Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh


    Fighting air pollution with a whisk

    Author: Shelby Brewster - Consuming Nature Workshop

    On our visit to the University Archives Services Center, I came across a collection of materials from the Group Against Smog & Pollution, a Pittsburgh-based activist group founded in 1969. I was particularly interested in the Jeannette Widom Papers. She was one of the charter members of GASP, and she also happened to be a stellar baker, repeatedly winning baking awards at the Allegheny County Fair. Widom, passionate about combating air pollution in Pittsburgh, put her baking skills to work for the organization.

    The centerpiece of Widom’s baking for GASP was a Dirty Gertie cookie, resembling GASP’s cartoon mascot, a bird whose wings are choked by air pollution. One of the members of GASP enlisted her husband to craft a metal cookie cutter in the shape of Gertie. The cookie’s wings were covered in chocolate sprinkles to replicate the gloomy air of Pittsburgh. This idea became a massive fundraising event for GASP: The Dirty Gertie Cookie Project. GASP reached out to other community groups to help bake, providing them with complete kits of ingredients and cookie cutters. The first round of baking resulted in 1200 Dirty Gertie cookies, all of which were sold to raise money for GASP. Widom would continue “fighting pollution with a rolling pin,” publishing three cookbooks (“Party Cookies Only,” “Fun Buns for Kids to Make, Bake, Decorate, and Eat,” and “Just Coffee Cake”) and donating the proceeds to GASP. Her fame as a celebrated baker also helped draw attention to GASP’s work.

    GASP’s use of cookies to fight air pollution resonated with a contemporary artist group that I have written about in my research, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. Like GASP, they harnessed the potential of taste as a political tool in an effort to draw attention to air pollution. In 2011, on location in Bangalore, India, artists with the Center began “harvesting air” from the most polluted areas in the city. Because meringues are up to 90% air, by whipping up egg whites in the polluted areas the meringues capture the air pollutants present in the air.

    The Center encourages other artists, community groups, and students to make their own meringues in their own cities. They envision the cookies as powerful political statements, as they can be tested for particular pollutants or mailed to politicians as a commentary on city conditions. So, continuing the GASP tradition of mobilizing baked goods for environmental justice, I’ll be making smog meringues to serve at GASP’s Air Fair event. I chose two locations near my home, the McConway and Torley Steel Foundry on 48th Street and the bus stop at Negley and Centre Avenue, to make my meringues.

    Stayed tuned for a second post covering the making of the meringues and the Air Fair itself!

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    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    John Yodanis Papers, 1919 – 1987, MSS 293, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center


    Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Pigeondom

    Author: Melissa Yang - Consuming Nature Workshop

    The American Racing Pigeon Union (ARPU)’s Souvenir Book of the 1937 Greater Pittsburgh Convention opens on a charming exchange of two epistolary poems between Edgar A. Guest and Peter P. Barry. Guest’s four stanzas of aa/bb rhymes, addressed “To the Owner of a Homing Pigeon,” detail the antics of a pigeon who “stopped to spend the day with us.” Barry responds to thank Guest, and requests he “Do again that sportsman’s deed,/Give him water and a bit of feed,” if the pigeon again chooses to rest upon his roof on his route home.

    There is abundant poetry—intentional and unintentional, whimsical and solemn—in the five boxes of materials compiled over sixty years by Pittsburgh pigeon racer John Yodanis (1910 – 1988). Housed in the Heinz History Center’s archives, these boxes are packed full of documents, from pigeon breeding guides to lineage charts, racing diplomas to gift-like bundles tied up in paper and string, which unwrap to reveal piles of pigeon-centric newspapers, catalogues, convention yearbooks, and more.

