UAG

  •  

    Student Journal: Weaving Stories into Woven Garments

    Weaving Stories into Woven Garments

    Raka Sarkar, 10 December 2017

     

    The garments that people choose to wear each day symbolize many things: personal taste, social attitudes of the day, or the wealth and prestige of the wearer. Because clothing can be so heavily loaded with cultural relevance, it comes as no surprise that many garments worked their way into our exhibition. The fact that these objects have been donated to the Nationality Rooms shows a conscious awareness about how cultural identity is ingrained into the fibers of their cloth. The Yugoslav Child’s Jacket, the Slovenian Wedding Bonnet, and the Japanese kimono were all presented in our show as objects that carry historical significance. Their fine craftsmanship can give some hints as to how important clothing and costume was to the Slavic and Japanese people that owned them almost a century ago.

     

    When thinking of finery today, “fancy clothing” often carries associations of bespoke suits and red-carpet fashion. In an almost refreshing fashion, the Yugoslav Child’s Jacket gives an idea of what a child could have worn in the past. The intricate red embroidery shows a great deal of technical skill, and the adorable silver buttons add a nice, intimate touch. Though our class has speculated about whether the color and patterns bear any significance, the depth of research that would shed light on this question was beyond the scope of our exhibition – which had to be planned and installed within just eight weeks. One thing that remains certain, however, is that this garment suggests a sense of pride in traditional Slavic costumes.

     

    The Slovenian Wedding Bonnet is another magnificent example of fine clothing from twentieth-century Central Europe. Donated by the lady-in-waiting of the queen’s mother, its rich ornamentation reveals its noble origins. The delicate lace over the crown, the sequins and gold thread, the velvet brim, and the floral silk ribbon are all extremely opulent materials. This speaks to not only the aesthetic tastes of its culture of origin, but also the wealth of the commissioner who procured rich materials like velvet and silk, and the skill of the craftsperson who combined these objects to create the delicate floral embroidery of sequins and gold silk.

     

    In Japan, the word kimono is an amalgamation of two words, ki, from kiru, “to wear,” and mono, “thing.” In short, the kimono is “that which is worn,” or “clothing.” Kimono was the standard dress of the Japanese people until the Meiji government proposed a rapid Westernization of the country and Western clothing came into fashion. This splendid green and black kimono, dating to either the late Taishō or early Shōwa era, in the 1920s, with its geometric spots offset with wave motifs, is an example of how artistic trends can influence textile design. Art Nouveau and Art Deco came into vogue at this time, and the juxtaposition of swirling waves, geometric cutaways, and interposed dots seems indicative of these movements. At the time, the importation of Western fashion worldwide led to the rise of modern girls, like American flappers, who chose skirts and trousers over traditional wear. However, despite the fears of the past that the art of the kimono would disappear, and despite the fact that it is seldom worn today, quintessential “Japanese-ness” is still heavily associated with the kimono. The inclusion of it in our show displays that it was consciously donated to the Rooms by the Japanese Room Committee, and we are glad that we can appreciate it as a piece of both history and culture today.

     

    These objects showcase the technical skill and aesthetic tastes of the societies that produced them, but looking at them, it is also clear to see how much pride cultures have taken in clothing over the years. The fact that we can examine these today and understand them to be emblematic of traditions stretching back into the past provides an amazing perspective to us, viewing them now, as they are garments still worn today, in such beautiful condition that they almost beckon viewers to don them properly.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Czechoslovakia handkerchief
     

    Student Journal: Czechoslovakia: Past and Present

    Czechoslovakia: Past and Present

    Heather Alvarado, 5 December 2017

     

     

    Working with an exhibition for the first time I witnessed some of the joys and some of the pains of the experience, though these were mostly joys. We were given a list of about seventy-five objects at the start of the semester, and told that we could choose items from this list for the show. I went through the list a few times trying to find something that spoke to me, and found a Czechoslovakian book of lace samples. I researched bobbin lace, and it was interesting, but it just was not what I was looking for. We were also given the option of looking into the online database of Nationality Room artifacts (http://www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu/tours/objects) to see if we found anything in there that we wanted to exhibit. It was also made clear, however, that nothing was a guarantee if we tried to request the use of something from the Nationality Rooms that wasn’t already on the pre-approved list.

