Cathy Leff, who has run the Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach almost since its founding, plans to step down this spring.
Micky Wolfson recruited Leff in the 1980s to help him turn his vast collection of souvenirs, household items, books and periodicals into a museum that he founded in 1986. She was on the staff when the Wolfsonian opened fully to the public in 1995. About a year later, the founding director left and Leff was named as the replacement. She has presided over three decades of expansion for the non-profit, which became an arm of Florida International University in 1997 and now has a location in downtown Miami as well as its home base on South Beach’s Washington Avenue.
“It’s been an amazing place, an amazing institution, and an amazing job,’’ Leff said by phone Friday. “We have the best collection of its kind in the world. It will be the most coveted museum job.”
Leff, 62, said that after working at the Wolfsonian since the 1990s, the institution is ready for a new director to take on the tasks ahead. She said the museum is halfway to its goal of raising $20 million for its endowment (currently about $2 million), and its pursuit of an expansion plan that will let it tap into $10 million in bond proceeds from Miami-Dade County.
The collection comprises about 120,000 items from the period of 1885 to 1945, and includes candelabras, German straight razors, British ocean-liner posters, and German war propaganda.
In an email to friends and colleagues Friday afternoon, Leff said her resignation will take effect April 1, and that she will remain for a year as an FIU fellow through September 2015. In the interview, she said she has another opportunity “percolating” that will be announced in January.
“I don’t want a full-time job,’’ she said. “I’m lucky enough not to need that.”
The Wolfsonian is famous for finding meaning and history in the objects of ordinary life. Leff cited the current exhibition on “The Birth of Rome” -- an exploration of the ascetics of dictatorship in interwar Italy. That is, between World War I and World War II, how did the design of buildings and art reflect the wishes of the despots running the country.
“It’s so Wolfsonian,’’ she said.
The Italian objects were part of the original collection Wolfson donated to the museum at its founding, but Neff said she was introduced to them through the exhibit.
“I still haven’t seen everything,’’ she said.