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Interim Art Curator Blends Calm Days on the Job with Rock 'em, Sock 'em Evenings at the Roller Rink

by Davidson College
Rosemary Gardner-Roller Girl I
As indicated by the star on her helmet, Gardner plays as the points scoring "jammer" for her team. (Lorissa Shepstone photo)

One might not immediately identify Davidson's interim art gallery curator as a resilient roller-skating warrior. But far away from her quiet basement office in the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center, Rosemary Gardner plays the turbulent contact sport of roller derby with the Charlotte Roller Girls team. "Rosie Cheeks," as she is known on the track, has amassed a loyal fan following during her six years of barreling around the track.

Gardner joined the Davidson community in September 2011 as assistant curator for the Van Every/Smith Galleries, and became interim curator in January 2012. Her main concern is management of the college's over 3,200-piece permanent art collection, but she has recently curated the 40th anniversary exhibition of the Davidson National Print and Drawing Competition, which will be on view through December 12. Initiated by Professor Emeritus Herb Jackson in 1972, the competition ran for five years and provided tremendous visibility to art at Davidson.

Gardner's pastime, however, is a different world. Primarily a women's sport, roller derby features two teams of five racing around an oval track. One designated player from each team tries to score points by pushing through the opposing "pack" and lapping them. "You're playing defense and offense at the same time," Gardner explained.

Rosemary Gardner-Roller Girl II
Gardner and her white-helmeted teammates work to keep the opposition from getting through their line. (Kit Ruff photo).

Though players wear helmets, kneepads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and mouth guards, the two 30-minute periods of game play that make up a "bout" often leave them with bruises and sore muscles. "I had an embarrassing black eye last summer, which was a great conversation starter with the faculty of the art department," Gardner laughed.

Gardner became interested in roller derby five years after picking up a promotional flyer at a coffee shop. "I'd played team sports growing up, so being part of an all female team again was an appealing idea," said Gardner. Her derby name, Rosie Cheeks, has roots in her past. "I went by Rosie in seventh grade, which is probably the last time I put on skates before I joined the derby," she said.

Gardner primarily plays as a "jammer," or point scorer, and also captains and leads training exercises. "I know a lot about game strategy, and I rely heavily on communication with teammates during games," she said.

It's been a rewarding experience. "Roller derby is no longer just recreational for me," she said. "Our league is operated by the skaters, so I've essentially also been a part of starting and running an all-female owned business."

Rosemary Gardner-Roller Girl III
Gardner lays a hip check on an opponent. (Photo courtesy Charlotte Roller Girls)

She's also brought some lessons from the track back to the gallery. "I think at any small college you have to have a lot more heart and investment in your projects than the resources allow, and that's something I first experienced with roller derby. You have limited resources, so you try to make good things happen with just sheer willpower."

The experience has also been empowering for Gardner and her teammates. She said, "Roller derby has had a big influence in how my teammates think about themselves and other women. Their ideas on self-worth have changed."

The team also gets a boost from the loyal fan base that regularly attends their games. "We have fans that have been around since our first season, and we acquire new fans each year," she said.

The team, which plays home games at Grady Cole Center in Charlotte, is preparing for their final away game of the year on Saturday, December 8. Though they didn't qualify this year for the Women's Flat Track Derby Association Tournaments, Gardner attended the championships, and hopes that Charlotte can qualify for tournaments in the future.

Find playing schedules and more information about Gardner and the Charlotte Roller Girls here.