     

    I decided to test my luck. I scoured the database for all the Rooms of interest to me, or Rooms that were not greatly represented already, and then I found it! It was small Czechoslovakian kerchief. I knew that was the object I should choose. Even though I knew this was “my” object, I still did not attach any strong feelings to it. At that point, I thought it would be good to use but I did not think we’d be missing anything if the loan request fell through. Writing a loan request for an item I believed would add to the show, but I did not even feel strongly about it, changed the moment I hit the send button to turn in the written request. Waiting for the acceptance or denial was hard. It was always in the back of my mind. The change from finding it to asking for it was dramatic. I knew that this would fit perfectly with Visual Knowledge’s idea of conflict changing the world. I knew after asking for it, the kerchief was something that needed to be in the exhibition. I did receive my requested object, and a small silk kerchief from the former nation of Czechoslovakia was ours to display!

     

    The excitement of the receiving the object for the show continued once I saw the actual article. It somehow was not the same as the photo in the database that I looked at fifty times before. The colors were more intense even on the faded fabric. The silk threads make it almost shimmer under the light. Seeing the blue, red and white that both the Czech Republic and Slovakia still use on their flags and seeing cities I know to be from the separate countries combined together into one country made me feel slightly awkward. I wasn’t sure if I should feel good about how the nation has become two independent countries, or feel bad that were broken apart. I never felt like that before even though I know a good deal of Czech history. I am so glad I found it in the database and took the risk of writing a loan request even when I wasn’t sure the request would be granted. My hope was that this object would make others think about identity and nationality and what conflict can do to these concepts. The message inscribed on kerchief reminds me that even in the worst times, we have to have hope, and have faith that things will get better in time.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: A Conversation with the Chinese Nationality Room Committee, and the Mystery of the Lost Hu Vase 

    Zoe Creamer, 21 November 2017

    Giving a gallery talk for the Chinese Nationality Room Committee seemed like a big undertaking. How was  I, as an undergraduate student, supposed to sound relatively knowledgeable on a subject that these women have been closely engaged with for years, or maybe even decades? At the same time, however, this specific audience was also a perfect opportunity for me, because I had written the loan request and the labels for  the newspaper clippings regarding fundraising for the Chinese Room that are in the exhibition.  I knew I wanted to talk to the women who keep this particular Room running smoothly. As I learned from the newspaper clippings, it was no small feat to raise sufficient funds to build the Chinese Room back in the 1930s. I did not want to miss the chance to speak with the people who are in charge of the Room today, and to learn more about its history from them. Although the class has been developing  gallery talks, these are not scheduled to be offered regularly until after Thanksgiving break—this meant that the students conducting this special tour, myself included, were a bit on our own in generating the content of the tour. This was not a problem, however, as all four of us had interest in the Chinese Room. We decided to give a talk based mainly on Chinese objects, while also paying attention to the broader themes of the exhibition. 

    Before I knew it, Tuesday the twenty-first rolled around—it was tour time! Three members of the Chinese Nationality Room Committee, including the chair, came to the University Art Gallery. It was truly an amazing experience because I found myself learning so much more about the exhibit than I thought possible. Prior to giving this tour, I thought it would be primarily a student-based lecture that lasted a short time, but contrary to my assumptions, the experience was very dynamic and interactive. We learned from the committee members that certain objects, like the Hu vase and the ceremonial keys, had never been shown in person before, not even to them. This made me realize the importance of our exhibition, first and foremost, for giving these objects the long-awaited visibility on campus and in the community that they deserve. Apparently, according to the chair, there is another Hu vase in the University’s possession, which confounded all of us giving the tour. We all spent a few minutes wondering aloud where this second vase might be kept, and speculating on the possibility of displaying both vases together again—the chair told us that they were both on the windowsill of the Chinese Room originally, on either side of a window. When we walked to the side gallery, all seven of us closely examined Andrey Avinoff’s watercolor depicting the Chinese room. Due to the work’s frame of reference, a second vase is not visible, but the possibility is not eliminated, which added a further layer of mystery to the whereabouts of a second Hu vase. 

