Academic Interns

  • Presenting my research to the Education Department staff at the end of the semester

     

    Finding “Museum Joy” at the 57th Carnegie International

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2019

    "The whole room is filled with joy!” was just one of thousands of comments made by visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Art’s 57th Carnegie International. As an intern at the museum this semester, I was tasked with reading and analyzing these comments as reported by Gallery Ambassadors, who were present in the museum’s galleries to provide clarification and conversation for museum visitors. Evaluating these comments gave me a better understanding of how visitors’ experiences reflected engagement with the artwork, education, and positive change.

    The artists whose work I focused on most closely were Alex da Corte, Art Labor, Jessi Reaves, Post Commodity, and Tacita Dean. Each of these exhibits provided museum visitors with the opportunity to immerse themselves in artwork: one visitor to Alex Da Corte’s Rubber Pencil Devil stated that they “like[d] it because you really get drawn into it,” and another expressed that “I needed to get lost in some art today, and this did that for me.” Other works, especially Art Labor’s, enabled visitors to learn something new: few visitors were familiar with Vietnamese coffee culture, and more than one visitor stated that they “had no idea Vietnam had such a huge coffee industry.” Visitors to Jessi Reaves’ works expressed joy at being able to touch and sit on the art, and many who experienced local jazz musicians interpreting Post Commodity’s work had not previously seen art and music combined. Finally, much of the artwork sparked emotion in visitors, with many feeling nostalgic from Alex da Corte’s references to Mr. Rogers and others recalling their own experiences in Vietnam after experiencing Art Labor’s Vietnamese hammock cafè. While certain visitor comments reflected frustration with the exhibition’s use of The Guide instead of wall labels, and others revealed hesitation to engage with contemporary art, the vast majority of visitors seemed to like this year’s International better than any other exhibition they had experienced previously. Above all, these visitor comments serve demonstrate that the Carnegie International succeeded in embodying curator Ingrid Schaffner’s vision of sparking “museum joy” in the exhibition’s visitors.

    Prior to completing this internship, I had considered pursuing a career in museum education. Now, I’m more confident that this is the right career path for me, and I have a better understanding of how art can be used to inspire education and engagement for a wide range of museum visitors.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Annie Abernathy visiting Kahlil Robert Irving’s sculpture in Paintings Storage at the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Visualizing Research at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Spring 2019

    The visual is always an art historian’s first resource, and it is difficult to understand an artist’s practice without seeing their artwork firsthand. However, this semester, I researched thirty artists, basing much of my understanding on written source material alone. 

    In my internship at the Carnegie Museum of Art this spring, I conducted preliminary research for an upcoming exhibition concerning art and economic inequality. I had the privilege of working with Eric Crosby, Acting Co-Director and Senior Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art, and Hannah Turpin, curatorial assistant for Modern and Contemporary Art and Photography. In my research, I found many descriptions of artist’s work and photographs, but these can’t compare with seeing the work in person. With every review of an artist’s gallery show, I became frustrated that I didn’t have the same personal experience of the work. This pattern became especially disheartening with sculptures.

    Kahlil Robert Irving was a turning point in the semester. He is a sculptor who uses clay to think about black identity and the history of ceramics. He uses molds of nineteenth-century forms to reference European fetishization of porcelain. Next to these vases, he piles ceramic fast-food containers, soda bottles, and newspapers. In reading about his artistic practice, I felt that I needed to view one of his intricate sculptures in the round to get a sense of its layers of meaning. This time, I got lucky. The Carnegie Museum of Art had recently acquired a work by Kahlil Robert Irving, and I had the incredibly special opportunity to visit it as part of my research. 

    Rachel Delphia, the curator of Decorative Arts & Design, and Elizabeth Tufts-Brown, one of the museum’s registrars, took me to see the sculpture in Painting Storage. In my research before this visit, I was able to get an overall sense of what his sculptures were like, but in person, I saw the fine cracks in the porcelain and the shimmer of the glaze. I was also able to gain a better understanding of his process of making these art pieces as Rachel Delphia explained to me the different firing temperatures of the clay and the technique that Irving used to transfer photographic elements onto the sculpture. 