    Pigeons have long been featured in and have fostered an enormous range of human communications. Pigeon post, after all, was the fastest method of message-transmission from ancient times until Samuel Morse developed his code in the 1830s and 40s. Perusing more recent papers, it is nevertheless striking how valuable these birds were to their caretakers, and how stark the contrast is between the dedicated treatment of these pedigreed pigeons and the feral “rats with wings” marginalized in city streets today. Still, racing birds were bred to serve a purpose and, unlike most pets, had to earn their keep.

    This common attitude is reflected across Yodanis’s materials, including the four-volume Four Seasons Real Course About Pigeons. Penned by M. Joseph Heuskin for novices in the 1920s, this relic meticulously describes the proper composure, composition, and disposition of an ideal bird. He notes, “A pigeon of value has often a bigger eye than a common pigeon,” and “watches you wherever you go, for it is very inquisitive.” Breeders are advised to kill birds not up to snuff because “Marvelous pigeons are scarce,” and only achieved by “cultivating your colony” carefully. The anthropomorphism of the watchful, bright birds juxtaposed with casual culling directives render this guide darkly memorable, and the sport susceptible to criticism from animal welfare activists. (Pigeon racing ethics are controversial enough to warrant their own entry.)

    The modern sport of pigeon racing first emerged in Belgium in the 1850s, as carrier pigeons were being phased out by newer messaging technologies. Aficionados were motivated by a passion for pigeons, as well as prize money. The sport spread across Europe, and when Europeans migrated to the United States, they brought their birds with them. This is how Pittsburgh, PA—whose abundant job openings in factories and steel mills attracted European immigrants—became an epicenter for American pigeon racing in the following century.

    “Pittsburgh Promotes Pigeondom’s Progress” appears as a bold announcement in the opening pages of Yodanis’s 1948 commemorative book for the 38th annual ARPU convention (and the 4th annual “Ladies Auxiliary” meeting). Several pages of a welcome essay boast, of all the sports in Pittsburgh, “One of the finest sports of all, the realm of Pigeondom, is enthusiastically proclaimed by a great number here.” The Pittsburgh Center of the ARPU was the largest in America at the time, with thousands of members within a 50-mile radius of the city.

    John Yodanis was inducted into Pittsburgh’s pigeondom by his father and brother at age 14 in 1924. One of the collection’s final news clippings, from 1984, features the 74-year-old retired steamfitter reflecting on growing up when “every other yard had a pigeon loft and the association of racing pigeon clubs known as the Pittsburgh Center had more than 2,400 members.” Near the end of Yodanis’s life, he estimated only “175 racing pigeon owners remain in the Pittsburgh area.” Today, numbers continue to dwindle.

    The Tarentum Homing Club is one of the few active pigeon racing groups remaining around Pittsburgh, where a few devotees—mostly male retirees—continue to race their birds on weekends. When I interviewed member David Corry, he attributed the decline of pigeon racing in part to a lack of interest in the time commitment required of animal husbandry among young people today. Curiously, a concern for adolescent apathy can already be discerned in Yodanis’s earlier documents, some of which even cite “prevention of juvenile delinquency” as rationale to encourage children to pursue pigeon racing. Corry, who laughingly recalled how he was almost arrested for climbing grain elevators to catch pigeons in his youth, followed up to say, “You do not have to be nuts to get involved in pigeon racing but to some degree it helps.”Pittsburgh’s pigeondom may be endangered, but there is a liveliness, passion, humor, and resonant lyricism in even the most matter-of-fact of the extant discourses and documents. John Yodanis’s collection offers a fascinating glimpse into this niche area of local history well worth remembering and revisiting.

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    • Deinstallation
    • Work area
    • Packing
    • Underside

    Natalie (left) is examining works for condition reports and Kate (right) is cutting foam


    Delighted to Make Your Acquaintance: Deinstallation of Edward Eberle Exhibition

    Author: Abigail Meloy

    Fine Foundation Fellowship, Fall-Spring 2016-7

    During my Saturday shifts at Contemporary Craft I would routinely stop, stroll around, and admire the individuals works in Edward Eberle Retrospective, including the one presented here. The ceramic artist’s fame arose from the deconstructed forms of his works and his streams of consciousness approach to painting the surfaces of his pieces. The exhibition had recently closed and we needed to prepare the objects for their travel to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. We had our supplies: foam boards, leftover bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and tape, lots of it.