    The ceremonial keys were surprising to the committee members because they had never seen any of the keys in person before, let alone the Chinese Room key. The women told us that there were only a small number  of keys—about ten—and that many of them had been lost. This idea astounded me—how were these small but unique objects allowed to be lost?—but also led me to wonder about the storage of these artifacts in general. Why are these items hidden away in storage in the first place instead of being housed in a permanent exhibition, and why do they seem so veiled in secrecy? If even the members of a Nationality Room committee had not seen these objects in person prior to this exhibition, it seems likely that many more artifacts are waiting to be discovered and put on display. 

    This also made me think about whether the Nationality Rooms will ever be allowed to change. The committee members expressed their wish that the Chinese Room had a display case, because then the valuable but fragile Hu vase could be installed as a part of the Room, but the Rooms may not be altered after their construction. I wonder if other committees have proposed such changes to the Rooms, and whether such a change in policy will ever happen. For now, I am hopeful that our exhibition will inspire future classes and curators to take an interest in the many artifacts the Nationality Rooms have to offer, as well as fostering even greater interest in the Rooms among the Pittsburgh community.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Photos displayed in Hallway of Exhibit

     

    Student Journal: Looking Back at the Begining

    Ryan Lewis, 28 November 2017

    As our exhibition is now fully open to the public, I think it is important to look back at the very beginning of the creation process. Each student was assigned to be a part of two different groups, a planning group and a working group. I was a part of the Visual Knowledge planning group and the Interpretation working group. Along with our groups, there was a list of pre-approved objects from the Nationality Rooms that we could use for the exhibition. With all of this in mind, and knowing our focus would be the Nationality Rooms, we then went to Hillman’s Special Collections to examine boxes of archival material from select rooms.

    When we got there, we were given free rein to go through as much as we could to gather pictures and documents that interested us. We worked in pairs within our planning groups to cover as much of the material available to us as possible, while still having input from a group member. This stage is where the exhibition came to life as each group began collaborating on what they discovered. Going through and seeing pictures and reading materials from the different Rooms really gave us a deeper look into their creation. 

    Since each group was working separately and we could  take the exhibition in any direction that interested us, this is where the exhibition was created. Each person had their own materials that they grew attached to through their research (mine is the photograph of the bombed mihrab that is currently on display), and the groups created themes that brought these objects together to present the overarching ideas. Visual Knowledge discussed how to connect what we had chosen, and decided upon a theme around the idea of conflict. The themes each group decided on shaped the three different parts of the gallery, while the “big idea” of the whole exhibition was always kept in mind.

    Now that the gallery is open for everyone to visit, people can see the way that all our work at the beginnings with the archives became the final product. The rooms were able to connect their themes to allow for a good flow throughout the whole exhibition. Some objects even fit better with other group’s theme to the point that they were moved to make it show the idea in the best way possible. For example, even though the photograph of the bombed mihrab That I had chosen was central to the theme of conflict in the visual knowledge group, we decided to shift it to the hallway where it could accompany other images of ritual and sacred spaces, while also being shown together with materials concerning the Syria-Lebanon Room. Seeing the exhibition develop from a simple object list and some archival documents and pictures into what it is today was a great experience, and one I was proud to be involved with.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: What Goes up Must Come Down

    Ilana McAfoos, 9 December 2017

    Standing in the gallery at the closing reception, I was struck by how fast this whole process has felt. Having never put together or even been a part of a gallery exhibition before, I had no idea what to expect. I also had no idea of the amount of stress, time and pride that goes into a project like this one, but I truly couldn’t be prouder of what we accomplished.

