Last spring, the Wilton Historical Society‘s co-directors Kim Mellin and Allison Sanders both stepped down, but the organization wasn’t left without someone to step in. Associate Curator and Museum Administrator Nick Foster, who had been with the Historical Society for six years, was able to pick up the reins as interim director while the Board of Trustees searched for Mellin and Sanders’ official replacement.
That search, while described as “extensive,” led the search committee right back to Wilton — and Foster. The Historical Society has announced that Foster was unanimously selected to officially step up as the next director, effective Oct. 1.
“We are happy and delighted to announce that it was a unanimous decision of the Search Committee to offer the Director position to our own Nick Foster,” Dr. Greg Chann, Chair of the search committee and emeritus trustee. “Nick impressed us with his deep knowledge of the organization; his success developing new programs for the middle schools in Wilton, his ingenuity and sense of history, his vision for the Society and his youthful, dynamic leadership both locally and regionally.”
Foster brings a depth of experience and a love of history to the job. His resume includes working with the Erie Canal Museum, the Syracuse University Art Museum, the Onondaga Historical Association and the SUNY Upstate Medical University Archives and Special Collections.
“I’m honored to be the new director of the Wilton Historical Society,” Foster said. “For over 80 years, the Society has preserved Wilton’s history and has served as a place for learning, community, and fun. I’m thrilled to not only continue the great work we’ve been doing but to explore new ways to make this town’s fascinating history relevant and exciting.”
“I am very pleased to welcome Nick as the new Director of the Wilton Historical Society,” President of the Wilton Historical Society Nancy Perez said. “This is a pivotal time for us as an organization, and I’m confident that Nick’s vision and leadership coupled with his passion for Wilton and for our history make him uniquely qualified to continue to bring Wilton’s history to life for all. I look forward to working with him in his new role.”
Earlier this year, GOOD Morning Wilton spoke with Foster about his work as one of the key people keeping Wilton’s vast history alive and relevant. From stories of colonial farmers to Olympians to entrepreneurs, countless individuals and events have contributed to making the town and its story so vital.
GOOD Morning Wilton: What originally interested you about history?
Nick Foster: I’ve loved history going back to elementary school really. They tell great stories — I think that’s what history is. If you portray history very effectively, you tell a very human story. And it’s great to understand why the world behaves the way it does by looking at sort of how we got here. It’s like a great recap before a new sitcom episode where it replays everything before it.
Understanding how we’ve gotten to where we are makes you understand the challenges we face or the conflicts that are embedded in a certain society or issue. I’ve always just loved those personal stories of people. One of the things about Wilton’s history that intrigues me is that it’s not national stories.
GMW: What does your role at the Wilton Historical Society entail?
Foster: I take care of all of our collections and do a lot of the actual interpretation of the history that we have here and make it consumable for our audiences. So that’s everything from putting exhibits on to helping with write-ups. Essentially my role is to share Wilton’s history with people who are interested in it.
GMW: How is your work at the historical society applicable to your past?
Foster: I have a degree in history as well as a Master’s Degree in Museum Studies. So, I sort of married those two things. I went to Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, then I got my Master’s Degree from Syracuse University. So it’s sort of combining the passion for history I’ve always had and turning it into something applicable — and pays the bills.
GMW: Where are you from, and did that play a role in you ending up in Wilton?
Foster: I’m from Trumbull. I came back after grad school to search for jobs and then found my position here in Wilton sort of not by accident. I was looking at some of the big cities like Boston or Philly in New York where there are a lot of museums, but found a great position here at Wilton that was drastically different from what I do now. And here I am six years later.
GMW: What interests you most about your work?
Foster: It’s not the history that everybody knows, but it’s still people making history in their own way. There wasn’t a Revolutionary War battle or a Civil War battle or something like that here. But we had people who participated in those conflicts, or we have women who maybe didn’t march on Washington, but agitated for social causes in their own way.
It’s really interesting in small museums or small towns like this, where you can show people that you don’t need to be the Abraham Lincoln in a textbook. History is made by little people just making decisions every single day about how they want their society to function. To paraphrase, Rome wasn’t built in the day — well, Rome wasn’t built by one man. It was built by so many people making small decisions that all interconnect in so many ways.
I’ve always enjoyed finding hidden stories or objects that are unexpected. The way history has been told in communities like this for a long time is — to be sort of blunt about it — is sort of like, “White man, does this, pushes the town forward.” Or it’s very much moving from event to event to event.
Finding stories, like we’ve done recently with Wilton’s suffrage movement or uncovering African Americans in Wilton and their stories, or things like labor issues, which I think are unexplored — it’s finding stories from people whose names aren’t on the list of former selectmen or aren’t people who were the bankers and merchants, but finding these human stories of people that you can relate to, finding their humanity.
I love looking at old letters and seeing what people were writing about — talking about the weather or they’re not feeling well or their dog, or something like that. It grounds you. It’s these people who are part of a community and a town and a history. So when I can find something that we didn’t necessarily know about, or find someone talking about participating in a big event we think we know, but getting their perspective of it, is really cool because those are the stories that we’re trying to tell.
GMW: Where do you see the historical society going during your tenure?
Foster: I certainly see a lot of potential in this organization. We’re in a really good place, but there’s still some room to grow. We have a huge collection that not a lot of people get to see. We have some great stories we haven’t been able to tell yet for a variety of different reasons, but in the next 3-5 years, the organization has an opportunity to really lean into some of these stories, especially at a time where in this country, history is becoming weaponized in so many ways.
GMW: How have you seen the historical society grow during your time there?
Foster: We’ve really tried to modernize it in a lot of ways. Some people in Wilton might disagree with my assessment of this, but the Historical Society was very much wrapped up in antiques and the preservation of things, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As a curator, it’s my job to preserve things, but sometimes we were so wrapped up in a certain status quo, almost to the point of nostalgia, that it didn’t do a service to educate people. It was sort of just trying to create this time capsule. We’ve tried to get away from the time capsule [approach], and instead tried to push more into why it matters to present information in a way that will resonate more with modern audiences.
We’re really trying to push towards, Here’s how this affects you. We’re trying to make a sleek, modern design as opposed to using the old-timey font. We’re really trying to reach people where they are, which is in a modern community of people with modern interests.
GMW: What’s your favorite part of living in Wilton?
Foster: My favorite part about living in Wilton is how much people care about their community. People are invested in Wilton. People move here obviously because the schools are great and it’s close to New York and it’s a wealthy community, but I think people [also] move here because they care about Wilton — not just to get the status of living in the town. People are here because they want to join the Rotary Club. They want to join the Historical Society. They want to be part of the library because they realize that boosting these organizations brings up everybody else.