    One of my intern supervisors diligently worked on condition reports, documents that evaluate and note the state of the object’s appearance and quality. They are used for insurance purposes and serve as accounts to the individuals receiving the objects. Unlike packaging a painting, a fairly simple process, we were challenged to work around the unusual shapes that made these works distinctive. Like a sculptor, we carved each work’s negative from layers of foam after tracing an outline of the object.

    It took us four days to pack all that was moving onto Philadelphia. I became more acquainted with each object: not only the way in which it could fit in a box but also its weight, quirks, blemishes, and stress points. Rather than reading the dimensions of the objects on their label or admiring them from a distance, I handled them, looked at their underside, and traced the mesmerizingly intricate scenes with my fingertips. Ultimately, I gained a greater appreciation for the works themselves.

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    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Ferdinand Bauer engraving


    What is the real, "real" object?

    As an information scientist striving to define and describe online exhibitions, I am constantly reflecting on what constitutes a “real object” versus one that is acknowledged only through its absence. The status of the object has historically correlated to changes in museology, and it seems we are in the midst of a particularly challenging moment, in this regard. With the proliferation of museum apps, for example, museum visitors are simultaneously engaging with site-specific media while also being pulled away from their actual physical or “real” surroundings.

    In her writing, Andrea Witcomb suggests that objects in the material world carry “weight...authority, knowledge and privilege” whereas “multimedia,” or virtual objects, are characterized by their superficiality or otherness: their immediacy, temporariness, and popularity.[1]

    Traveling through and among the various institutions and collections that were included on the Consuming Nature workshop itinerary, I was constantly thinking about perceived distinctions between real and digital objects. Particularly as we hopped from the Hunt Library, with its exquisite engravings and ink drawings of botanical specimens, to the overgrown vacant lot of Carrie Furnaces, I also thought about what distinguishes the real and the real object. This is a confusing and unhelpful qualification, but I have been trying to grapple with the levels of human intervention that are represented by or within any particular object, and how these levels contribute to notions of authoritativeness and authenticity.

    Of course, these ruminations largely revolved around the figure of the “curator,” the individual traditionally endowed with the power to transform an ordinary object into an extraordinary one. At the core of curation likes the act of selection or “the crucial idea” that “turns a part of the natural world into an object and a museum piece.”[2]

    As an “object,” where does Ferdinand Bauer’s engraving of Pinus cembra (1803-1824) stand in relation to the wild grass growing in the garden next to an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill?

    Throughout the workshop, I found myself pondering the distinction between reality and fiction, or between data and capta. With regard to this latter element, I was thinking about data in the eighteenth century sense, as something that is given or assumed rather than something that is captured, or taken. At its conclusion, I think my brain had accepted that everything we saw during the workshop was the result of human intervention: from the alcohol-soaked beetles in the CMNH’s section of entomology to the errant trees growing atop a former furnace.

    Should I be anxious about the way that museums incorporate real and fake representations of things? Probably not.

    Is it important to signpost these things, such as what parts of the dinosaur’s skeleton are actual fossils versus man-made plaster reproductions? For me, yes.

    Brenda Laurel, author of the book Computers as Theatre (1991), describes the artificiality of the computer interface as follows:

    “ the world of interfaces, the graphic designer renders the objects (like zoom-boxes and pop-up menus)” and represents “both concrete and ephemeral aspects of context through the use of such elements as line, shadow, color, intensity, texture, and style.” (10)

    In depicting nature, broadly, so many representations (2D and 3D, alike) provide a similarly mediated version of “reality.”

