentaries and making things for the exhibits is exciting."

Koshenina also uses her Southern studies skills to conduct interviews and to know how have difficult conversations.

"Melanie and I did an exhibit last summer about the fall of 1962 and the riots," she said. "I made a kiosk contextualizing all of it. I really feel like that wouldn't have been as in-depth without what I learned in Southern studies.

"As a modern anthropologist, I've been able to merge classics and Southern studies and use interdisciplinary methods to look at everything differently here, including all of the different studies of culture and contextualization and humanizing the ancient people through looking at modern culture."


Rebecca Lauck Cleary



April 16, 2024