    Because of this visit to storage, I was able to better describe Irving’s artistic practice. It also made me more aware of the challenging process of exhibition-making and research. Oftentimes, you don’t necessarily have access to a work of art when making curatorial decisions, so when you do, it makes you that much more aware of the physical and material demands of art. In storage, the objectness of the art is more clear, separated from its vulnerability and timelessness in a gallery space-- making visible the multiple iterations of art as it moves from space to space.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    United Steelworkers of America Patch from the Rivers of Steel Archives

     

    A Thing of Shreds and Patches: Exhibition Making at Rivers of Steel Arts

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel Arts – Spring 2019

    Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) is an organization which connects Pittsburgh communities to their cultural and economic heritage, wrought from the booming industrialization of the 19th century. Through a dedication to conserving and interpreting local history, RoSA fosters compelling opportunities for visitors to experience the area’s past steeped in the steel industry. Held in the Rivers of Steel Archives are a plethora of materials showcasing the history of the steel industry, its workers, founders, the labor movements, and the cultural history of Pittsburgh itself. 

    At the beginning of my internship, I was tasked with familiarizing myself with the objects held in the RoSA archives by my supervisor, Director and Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis. From there, I was to study these materials and formulate a narrative for a forthcoming exhibition display case to be shown in Fall 2019. My appreciation of the area’s cultural legacy was bolstered through my hands-on work done in the archives; it was amazing to work so closely, so personally, with the objects of local history – many of which held an amazing aesthetic value. Even the most seemingly mundane of objects were striking in their artistic, historical qualities. 

    After coming into contact with numerous objects from the Pittsburgh steel age, I decided to center my exhibition narrative around art in steel. Specifically, I titled it, Art and Design in the Steel Industry. The dramatic beauty of the mills and the intricate details given to materials such as pins, cups, and letters were not lost on me. These objects informed me of a larger artistic movement within the steel industry that is often unnoticed. The design of publications and documents often affirms this stance, with their futuristic, minimalistic, and geometric graphic compositions. 

    I greatly value the information I gleaned in the RoSA archives, and from the countless hours of object research guided by Archivist Melanie Root. I am thankful for my newfound appreciation for the artistic initiatives taken by the working, industrial class of the Pittsburgh area. These works of high aesthetic value and consideration further cement the steel industries’ transformative, dynamic nature. 

    In terms of my career, this internship has allowed me to directly pursue my museological interests and gain experience in the field itself. My involvement at RoSA has inspired my appreciation of esoteric art – I can more easily find beauty in the mundane and in the “untraditionally” artistic. I feel a renewed commitment to revealing the beauty of working class art and design to the rest of the world.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Cross-referencing Reflections of Greatness with object labels

     

    Egypt on the Nile: Conceptualizing a Database

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2019

    As an anthropology major, I never expected to find myself sitting at a desk in the Paleontology Department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). It is rather curious that the offices of both the Anthropocene and Anthropology are housed alongside invertebrate and vertebrate paleontology, but the dynamics of these interdepartmental relationship seems to bolster, rather than hinder, academic and research pursuits. 

    During my time at my borrowed paleontology desk, I undertook a database project in which I compiled object data into an accessible and adaptable spreadsheet. This Excel spreadsheet was then data merged with InDesign to create usable object cover sheets for refining the Egyptian collection in preparation for the new Egypt on the Nile exhibition. The commencement of my internship with Joint Assistant Curator of Science and Research Dr. Erin Peters began in early January at the Egypt on the Nile: Advisory Team Meeting, a two-day National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) workshop. I had the privilege of networking with museum professionals both internal and external to the CMNH. 

    The scope of my database actually changed over the course of the semester, beginning with a much more comprehensive list that included more detailed object data. This endeavor proved to be too great of an effort to finish in its entirety before the NEH submission deadline. Instead, Dr. Peters and I coordinated a scaled-down version of the spreadsheet with information most relevant to the immediate stage of exhibition planning.

    This change of course proved to be most significant in terms of personal development. I was struggling to conceptualize the scope of the project, and I felt despondent that the work I was doing was futile. I felt that I was recopying an already existing database, when in fact the database infrastructure for refining specific object data variables did not exist. Dr. Peters proved to be an invaluable resource throughout the semester. From disclosing the challenges of the museum profession to a naïve museum studies student to relating shared personal and professional life experiences, Dr. Peters not only revealed to me the realities of the museum profession, but she also reinvigorated my interest and passion in my internship project and my museum studies program. Although my acquaintance with Dr. Peters has been brief, I feel that I have learned invaluable lessons from my internship with her.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Myself (at right) with Mellon Fellow and PhD student Emily Mazzola (at left) examining preliminary sketches and drafts of presidential china designs (specifically the Clinton/200th White House Anniversary china set) at the Detre Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center

     

    The Taste of the Nation: Lenox Chinaware

    Museum Studies Intern with the AW Mellon Fellowship research project – Spring 2019

    When local glassware and porcelain manufacturer Lenox Inc. closed its doors in 2002, the Senator John Heinz History Center received all their archival and design materials. Boxes filled with papers ranging from sketches to memos to product catalogues are now available at the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives. Lenox acquired the Bryce Brothers company in the 1965 and through this merger began creating both porcelain dinnerware and glass and stemware. The sketches of both glass and porcelain designs reveal much about the design process, as do the internal memos, but perhaps some of the most interesting pieces from the collection were the bits of local advertisement across their history that were saved in manila folders by the company. 