    As Colleen O’Reilly and I endeavor to describe and even re-contextualize the dioramas in CMNH’s Hall of Botany through our online exhibition project, these are some of the questions I continue to ask.

    [1] Andrea Witcomb, “A New Approach to Thinking about the Impact of Multimedia in Museums,” in Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 35. 

    [2] Susan Pearce, “Museum Objects,” in Interpreting Objects and Collections, edited by Susan M. Pearce (New York: Routledge, 2003) 10.  

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    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
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    • Schenley Park Entrance 1922
    • Schenley Park and Forbes Field 1936
    • Maria Sibylla Merian, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung
    • Andrey Avinoff at Carnegie Museum of Art
    Schenley Park Entrance 1922

    Schenley Park Entrance, 1922, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, courtesy of the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh


    Picturing Nature in Early 20th Century Oakland

    In the context of the Consuming Nature workshop, sparked especially by our plans to visit the Hunt Botanical Institute, I was thinking a lot about how to situate CMNH’s Botany Hall and its dioramas in the social and cultural context of Oakland. I had learned from research conducted by Kate Madison and Emily Enterline, collaborators on our project, about the involvement of Rachel Hunt with Andrey Avinoff in the creation of the botanical dioramas. Hunt (wife of Roy Hunt of Alcoa) was president of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, which contributed the funds for the first diorama of wildflowers of Pennsylvania, completed in 1928. Press from the time noted that the Garden Club of Allegheny County had also contributed to the improvement of the entrance to Schenley Park, which was visible from the windows that used to be in Botany Hall.

    I also had learned from the work of Peter Clericuzio (Currently Visiting Lecturer in Architectural Studies at Pitt) on the architecture of Forbes Field about how in the early twentieth-century Oakland was positioned as a cultural center and soothing escape from the grime of the city. I therefore came into the workshop with the notion that the dioramas might belong in this context, in which picturesque views of nature, leisure, and cultural enrichment worked together, while at the same time, the funding behind the institutional framework for this came from the very industry that was destroying the environment, via philanthropic activities.

    At Hunt Botanical Institute, we were able to see Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s portrait of Rachel Hunt (with background painted by Avinoff), as well as examples of the kind of botanical illustrations that were Rachel Hunt’s passion: large, richly detailed portraits of individual plants that almost seem to pose for the viewer. Chuck Tancin also mentioned to us that at the insistence of Roy Hunt, the shelves in the library reading room are aluminum (but painted bronze so as to fit with the overall aesthetic), which is a poignant anecdote for thinking about the intersecting agencies at work behind Pittsburgh’s institutional investment in a culturally sophisticated appreciation of nature.

    At CMOA, Lulu Lippincott shared with us some of her expertise on Avinoff, and we viewed some of his artworks, which as Lulu explained, can be understood as depictions of his philosophy about the linkage of art, science, the natural world, and spirituality. Even though Avinoff was known as an entomologist, it is clear to me now that Botany Hall was of special interest to him. In the context of Avinoff’s interests and Hunt’s patronage, the representational strategies of the botanical dioramas, which must be described as picturesque, theatrical, and somewhat political, as much as scientifically accurate, come into clearer focus. It is important to imagine the museum, and the philanthropic culture that shaped the space of Oakland, as driven by a dream of a unified sphere of progress and idealism of all kinds, rather than the division between art and science that came to structure the institutions in the later twentieth century. This cultural space allowed the appreciation of nature to remain congruous with the glorification of industry.

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    • Visual Knowledge
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
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    Architecture, Archives, and More: An Internship

    This spring I worked as an Intern for the Heinz Architectural Center on projects relating to the Hall of Architecture. As an intern, I undertook three major projects. The first project was the main reason the internship was offered, and paired well with my Intro to Visitor Evaluation class. In 2011, a design studio class at CMU had done a major project on the Hall of Architecture; gathering visitor preferences and responses to the Hall to design a better signage system. I took the data they collected that they had recorded and their design ideas and analyzed that data to make graphs to show the results. I also put together a report containing those results that could be used for future reference instead of having to go back through the project booklets and it presented to the Education Department. There is something inexplicably satisfying about recording data and compiling it into graphs. Or maybe it’s just me.