    Over the past semester, my classmates and I have worked tirelessly to piece together the Narratives of the Nationality Rooms exhibition quite literally object by object and word for word. The entire process was incredibly rewarding; we were responsible for picking out all the objects, digging through the boxes of archival materials, putting together the stories behind all of these objects, and finally bringing all of the pieces into the gallery. Despite the amount of work put into all aspects of the exhibit, the most exciting and memorable part would be the art handling and installation itself.

    I had the incredible opportunity to help build and create the displays for the dedication keys from six of the Nationality Rooms. The art handlers taught a few of us how to build boxes and wall mounts, cover and pin them, and physically handle and hang them in the wall vitrines. Standing in front of the finished vitrine, I remember a huge smile crossing my face; not only had I been part of creating the display, but it was the first moment where the exhibit finally came together as a whole for me. No longer was it just a collection of individual artifacts or objects; the pieces were suddenly telling a cohesive story to the audience; a story we had the privilege of telling. 

    It’s sad to see this exhibit come down after just four weeks in the University Art Gallery, but I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity this class and the exhibition provided, and I hope our visitors enjoyed the experience and learned from it; I certainly did.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Benin Queen Mother Bronze statue

     

    Student Journal: Power of the Queen Mother: The Benin Bronzes

    Molly Wight, 7 December 2017

    When my planning group was looking through the African Heritage Room archival documents for items to include in our exhibition, we stumbled across a booklet on the symbolism and thematic narratives in the room. Besides the overall desire of the Room Committee and the architects to convey Pan-African themes, there was a specific concept that they wanted to convey in the room. This was the concept of “Mother Africa”, which either mean thinking about the continent of Africa as the mother of the human race or the existence of a common ancestor of all African peoples. This theme is represented by the position of the Queen Mother of Benin in the center of the door of the African Heritage room.

    When we were looking through the online archives of the objects in the Nationality Room collection which were not on display, however, we discovered that there were two bronze replicas of symbols that represented the Queen Mother of Benin. Neither of these objects had been included on our list of pre-selected artifacts, but we felt that they were important to include in our narrative of the concept of identity in the Nationality Rooms. The two objects were the bronze head of the Queen Mother and the bronze rooster that symbolized the power that the Queen Mother held. I particularly felt that the sculptural head of the Queen Mother Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin, had the potential to be a key object in our exhibition. 

    As we further developed the plan and layout for the exhibition, it became clear that the African Heritage Room identity section of the exhibition would revolve around the Queen Mother and the position’s representation of the theme of “Mother Africa.” In the end, three of the five objects in that section of the exhibition offer information about her importance and invite the visitor to think about the ways in which all of Africa is connected. As a room that tries to represent the many nations and ethnicities of the continent of Africa instead of a single country, the Queen Mother offers ways to think about African diaspora as part of a historical narrative.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Dr. Proctor in the Rotunda.

     

    Student journal: Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room

    Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room 

    Abby Brady, 6 December 2017
     

    Over the course of the semester, I have focused on objects and documents from the archives of the African Heritage Room. I chose a letter from art historian Rosalind Jeffries addressed to Professor Laurence Glasco of the University of Pittsburgh History Department. The letter outlines the broad goals of committee members to represent a boundless and collective African identity. What struck me most about this letter was the comprehensive research and conscious effort to showcase an archetypal African self—one that extends beyond borders of country and continent. Looming over me, however, was the understanding that there were many difficulties inherent in the formation of the only Room representing an entire continent, rather than an individual country. 

     

    Just before Thanksgiving, our class had a special meeting with Dr. Ralph Proctor, Professor of Ethnic and Diversity Studies at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). I was intrigued by this opportunity because I knew he was going to confront the blatant issues that developed in the planning of the African Heritage Room. Dr. Proctor began the discussion detailing personal stories from his time as a Pitt student and professor. Although today Pittsburgh is often thought of a progressive and diverse city, the University itself did not become truly inclusive of women and minorities until they were pushed to do so during sit-ins in the 1970s. The short glimpses into Pitt’s history helped introduce students to the environment in which talks of the creation of an African Heritage Room developed. Dr. Proctor was a member of the original committee, but could not bring himself to support a plan that aimed to represent the 52 distinct countries in Africa in a single space. In addition, he was worried that the concept would insult various ethnic groups that would not be able to relate to the space that was so ambitiously curated. 