    How Lenox sought to reel in their Pittsburgh clientele and the ways in they marketed to the public are very telling of both their products and market audience. As Lenox had been given the opportunity to provide their services for several US Presidents and Vice Presidents from the early twentieth century to the present, the Mount Pleasant based company fancied itself an important player in international diplomacy, and would frequently use the opportunity to make the public aware of this through their marketing. As an intern through Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh aiding the creation of an online exhibition exploring Lenox’s presidential china and stemware, one of my tasks was to discover local press that mentioned their presidential contribution. In my research with digitized newspapers, I discovered an ad from a clipping within a Joseph Horne department store advertisement in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from May of 1925 that describes Lenox China as “one of the world’s finest achievements in Chinaware,” and President Woodrow Wilson’s selection of 17,000 pieces of Lenox China for his White House as a “fine tribute and an indication of the high standard of Lenox.” This advertisement was one of the first of many instances of their promotion of their relationship with the White House and other dignitaries. 

    Frequently seen alongside such self-descriptors as “fine,” “bone white,” and “hand-crafted,” Lenox prided itself on its “all-American” manufacturing and artisan-based design. Targeting upper and upper-middle class families in the Pittsburgh area, their advertisements emphasized this state relationship also through promoting their replications of presidential china that were reimagined and sold to the public. This way, the Pittsburgh family could partake in their own homes in the dining of the American political aristocracy. Lenox would frequently host elaborate production displays and demonstrations in Pittsburgh department stores to further engage with the public in their marketing attempts. The way in which brands utilize sociopolitical trends to market their products is a topic of great interest to me that I hope to explore while completing my Masters at the University of Brighton in the History of Design and Material Culture. My engagement with the Detre Archives encouraged that interest and helped me to gain experience utilizing archival materials to craft curatorial narratives in this subject area.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Dinosaurs, Dead Fish, and a Paleontologist Named Pop

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2019

    Millions of years have passed since the age of the dinosaur, but their reputation as some of the world’s fiercest and most awesome creatures lives on. Preserving and uncovering the legacy of these and other extinct life forms is the primary job of paleontologists as they pull back the shroud of time on these extraordinary species and the long-lost worlds they inhabited. In the Section of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I was granted a hands-on opportunity to help preserve spectacular fossils and to further illuminate the history of scientific discovery.

    This semester, I worked under the supervision of Dr. Matthew Lamanna, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology, and Linsly Church, Curatorial Assistant in Vertebrate Paleontology, with my work allocated into two main projects. The first involved scanning and transcribing decades-old curatorial documents, whereas the second entailed conducting conservation work on fossils. Although both tasks seemed straightforward at first, little did I know that, in the process of conducting them, I would delve into a captivating and sometimes bizarre world that included socks full of invertebrate fossils lost on a German mountainside and a 1940s scientist’s wife’s threat to cut off the cookie supply for the entirety of an expedition into the Montana badlands. These stories and many more come from my time spent in Vertebrate Paleontology.

    My first assignment was to scan, transcribe, and preserve archived correspondence dating from the 1930s to the early 1960s, a time when Vertebrate Paleontology at the Carnegie Museum was spearheaded by curator J. LeRoy (aka “Pop”) Kay. I would come to learn the significance of this period as I gradually read and transcribed hundreds of documents. Amazing stories would come from these documents, including the ones about “rocks” in socks and a cut in the cookie supply as mentioned before. Most importantly during the Pop Kay era, however, would be the renovation of the museum’s exhibition halls, making way for important expeditions and collections, such as the acquisition (in early 1941) of the original skeleton of the infamous dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered. 

    My second assignment taught me the valuable lesson of being able to adapt to constantly changing conditions. It began with the conservation of middle Eocene-aged (~50 million-year-old) fossil fishes from a paleontological site known as Monte Bolca in Italy. Under Church’s guidance, I learned how to clean, repair, and build storage mounts for fossils. What made the work interesting was that, although these fishes are tens of millions of years old, the job was never at a standstill. Over the course of my internship, I also learned about the materials used to make molds and casts of fossils, the difference between a genus and a species, and how to analyze bones recovered from the field in a laboratory environment. 

