Susan Kennedy Zeller, PhD, has long been fascinated by the development of historical civilizations. She is interested in how different societies emerge, evolve, and disappear, and she enjoys studying the people and individuals involved in these rich histories. Dr. Zeller has shared her knowledge and enthusiasm for history as an associate curator of Native American art for the Brooklyn Museum for more than 20 years, beginning in this position in 1999. The Brooklyn Museum aims to bring people together and inspire compassion, courage, and action in its patrons through its collections and exhibits. Dr. Zeller gives credit for her success with the museum to her love for people, as she enjoys answering their questions no matter the subject or level of expertise.
Before joining the Brooklyn Museum, Dr. Zeller was an educator with multiple institutions of higher learning, including Columbia University in New York. She worked as a teacher for Long Island University and with the New School for Social Research. In addition, she was a librarian for the Horticultural Alliance of the Hamptons, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing and exchanging information about gardening. Prior to working in her current field, Dr. Zeller worked in retail merchandising for 16 years and served as the vice president of merchandising for Sam Flax Art Supplies in Manhattan, New York, before pivoting to a career in art history.
With expertise in Native American art and history, Dr. Zeller considers cataloging the Brooklyn Museum’s collection of Native American art, a feat which had never previously been accomplished, as her most significant achievement. She worked with people of many backgrounds, including those of Native American ancestry, to complete this effort. Alongside her primary role, Dr. Zeller shares her knowledge through lectures and adjunct teaching with multiple institutions, including Columbia University, Southampton College, and The New School. She has found additional success as an independent lecturer.
As a professional in the fields of education and history, Dr. Zeller believes that anyone can learn if they put in the time and interest. She prepared for her professional career by pursuing higher education at multiple institutions, including The Pennsylvania State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She continued her studies at New York University, where she obtained a Master of Arts, and graduated from Columbia University with a master’s degree in philosophy. Dr. Zeller concluded her higher education at Columbia University, receiving a Doctor of Philosophy in art history, Australian indigenous art, and Native American art in 2004. Throughout her extensive educational journey, she considers learning to listen to other people as the most important aspect of her professional growth.
Dr. Zeller is far from finished when it comes to contributing to her field. In the coming decade, she aims to publish a book that synthesizes her ideas and thoughts and drives her readers to think critically about history. She also plans to travel to new locations across the world and spend more time with her family. The daughter of Richard and Helen Kennedy, Dr. Zeller attributes her professional achievements to her parents, who always emphasized the importance of education and brought her along on many of their travels, developing her broad knowledge of global events and laying the foundation for her career in history. She feels fortunate to have been born into a family that pushed the importance of education, as she acknowledges that many people lack the foundation of familial support she enjoyed. Dr. Zeller is married to Frederic Zeller and has five siblings and 14 nieces and nephews whom she holds dear. When she is not working or spending time with her family, she enjoys gardening.