Last spring, the Wilton Historical Societythe co-directors Kim Mellin and Allison Sander both resigned, but the organization was not left without someone to step in. Associate Curator and Administrator of the Nick Foster Museumwho had worked for the Historical Society for six years, was able to take the reins as interim director while the board searched for Mellin and Sanders’ official replacement.
This search, although described as “extensive”, brought the search committee back to Wilton – and Foster. The Historical Society announced that Foster had been unanimously chosen to officially become the next director, effective October 1.
“We are pleased and delighted to announce that it was a unanimous decision by the search committee to offer the position of director to our very own Nick Foster,” Dr. Greg Chann, chairman of the search committee and director emeritus. “Nick impressed us with his in-depth knowledge of the organization; his success in developing new programs for Wilton colleges, his ingenuity and sense of history, his vision for the Society, and his young and dynamic leadership both locally and regionally.
Foster brings deep experience and a love of history to the job. His resume includes collaboration with the Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse University Museum of Art, Onondaga Historical Association, and SUNY Northern Medical University Archives and Special Collections.
“I am honored to be the new director of the Wilton Historical Society,” said Foster. “For more than 80 years, the Society has preserved Wilton’s history and served as a place of learning, community and entertainment. I’m excited to not only continue the great work we’ve done, but also to explore new ways to make the fascinating history of this city relevant and exciting.
“I am very pleased to welcome Nick as the new director of the Wilton Historical Society,” said Nancy Perez, president of the Wilton Historical Society. “This is a pivotal time for us as an organization, and I am confident that Nick’s vision and leadership, coupled with his passion for Wilton and our history, make him uniquely qualified to continue to bring the Wilton story for all. I look forward to working with him in his new role.
Earlier this year, HELLO Wilton spoke with Foster about his work as one of the key people who keep Wilton’s vast history alive and relevant. From stories of colonial farmers to Olympians to entrepreneurs, countless individuals and events have helped make the city and its history so vital.
HELLO Wilton: What originally interested you in the story?
Nick Foster: I really loved the story since elementary school. They tell great stories — I think that’s the story. If you describe the story 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 that came before it.
Understanding how we got here allows you to understand the challenges we face or the conflicts that are embedded in a particular society or issue. I have always loved these personal stories of people. One of the things that intrigues me about the Wilton story is that it’s not about national stories.
GMW: What is your role at the Wilton Historical Society?
Foster: I look after all of our collections and do a lot of actual interpretation of history that we have here and make it consumable for our audience. So that’s everything from setting up exhibits to helping with writing. My role is essentially to share Wilton’s story with people who are interested in it.
GMW: How does your work at the historical society apply to your background?
Foster: I have a degree in history as well as a master’s degree in museum studies. So, I kind of married those two things. I went to Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, then got my master’s degree at Syracuse University. So it’s kind of combining the passion for history that I’ve always had and turning it into something applicable – and paying the bills.
GMW: Where are you from, and did that play a role in your coming to Wilton?
Foster: I come from Trumbull. I came back from college to look for work, then I found my job here in Wilton, it’s not by chance. I was looking at some of the big cities like Boston or Philly in New York where there are a lot of museums, but I found a great position here in Wilton that was radically different from what I do now. And here I am six years later.
GMW: What interests you the most in your work?
Foster: It’s not the story that everyone knows, but it’s always people who make history in their own way. There was no Revolutionary War battle or Civil War battle or anything like that here. But we have had people who participated in these conflicts, or we have women who may not have marched on Washington, but campaigned 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 have to be the Abraham Lincoln in a textbook. History is made by little people who make decisions every day about how they want their society to run. To paraphrase, Rome wasn’t built in a day – well, Rome wasn’t built by one man. It was built by so many people making small decisions that are all interconnected in so many ways.
I’ve always loved finding hidden stories or unexpected objects. The way the story has been told in communities like this for a long time is – to be a bit blunt about it – a bit like, “A white man, do this, get the town going.” Or it’s very scalable from event to event.
Finding stories, like we did recently with the Wilton suffrage movement or finding out about African Americans in Wilton and their stories, or things like labor issues, which I think are unexplored – that’s is finding stories of people whose names aren’t on the old selectmen’s list or aren’t bankers and merchants, but finding those human stories of people you can relate to, finding their humanity.
I like to look at old letters and see what people were writing – talking about the weather or their discomfort or their dog, or something like that. It grounds you. These are the people who are part of a community, a city and a history. So when I can find something that we didn’t necessarily know, or find someone talking about going to a big event that we think we know, but have their perspective, that’s really cool because those are the stories we try 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 are in a very good position, but there is still room to grow. We have a huge collection that few people can see. We have some great stories that we haven’t been able to tell yet for various reasons, but over the next 3-5 years the organization will have the opportunity to really lean into some of those stories, especially at a time when this country, history becomes a weapon in many ways.
GMW: How did you see the historical society grow during your time there?
Foster: We really tried to modernize it in a number of ways. Some people at Wilton might disagree with my assessment of this, but the Historical Society was very busy with antiquities and preserving things, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As a curator, it’s my job to preserve things, but sometimes we got so caught up in a certain status quo, almost to the point of nostalgia, that it did people’s education a disservice. It was kind of just trying to create this time capsule. We tried to get away from the time capsule [approach]and instead tried to explain why it’s important to present information in a way that will resonate more with modern audiences.
We really try to push towards, Here’s how it affects you. We try to create a sleek and modern design instead of using the old-fashioned font. We really try to reach people where they are, which is in a modern community of people with modern interests.
GMW: What’s your favorite part of life at Wilton?
Foster: My favorite thing about life at 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 have status to live in the city. 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 everyone together.