    As the semester came to a close, I began reflecting on my own connections to the legacy of dinosaurs. To paleontologists, evolutionary relationships, fascinating anatomy, and the geological history of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures are what makes the study of these ancient beasts worthwhile. The endless stories from the Pop Kay era, the current Vertebrate Paleontology staff’s reminiscences of their equally tasking and rewarding expeditions, and a future career path are what dinosaurs have come to mean to me.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    A photo from Kuntu’s performance of Shakin' the Mess Outta Misery

     

    Representing History with Pitt Archives and Special Collections

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System – Spring 2019

    Kuntu Repertory Theatre (KRT) was a Pittsburgh-based theatre company dedicated to highlighting the voices and abilities of black theatre professionals. The company was founded by Dr. Vernell Lillie in 1974 and was associated with Pitt (though not directly part of the university’s theatre department). Throughout their 39 year run, KRT put on over 300 productions-- many of which were new works. Dr. Lillie worked with writers like Rob Penny and August Wilson in order to see theatre in a more diverse light.

    During my internship with Pitt’s Archives and Special Collections department, I worked with the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Collection. Under the guidance of the Kuntu Repertory Theatre Project Archivist, Megan Massanelli, I helped organize different aspects of Kuntu’s archives. When my internship began, I focused on video recordings. In preparation for the possible digitization of Kuntu’s video archives, I watched a number of videos taking note of their content, quality, and run-time. This was a highly engaging process—especially because of the films visual qualities. I also had the opportunity to watch full performances of shows and rehearsals. One of the most interesting performances I watched was the creation of a psychodrama within a classroom. Psychodramas were events that Dr. Lillie specialized in creating. They were smaller performances where people act out distressing events from their lives. I had never previously experienced a psychodrama, and while it deeply personal, it was also incredibly fascinating.

    After working with VHS tapes, I moved on to Kuntu’s archival photographs, organizing and identifying them. As part of this process I learn a great amount about the different productions Kuntu produced throughout almost four decades. I have been going through unidentified photos, and cross-referencing them in order to identify, label, and file the photos into a box. This process included using Documenting Pitt, an online repository for historical documents from the University of Pittsburgh to view old articles, look at scenic design renderings, and researching various things about different productions (plot, character descriptions, setting, etc). Using these methods has, on many occasions, allowed me to identify a photo (and also feel a bit like a detective). Most recently, I discovered a play title by cross-referencing programs and scenic design renderings.

    Looking at these photos has been eye opening in a different manner than the videos. While I did see many interesting photos of productions, there are also many photos of people just enjoying each other’s company. It was very special to see theatre representative of Pittsburgh’s black performance community captured on camera (often with a polaroid). While I have spent the entirety of my college career in performance, this experience has taught me the most about black theatre.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Learning of the Local and the Global in the Art Gallery

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2019

    My semester-long internship with the University Art Gallery promised from the start to be an exciting opportunity to expand my passion for audio-visual exhibition. The task was to assist with technological arrangements for an exhibition of Chinese video works being curated by Graduate Student Assistant Ellen Larson and set to open in the fall of 2019. The video technology aspect was mostly familiar territory for me, as I frequently organize pop-up microcinema events, which have afforded me with substantial experience in planning the logistics of presenting moving images in various formats. It was the geographic focus of the exhibition that mostly piqued my interest, as my knowledge of contemporary Chinese cinema was limited. As a cinephile who constantly endeavors to push my understanding of the medium and to foster a diverse knowledge base, this was one particular knowledge gap that I was eager to narrow.

    The perspective shift from understanding the world through the art of residents of a country foreign to my own was a welcome aspect of the internship. What I did not anticipate that my work with the UAG would encourage, however, was a different understanding of the gallery settings that were already so familiar and close to home. As the semester progressed, I was delighted to find that, in addition to a steady diet of contemporary Chinese film and video works, I was also offered opportunites to consider gallery exhibition practice beyond my familiar territory of audio-visual needs. It was often precisely in the areas where expectations were not met that I encountered the most enlightening learning experiences.

    Early in the semester, I had devised lists of equipment necessary to display each work selected for the exhibition. Moreover, I learned to use SketchUp software to create visualizations of each installation. The setups were generally straightforward -- display and playback devices, speakers, and various connecting cables -- though it was not until Ellen and I had the equipment in hand and completed a dry-run of the first setup that I began to understand some of the minutiae of exhibition planning for the gallery setting. With the installation assembled, I considered aesthetic details as precise as color and positioning of extension cords and other wires. 