    For the second project that I undertook, I worked with the Carnegie Museum Database. I researched the casts in the Hall of Architecture and recorded the dates, names, locations, and architect/sculptures of the original buildings or objects that they were cast of or from. Some of the buildings that the Carnegie has fragments or capitals from are more interesting than the main monuments that are currently displayed, such as the Tower of the Winds, which is only represented with a capital fragment, but the building is so much more interesting. It was the first weather station ever built and the original is still considered so important that it was recently restored to its original condition at great expense.

    The third project that I undertook was the most time consuming and the hardest simply because of the volume of material that I had to sift through. The archival records relating to the acquisition of casts for the Hall of Architecture and Sculpture Hall had been recently digitized and were sorted in boxes based on subject, such as the sender or recipient. My job was to sort the records by cast. I also recorded any interesting stories that I came across, such as the drama between the Director and a women working at the Met over a miscommunication over her notes on the history of the casts, which she thought were going to be made a catalogue, but he didn’t want to give her credit for all of it, so she demanded her notes back. My favorite however, was the series of communications over the Lysicrates Monument. Andrew Carnegie wanted the monument to have one side restored, and one side as the monument currently was, but the cast makers said it was impossible, so he settled for the addition of a tripod, which the cast makers had to make only from references in historical documents.

    I also did additional research into some of the archival stories, such as the Allegheny Courthouse Controversy, for which I requested the National Register Nominations from the National Park Service.

    This internship was a wonderful opportunity that honed my research skills and taught me data analysis related skills. I am proud of what I accomplished.

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    • cleaning nile crocodile
    • cleaning polar world diorama
    • R2 vacuuming marine life diorama
    • Cleaned marine life diorama
    cleaning nile crocodile

    My Best Friend is a Vacuum: A Tribute to R2D2, the Faithful HEPA-Vac

    This semester, I was lucky enough to be an intern with Gretchen Anderson, the conservator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I learned a lot. I cleaned a lot. And throughout all of this cleaning, I was always accompanied by R2-D2, the trusty HEPA vacuum. For most conservators, HEPA vacuums are the most efficient for the gentle cleaning of objects. For every diorama we were cleaning, R2-D2 was invariably by our side, waiting patiently to collect our dust.

    One of the first dioramas that I used R2-D2 on was the Nile Crocodiles in the Wildlife Halls. I never thought I would get up and personal with a Nile Crocodile and live to tell about it, but fortunately, these were dead. By wrapping a piece of vellux around R2-D2’s nozzle, we could gently suction away the dust and soot particles. This was a technique we used for most of the open-air dioramas.  

    During my internship, we also cleaned the Polar World exhibit. Bundled up in sweatshirts, we spent the week tidying up the various open-air dioramas in the exhibit. There was one minor issue, however; the artificial snow had trapped our number one enemy-dust-and was not relinquishing it without a fight. So we decided to vacuum up the snow and remove it completely, with plans to refresh the dioramas later. Shortly after we began vacuuming up the snow we realized that R2-D2 was getting clogged; poor R2 could not handle the dust and artificial snow together. So, we had to use a different bagless vacuum, one that happened to look like a jetpack. Each project had its own unique challenges, but the artificial snow was definitely one of the most testing obstructions we encountered to cleaning the dioramas.

    The most recent diorama I have been involved with is the Pennsylvania Marine Life diorama in Benedum Hall. For years, people have walked by and maybe some of them have noticed the fine layer of ocean silt that covered the exhibit. In reality, this fine layer of silt was actually the accumulation of about 30 years of dust. This was a diorama that Gretchen had been itching to get into since she first began working at the museum. After the glass was removed, we used brushes, air rockets, and of course, R2-D2, to clean the years of dust off of the objects. We also used facemasks to protect ourselves from breathing in the extremely small dust particles.