     

    Through humor, Dr. Proctor expanded on concerns he had during his time as a committee member, and after the fact, when he was consulted for his expertise in the area of Africa and African art. Whether it was the lack of wood, the overly specific design, or the fact that the space did not represent the African American community of Pittsburgh, Dr. Proctor lamented problems that could have been avoided if there were highly qualified historians and scholars involved during the planning process, or if the African Heritage Room were divided into spaces dedicated to individual countries. However, his explanation of the problematic use of the words ‘art’ and ‘artifact’ in relation to African objects stuck out to me the most. Through a Western lens, ignorance and misunderstanding often take over when dealing with African objects. While Dr. Proctor offered funny stories about having to explain to experts in the field of African studies that their artwork was hanging upside down, I think it is valuable to reflect on how this blurry lens impacted the resulting African Heritage Room. 

     

    After spending the semester investigating archival material and learning more about the formation of the African Heritage Room, I think the flaws that have been addressed and recognized are what make this Room an important place of contemplation and learning. I believe that other planning groups have faced similar difficulties in how to best represent the essence of a country, but because the African Heritage Room is intended to sufficiently exemplify an entire continent, as well as a difficult history of enslavement and trans-Atlantic diaspora, the issues are

    amplified and particularly prone to criticism. The invaluable opportunity to hear Dr. Proctor speak about his experience with the Nationality Rooms enhanced my knowledge of a space that I had previously only understood through documents and artifacts that I had encountered on my own. His playful banter and engaging storytelling abilities encouraged me to further contemplate the identities, culture, art, and history brought to life in the African Heritage Room. 

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Photograph of the map
     

    Student journal: Put a Pin in it

    Morgan Benner
     
    The gallery opening has come and gone and the exhibition has been open to the public for several weeks now. Everything went over very smoothly, which I’m sure was a relief for everyone. If there is one thing I have been keeping an eye on, however, it is the interactive map in the rotunda. The main concern I had was whether visitors would actually be willing to participate or not. Would we come back to it in a few weeks with only a few pins scattered here and there?

    The purpose of the map is to allow visitors to engage with the broader ideas of the exhibit by placing a few pins in the places they identify with. We decided to hang both a world map and US map, to allow for people to pinpoint their hometown in the US. The students involved in the exhibition were all given silver-headed pins and we placed them on the map a few hours before the opening. It was almost like the finishing touch to the exhibit. 

    During the gallery opening, I watched the map closely to see if anyone was using it. I was delighted to see guests gathering in small groups, discussing where they were putting their pin and why. The map became a real discussion point, which was wonderful to watch and be part of.

    I have checked in on the map a few times since the opening and the number of pins on it is more than I had even hoped for. There is a concentration around Pittsburgh, as I suspected would happen, but there are also pins spread around the world. There are many pins around China, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia that I did not expect. The map has been a great way to show our city’s diversity. It’s been a really exciting thing to watch, and I’m overjoyed that visitors seem just as excited about it as I am.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Figure 2: Wooden beam being brought to the English Room, view from outside the Cathedral of Learning

     