    Although such elements seemed inconsequential at the SketchUp stage, seeing the installations progress from visualization to realization allowed me to understand the importance of such diminutive details to the overall aesthetic of each piece.  It also allowed me to more fully appreciate the labor that takes place within exhibition spaces. In this way, my internship with the University Art Gallery has provided a new way of seeing not just at the global level through a newfound appreciation for contemporary Chinese audio-visual culture, but also right here in Pittsburgh, since no gallery visit will ever be quite the same for me again.

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Looking at Icons in Visible Storage

     

    Finding Stories at the Heinz History Center

    Museum Studies Intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center – Spring 2019

    Through the course of my internship at the Senator John Heinz History Center I had many experiences which helped me understand museum work better. I was an intern in the curatorial department under Senior Curator Leslie Przybylek and conducted research to help expand the museum’s body of knowledge. I had two great experiences which really shaped and changed my expectations and goals of working in a museum setting. Under the guidance of Ms. Przybylek, I found that what I really wanted to do was tell stories. And what better way to do that than to go and find them yourself?

    My two areas of research throughout the internship were Skiing and Eastern Orthodox Christianity. I focused on the Pittsburgh area and mainly focused on the 1900s. I learned so much about Eastern Orthodox Christianity that I hadn’t known before doing this internship. I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a service at St. Nicholas Church in McKees Rocks. It was when I went here and listened to the service and talked with congregation members afterwards, that I wanted to do something more than simply interacting with icons in the collections. Objects are awesome and I love learning about them, but to me the story behind them and the people who interacted with them are the real gems of the collections at the Heinz History Center.

    The research that went in to skiing was a little different. Unfortunately, I could not go on any big downhill skiing adventures, though I was invited on an outing. No hills? No problem! Nordic Skiing, or Cross-Country Skiing, is a great alternative when there aren’t any convenient mountains. I received a great lesson about Nordic Skiing from Rick Garstka, the former president of the Pennsylvania Association of Cross-Country Skiing. I learned from Mr. Garstka that the wax on the middle part of the skis actually grips the snow so that you can propel yourself forward. It’s great for all ages and a wonderful way to stay in shape during the winter months!

    During my research I also came across a lovely article in the Pittsburgh Press from 1935. Aleen Westein had some advice on what to do with unused ski equipment including using it to ward of intruders in the night! Some other good tidbits include wearing ski pants to make unwanted guests leave early and transforming ski poles into a lamp.

    Throughout my internship I loved meeting new people and learning about their experiences. The ability of curators to not only collect objects but tell a story that might otherwise remain unshared is something I greatly admire and hope that I can one day do myself.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • William Mayer in the Anthropocene Living Room.

     

    Changing the Museum Experience Through the Anthropocene

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2019

    You probably have a certain expectation of what a natural history museum looks like. You would expect to see cases with filled with old dinosaur bones, taxidermic animals and dioramas. Perusing through museum exhibits of this nature, you might be surprised to come across a space full of couches and chairs, with books or news articles, in which to sit down and read. Not only that, but also a space dedicated to humans and nature in a largely modern context.

    The Anthropocene Living Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is such a space. A new addition to CMNH, the Living Room was designed to continue to communicate and engage visitors in information about the Anthropocene and reinterpret humanity as a working part of nature following the museum’s prior special exhibition on the topic, We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is the current geological age in which we live, defined by the impact which humans have had on nature and the global environment, dealing with issues from climate change to nuclear fallout. This certainly feels like a new topic in a natural history museum, in addition to its non-traditional design. Over the course of my internship at CMNH under the advisement of Dr. Nicole Heller, Curator of the Anthropocene, I have been working to evaluate visitor interaction with and reception to this experimental new type of museum space.

    I have done a combination of survey work and observational data collection over the course of several weeks, and in my analysis, I have found positive results. Overwhelmingly, museum goers are interested in the Anthropocene. Around 70-80% of survey takers judged the Anthropocene as being relevant, both to natural history and to themselves personally, and they indicated that they are interested in learning more about it. Furthermore, visitors who have been in The Anthropocene Living Room or went to We Are Nature agreed even more so that the Anthropocene as a topic was personally relevant to them than the general populace of museumgoers. Not only that, but a sizable proportion of museum visitors is willing to, and even want to, spend time sitting down and reading books at the museum. Over half of those observed sat down in the couches or chairs in the space, and a third of all visitors engaged with reading material available to them.

    My experience working at the CMNH has been particularly enlightening for me. The Anthropocene Living Room and the Anthropocene at large provide a new perspective into the museum-visitor relationship and moving forward I hope that the work that I have done helps in developing an understanding of efficacy in the design of museum spaces.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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