    These are just a couple of the projects I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this semester. This internship has opened up the world of professional conservation to me, and I could not be for more thankful for my mentor, Gretchen, for giving me this opportunity. And also for R2, who always cleaned up my dust for me.  

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    • Hayley in her office
    • Gems in Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems
    • Scribe in Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt
    • Butterfly on a plant in Botany Hall
    Hayley in her office

    In my office in the Marketing Department.


    Seeing the Museum Through a Lens

    Ever since I was a child, I remember visiting the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and leaving in awe for many obvious reasons. The infamous dinosaurs stretching across their entire hall, the Egyptian mummies with their colorful designs, and even the underrated bliss of being able to run down the cool, marble steps of the Grand Staircase, all left me with feelings of curiosity. It wasn’t until I became a marketing intern, that I began to see things a little differently. I still tried to keep the raw innocence of stepping into a museum and expecting things larger than life, but now I see the importance of each piece archived in all of its detail.


    Before starting my internship in the Marketing Department, I admittedly knew little of Natural History and the modern issues that arose with such non-profit management. But it is inherent to learn more about a subject the more you read and write about it and that’s what I was assigned to do in my first few weeks. I stumbled upon pronouncing dinosaur names such as ‘Pterosaur’ but soon became confident in my ability to write about them after some research. I learned which scientists faces went with the names I was emailing and I read articles about the museum’s ideas for innovation.


    My position included editing and writing content, producing photographs for social media, organizing archives, content analysis, answering visitor emails, and even the occasional daily office work, often stereotyped as the intern’s only position. I was truly lucky enough to be treated as another member of the marketing team, regardless of my age or the limits of my experience.


    One of the most significant projects I was chosen to work on was organizing and archiving all of the Marketing Department’s photos. It was my assignment to research sites that would allow an online space with easy access for all of our department’s employees to use. After much consideration, we chose a program that would eventually take me a couple months to complete the uploading. It was a long tedious assignment, but it allowed me to see every photo taken for the museum, past, present, and even my own; that was a surreal moment for me.


    It is common in the office to hear the word, ‘interactive’ suggested for different marketing campaigns and exhibition descriptions, and eventually this word would make its way into the way we used images. It was an amazing upgrade from the normal Windows filing system, and I quickly learned that progression was a huge factor in the museum community and something prominent in every department. Many people may associate Natural History as stagnant and unchangeable, but I have learned that we can use the informative, unique history to explain and educate individuals on a way to enhance the future. Whether it be through the use of photographs, blog posts, or educational programs offered to visitors, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has provided a positive perspective on the way that I now view museum management. In the future, I hope to explore more learning opportunities with museums and other non-profit organizations. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has continued to leave me with curiosity in all of its endeavors.

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    The Many Hats at The Warhol


    This semester I was the communications intern at The Andy Warhol Museum. I put my skills to the test in tasks that involved things such as editing, research, and marketing. The Warhol gave me the chance to work on a wide variety of projects, ranging from smaller tasks to multi-stage projects.

    One of these multi-stage projects I helped a lot with was a survey revamp. The museum wanted to update their exit surveys to try to get more responses. There is currently one iPad setup for surveys near the information desk. My first task was to try to get the survey working on a second iPad. After careful research and testing, it was determined that the current iPad would not be able to run the survey software because of the age of the hardware. Since the current equipment was not up to the task, my second objective was to create a budget for the new equipment, researching tablets and software that would be the best fit for an unassisted exit survey. While researching, I contacted the Carnegie Museum of Art employee who is dealing with the surveys at their museum to compare notes.