    Student Journal: Mistaken Idenity of a Photograph

    Darcy Foster, 14 November 2017

    The Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Identity and Immigration in Pittsburgh exhibit is the result of the careful work of about thirty students throughout two months. However, no matter how carefully plans are laid, they often go awry anyway. Working as a member of the visual knowledge team, which was responsible for curating in the front gallery, I picked a photograph of six men carrying a beam through the window of the English Room (Fig. 1). I found the photograph interesting because it shows the progress the room made. This is especially evident because it is juxtaposed with the Wratten & Godfrey architectural drawings for the English Room, which are in a display case underneath the photograph. The drawings show the original vision for the room, which evolved greatly by the time it was made. When I submitted a loan request to include a scan of the photograph in the exhibition, there were multiple photographs that fit the description on the request. A similar photograph to the one I requested (Fig. 2) showed up at the exhibition, but it was not the correct one. It did not show the inside of the English Room, but the scan (Fig. 2) instead was shot from the outside of the Cathedral of Learning, so Heinz Memorial Chapel is visible in the background. Heinz Chapel was dedicated in 1938, and the English Room was dedicated in 1952 after construction was postponed during the World War II. Heinz Chapel is such a staple on campus today that it is interesting to look at it in this perspective. The English Room was at the start of construction, and so in the picture, Heinz Chapel is at most about a decade old. It would have been considered a very new building.

    Originally, I chose the photograph of the inside of the classroom (Fig.1) because it showed the interior of the English Room before it was transformed into the way the room looks
    today. The brick interior in the photograph is also a surprising contrast to the inside of the Cathedral of Learning. The brick of the English Room would eventually be covered by paneling that was one of the gifts from the British government to the English Room committee after the House of Commons in London was bombed in 1941. A theme of conflict was eminent in the visual knowledge group’s front gallery because many of the Nationality Rooms were created in response to conflict.

    The University Library System, who provided the scans, was able to send the original photograph (Fig. 1) that I chose, so we decided to keep the extra scan (Fig. 2), which featured the same beam being passed through the English Room window. I adjusted my label to incorporate both scans, but it was actually a blessing that the wrong scan had been sent to us.  Due to the fact that the photographs are exhibited in the front gallery, there is a direct tie to another part of the space: a timeline (Fig. 3). The timeline is broken into three different lines, and each one shows events that have occurred since the founding of the university. The lines from top to bottom represent events in the histories of the university, the Nationality Rooms, and the world in general. The visual knowledge group included events that affected each other to see how the Rooms have developed and been shaped over time. The addition of my second and accidental photograph allowed me to show the many different projects going on at the time and the quick expansion of the university’s properties. Previously, I had only connected the original photograph with world conflict (World War II), but this accident helped me to relate the photographs even more to our exhibit and to the growth of the university.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: Hard Work Pays Off

    Geoff Mansfield, 21 November 2017
     
    Looking back through the previous two months from the start of the planning, into the late installation phases of the exhibition, I started to visualize things slowly coming together from the design stage transitioning into a physical sense.  From the start of the project, everyone was designated with a specific role to contribute in the show. These were implemented through three planning groups, each responsible for a separate room of the exhibition, and four working groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of making the exhibition.  Everyone in the class was assigned to one planning group and one working group, although some took on greater roles intermixing to help accomplish the project. In total throughout the semester there were seven groups, and we all worked together as a team to get everything done to meet the deadlines. This required participation in each part of the learning experience throughout the process from the conception of ideas, the selection of objects, themes, titles, installation, and most rewarding, the opening on the evening of November 9th. My personal favorite learning experience of the exhibit was learning how to measure foot candles, or light intensity. This was critical in displaying the Andrey Avinoff Nationality Room Watercolors as they have to be kept under no more than a measure of five foot candles to limit damage from the lighting. 

    The greatest challenge was keeping the flow between the rooms while still differentiating between the major themes of “visual knowledge”, “identity”, and “sacred space.” Some intermingling between objects selected for different themes had to take place in order to fit everything within the spatial restrictions of the University Art Gallery. The idea was to communicate how these objects represent not only the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, but also the bigger themes of immigration, and identity in the history of Pittsburgh. In the final days, it was rewarding to see the concluding elements bring this representation of Pittsburgh diversity together in a definitive form. I was exceptionally pleased with the way the exhibit merged together and the high turnout of the opening. It has been an honor be part of this project where the class came together as a team in order to create something that was truly special, giving the chance for others to appreciate the exhibit and not only to represent the University of Pittsburgh, but to help bring Pittsburgh together as a whole collectively.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

Pages