    Other things I helped with in the communications department included social media and website analytics, using sites such as iQ Media and Sprout Social. I researched press to reach out to for upcoming exhibitions such as Farshad Moshiri: Go West, and thought of strategies of how to market the exhibitions to those specific members of the press. Also, I edited and contributed ideas to a new marketing style guide. On top of all my work for the communication department, I was able to use my skill set to assist the publication department.

    The publication department had me assisting with an upcoming book The Warhol is writing. For this project I did copy editing for multiple parts of the book, and worked on some of the bibliography. On top of that, I also edited book related materials using inDesign.

    It was really interesting to see how different departments work and interact with each other within the museum, and across other Carnegie Museums. A lot of the departments work with each other frequently, and the communication between the departments was strong.

    I really enjoyed my time at the Warhol, my coworkers were passionate about art and the museum’s mission, and they created a great working environment.


    Image credit: “The Andy Warhol Museum, front facade, 1994, photo by Paul Rocheleau.”

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    • Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center
    • Isabelle de Borchgrave's creation based on Rubens's Portrait
    • Fashion exhibition research
    Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center

    Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Charlotte-Marguerite de Montmorency, Princess of Condé, c. 1610. Oil on canvas. Frick Art & Historical Center.


    Museum Education Internship at the Frick Pittsburgh

    During the past 2017 Spring semester, I worked as an intern under the supervision of Amanda Dunyak Gillen, Director of Learning & Visitor Experience, at the Education Department of the Frick Pittsburgh. My main job responsibility was facilitating the museum’s public programs, including program planning, gallery talks, adult and family programs, special events, etc.

    The Frick Pittsburgh is known for its historical significance as it is infused with the history of the Frick family and the 19th century Pittsburgh. At first I was a bit intimidated by the unfamiliar historical materials I was about to confront, but as soon as I entered the department, I started to learn about the museum's mission beyond being a historical institution. Revolving around its own collection, the museum has hosted and will be hosting a variety of exhibitions and corresponding programs to enrich their visitor experience. Their current big project is a three-year series of fashion focused exhibitions —Killer Heels (2016), Undressed (2017), and Isabelle de Borchgrave (2018). These fashion exhibitions are not only opening up the museum to a younger crowd, but they are also offering a new angle for looking at the museum’s collection and history. The Killer Heels exhibition, for example, drew the public’s attention to the collection of footwear of the Frick family, and some shoes were put on permanent display in the Frick’s visitor center in order to meet the continuous enthusiasm about the fashion aspect of the family.

    As an intern, I was lucky to have a lot of hands-on experience with museum programs. I assisted running special events such as the annual Women’s History Program and the Easter family program. I was also a speaker for the Friday gallery talk program and presented on the museum’s collection of Claude Monet, which I further developed into a digital project for the visitor center interface.

    My biggest project was designing public programs for the upcoming Undressed exhibition. The first phase of my work included conducting research on contemporary fashion exhibitions and their related programs, as well as learning about the Frick’s previous programs. Because of the increasing sensibility towards fashion in recent years, there were many institutions who have hosted fashion-focused exhibitions and programs, such as the MET, MOMA, as well as some smaller-scaled, local museums, and therefore I was able to find many corresponding resources. But to narrow them down and extract applicable information based on the museum’s own specificities was much trickier. For each resource I found, I listed out their key features that can be potentially incorporated into our own space. This step was very helpful towards the second phase of my work, which was the actual programming. At first my development of ideas was not very constructive. However, in the meantime, I shadowed the Women’s History program, and during the process of planning and preparation, I learned about how much details to be put into program planning. Based on my precious experience on our Gallery Talk program, I proposed an adult drop-in writing sessions in the galleries to inspire more interactive conversations on our collections. Some other examples of programs I proposed are: live art and fashion—lace making; family ball with the Beauty and the Beast; etc.

    I am very grateful for this internship through which I gained valuable hands-on experience on museum programming and many other practices. Most importantly, it helped me to find my passion on museum education, and I believe I will benefit from the knowledge and skills I learned from this internship in my future career.

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    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh