Academic Interns

  • Joanna Harlacher and Dr. Chase Mendenhall, Assistant Curator, Birds with the Guerilla Girl’s Posters Featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Women Behaving Badly (in Science) Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History–Fall 2019

    This semester, I had the opportunity to intern as the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as a research assistant for an upcoming exhibition on gender in the natural world. I was charged with the task of finding novel objects that would potentially be featured in the exhibition. Working with my mentor, Chase Mendenhall, I was able to identify several pieces that I deemed related to the exhibition theme. This opportunity was beneficial as I was able to witness the process of exhibition development. I also gained knowledge about the cultural sector and positions in the museum field. In the future, I would like to pursue an occupation in relation to curation. Therefore, this exposure was invaluable.

    Many parts of the exhibit will include feminist critiques about why and how science ignored and excluded many people and ideas on the basis of their gender. When researching, I was inspired by the artist collective the Guerrilla Girl’s revolutionary approach to revealing inequalities, specifically inside the museum, including the posters on view in the Carnegie Museum of Art.  We wondered what might happen if the Guerilla Girls moved into natural history spaces to highlight gender biases. It occurred to me that we could highlight female scientists in this same style. Specifically, I want to highlight women who are “behaving badly” in scientific fields. Through this internship I proposed to dedicate space in the exhibit to feature women how had faced forms of gendered backlash in the sciences including Joan Roughgarden, Lynn Margulis, and Jane Goodall. Joan Roughgarden is an American ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has critiqued Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. Lynn Margulis was a biologist whose serial endosymbiotic theory (SET) of eukaryotic cell development revolutionized modern understandings of the origin of life. Jane Goodall is a primatologist and anthropologist who has made great strides towards understanding social relationships of Chimpanzees and discovered that Chimpanzees can make and use tools. sexualization and misgendering, I would like the Guerrilla Girls to contribute content to shine a spotlight on these mistreated figures. With the help of my mentor, I developed a proposal letter to the artists in hopes of a collaboration.

    Aside from this initiative, I developed several other exhibition concepts and objects related to the overarching theme. This internship has helped me to grow not only academically, but personally as I gained new insight on relevant issues. I am enthusiastic about the future development of this project and I am grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Mendenhall.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Myself examining a personal letter of Dr. Haas prior to translating it from German to English at the archives of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation

     

    The Search for a Missing Dialogue: The Life of Botanist Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas

    Museum Studies Intern at Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation - Fall 2019

     

    Botany can pertain to more than the study of plants—researching botany can also provide a lesson in not only history and geography but an intimate insight on how one looks at the world. The Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation houses boxes of letters written to and from Dr. Theodor Philipp Haas, personal photographs of his, and unpublished research. Haas was a well-respected botanist in Munich whose many accomplishments in botany were distinguished by his travels and remarkable experience as a Jewish scientist escaping the rise of the Nazi Regime. As an intern, my role was to translate and research as well as provide contextual footnotes in order to fill gaps in the personal history contained in Haas’s archives. Working with these documents required reading in both German and French. Some of the German documents are handwritten in Sütterlin, a form of traditional German handwriting that has not been traditionally taught since the second half of the nineteenth century. During my internship, I applied my knowledge of language and my ability to read and comprehend Sütterlin, while also diving into botany, a study previously foreign to me.

     

    Though imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp, Haas was released after six weeks because of the visa he obtained before his imprisonment. Haas was placed on the List of Displaced German Scholars, a list composed of prominent scholars who were threatened by the Nazi regime in 1933. The list aimed to help scholars leave Europe and continue their work in a country not threatened by the Nazi Party. Haas left for the United States and ultimately received a position at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, becoming a well-known figure in botany.

     

    This was just one aspect of Haas’s life that I learned about in my internship. His notes and letters provide a raw account of his story and trips he made while fleeing Germany through Asia — specifically Kobe, Japan, which was not a common port to the United States for Western Europe — before entering through San Francisco. His documents provide an intimate glimpse into a man’s life and love for plants that often were a lifeline for Haas to find hope and meaning for all the pain and loss he endured. Through his descriptions of not only the plants he would study but his travels as well, it became clear that botany was his way to not only identify with the changing world around him but remain true to his past and identity.

     

    Working directly with the material I am translating in the archives, and closely with the documents I have received access from the Arolsen Archives in Germany as well as multiple archives and academic institutions Haas was affiliated with in Munich, I am able to help fill in missing pieces in his life trajectory, and help the public better understand Haas not as a botanist but as a human being.

     

     

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • In the stacks of the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center
     

    Uncovering the History of the Local Art and Music Scene

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

    As an intern at the Detre Library and Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center, I had the rewarding opportunity this semester to contribute to preserving the history of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. The Detre Library and Archives has an expansive number of collections from families, businesses, artists, and events from throughout Pittsburgh’s History. My job as an intern was to process a handful of collections. This included organizing and researching the materials in the collections, as well as creating finding aids and catalogue entries for them. Most of the collections I processed involved cultural spaces in Pittsburgh, such as live music venues and art galleries. I felt that my research revealed a lot to me about Pittsburgh’s history and culture, and I found a new appreciation of my community because of my work. 

    Delving into aspects of Pittsburgh’s history that I did not know much about was one of my favorite parts of this internship. Two of the collections I processed had material on the Pittsburgh music scene from the 1970s to 2000. Through one collection on a Pittsburgh-based band called The Damaged Pies, I was surprised to find how many unique opportunities there were for local musicians in Pittsburgh during that time. Through another collection, on a live music venue and bar called The Decade, I was introduced to the unique history of live music venues in Pittsburgh and the local and national acts they attracted. I found these materials really intriguing, and I had the opportunity to write a blog post about these collections for the History Center’s website. 

    The collection I am currently processing is on the Skinny Building, a 5’6 wide building in Downtown Pittsburgh that was used as an art gallery from 2001 to 2007. In organizing the collection, I was drawn into the material on local artists at the time, and their exhibitions at the Skinny Building. This collection, as well as those involving the music scene, gave me a new appreciation for the relationship between artists and the community in Pittsburgh. I’m grateful I had the opportunity study these materials this semester, and I hope that my work can allow others to understand and admire more aspects of their community as well. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    Artist biographies I wrote for the 107th Annual catalogue.
     

    Exhibitions and Archives: My Time Working with Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

    Museum Studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh - Fall 2019

    In the fall of 2019, I had the opportunity to intern with the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP), an organization that has been bringing together artists of the Pittsburgh area for over 100 years. Through the years the AAP has supported and showcased the work of hundreds of distinguished artists including Andy Warhol and Mary Cassatt. As an intern with the AAP I got to research some of these artists in the organization’s archives, as well as assist in the set-up of their most recent exhibition, the 107th Annual, one of the longest running annual exhibitions in the world

    With the upcoming 107th annual happening, many of my duties had to do with exhibition planning. A lot goes into the set-up of this exhibition, which I got to see and experience firsthand. I assisted with membership and PR duties, as well as with the exhibition catalogue. Every year, the organization creates a catalogue to celebrate and record the exhibition and awards, as well as to pay tribute to past members. For this catalogue, I had the opportunity to research and memorialize members of the organization who had passed in the last year by writing brief biographies of them. These were printed in the catalogue and will be read by hundreds who will attend the show. Creating something that would be read by that many people was so exciting and rewarding.

    I had another opportunity to share my work with the public when the AAP was contacted by the Daedalus Foundation. They were asking for information about the abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell and his time in Pittsburgh. Motherwell juried the annual exhibition in 1950 so any information the AAP had on him was stored in the archives of the Heinz History Center or the Carnegie Museum of Art. It was my job to go and visit these places, and search through the 100+ years worth of monthly meeting notes, exhibition catalogs, and scrapbooks for anything I could find on Motherwell. I found quotes in newspaper articles from Motherwell, records of the luncheons members had before the exhibition, mail correspondence between Motherwell and other members, and more. It was great to be able to help out the Daedalus Foundation, and I got to learn about Motherwell and conducting archival research along the way.

    My internship with AAP has been so enlightening. I gained valuable experience in helping set-up an exhibit, conducting archival research, and in helping with the office duties in an artist’s organization.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Standing in the CMOA Library with copies of the printed catalogues of past Carnegie International exhibitions (1896-present)

     

    Women and the Carnegie International

    Women have historically been excluded from museums and positions of power in institutions. Even today, there are countless initiatives to exhibit more women artists in museums. However, looking specifically at the early history of the Carnegie International exhibitions, women were much more included than might be expected for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My internship centered around digitizing catalogues of the paintings featured in past Carnegie International exhibitions. I was surprised that a few female artists’ paintings were accepted in the first Carnegie International because women have historically been excluded from museums. The first few exhibitions featured a handful of women, but as the years went by more and more women had their paintings included in the Carnegie International.

     

    As a part of Pitt’s Fall 2018 class, Inside the Carnegie, my classmates and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the artists included n the 57th Carnegie International as well as the curator of the exhibition, Ingrid Schaffner. Having an inside look behind the making of the exhibition truly helped me to appreciate the amount of meticulous work that goes into curating an exhibition of that size. Not only was it insightful to meet with Schaffner, it was also so thrilling to see a woman curating an exhibition as prolific as the Carnegie International. Looking holistically from the first International to the most recent there is a consistent pattern in female inclusion. It is that inclusion that serves as a general theme throughout the history of the Carnegie. The progression from a few women being showcased in 1896 to a woman curating the entire exhibition shows the growth of the Carnegie Museum and the promise for more women involved in the arts in Pittsburgh.

     

    My experience interning with Akemi May, Assistant Curator of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, and Emily Mirales, Curatorial Assistant of Fine Arts, at the Carnegie Museum of Art was eye opening to say the least. I have gained so many skills from my experience interning at the CMOA. I honed my communication skills by being able to effectively relay my progress in digitizing records. Additionally, I had to be independent as I was responsible for my own progress through the exhibition records. Interning in the Carnegie Museum of Art has taught me to understand the history and appreciate the efforts women have made in the art world.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Omolade and fellow classmate, Erica Hughes, at local artist, Njaimeh Njie’s studio tour.
     

    Community Focus in Art Engagement

    I have always had an interest in how to connect people to art. After taking AP Art History in high school I wanted everyone to feel the things that art made me feel and I wondered how I could do that with different various barriers that make art inaccessible and daunting.

     

    In my first meeting with the Office of Public Art my supervisor, Rachel Klipa, encouraged me to explore what I wanted from this internship and how the Office of Public Art could assist in this. From there I brainstormed with Rachel on how my interests and the mission of the office overlapped. One of the goals of the office is, “to serve as a change agent to increase visibility, relevance, and support for the arts.” I realized how important collaboration is to the office’s work and how partnership fosters a variety of opportunities in the expansion and growth of the art and culture sector. I was drawn to the accessibility aspect of their work. Rachel and I began to imagine what it would look like to get black students in Pittsburgh more involved with art. Each meeting new ideas formed and our notebooks filled with possible ideas and collaborations that catered specifically to young black adults. We decided that it would be useful to collect data and I designed an exit survey to compile data on the impact of black art on black students that I eventually sent through email to students that attended local black art events.

     

    A student that attended a studio tour visit of local Pittsburgh artist, Njaimeh Njie, highlighted in her exit survey the impact black art has made not only in understanding black history and themes but also understanding and navigating her own personal identity and role as a black artist herself. The student reflected that Njie “spoke about wanting to talk to people living in the Hill district but making sure that process is filled with trust and a clarity of intentions. It sparked a question in my mind of what collaboration and solidarity looks like on a public art scale.”

     

    Through this internship I learned how community engagement and collaboration have effect one another. I was able to get first-hand experience in engaging with a specific community and learned how centering what they want and need is the biggest and most important part of community engagement. I was able to be a part of multiple conversations that pushed my thinking in how art connects people and how it also aids in self-discovery at the same time and overall why it is worth the continued effort to connect people to art.

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

    Simone in front of the introductory wall text at Pittsburgh Glass Center’s Cuando El Río Suena exhibition (photo: Dana Laskowski).

     

    Bringing an Exhibition to Life at the Pittsburgh Glass Center

    Museum Studies Intern at Pittsburgh Glass Center - Fall 2019

    During my internship at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC), I was lucky to work on many different projects, from writing press releases to interviewing artists. However, my experience with the Cuando El Río Suena exhibition left the greatest impression on me. Cuando El Río Suena is an immersive show of glass sculptures created by artist Jaime Guerrero that seeks to make the experiences and feelings of immigrants—especially children—crossing the southern US border tangible. I was involved in all aspects of its production, from research and promotion to writing and installing wall text in the gallery. This provided practical experience with the actualities of running an exhibition beyond what can be learned in the classroom and reinforced my interest in curating.

    To me, the most significant part of my work on the exhibition was the text that I wrote for the walls. My supervisor, Marketing Director Paige Ilkhanipour, told me that this is something that would normally be handled by a curator, but trusted parts of it to me. In writing these texts, tried to combine statistical information about the harsh realities of separation, detainment, and even death near the border that I found through research with the more broad emotional narrative Guerrero sought to present with his work. In addition to the wall and label text, quotes and statistics pulled from sources I found are also presented throughout the exhibition. Learning how to merge these facts with the more emotionally provocative elements on display and assisting in the installation of the show made clear to me how curators can create additional layers of depth in an exhibition through the arrangement of works and the textual explanations that surround them.

    Getting Cuando El Río Suena ready was hard work, but the payoff came on opening night when hundreds of visitors viewed the show. People were visibly engaged with the exhibition, taking photos of the sculptures, examining the wall of letters, and reading the wall labels. I felt honored to have been able to contribute to a show that addresses pressing political issues so powerfully. My time as an intern with PGC was invaluable and I am very thankful to everyone for the trust they placed in me and the extent to which they involved me in the show.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    Public Library section in the Holocaust Center where students are welcome to learn in a safe environment. This is where most of my research was done during my time at the center.
     

    Holocaust Center: Looking at Tragedy Through a Local Lens

    Studies Intern at The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh - Fall 2019

     My internship at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh offered me a chance to delve into the deep-rooted history of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community with the guidance of professionals working at the center. The Center gave me the opportunity to gain experience in a new field, along with teaching me the importance of educating the public about a sensitive subject such as the Holocaust. With the help of the Center’s Library and Education Associate Ryan Woodward, I was able to dig into the Center’s extensive archive and library system. My main job was to keep the collection up to date. I conducted research on not only the books and artifacts, but also their context . Much of this included looking through memoirs written about the Holocaust which also allowed me to get familiar with the library’s systems.

     One of the most rewarding jobs I had at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh was working on an upcoming exhibit. The exhibit will showcase personal perspectives on refugees who fled the Holocaust and settled in Pittsburgh. Using primary sources including biographies, interviews, and transcripts, I compiled a list of specific people or families in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community and researched their lives before the Holocaust leading up to their process to come to Pittsburgh while also displaying the lives they set up for themselves in Pittsburgh. This research will be used in the Spring exhibit in cards given to visitors that take them on the step-by-stem journey of individual survivors using the data I collected. This research allowed me to put into perspective the lives of local survivors overcoming oppression to lead a new life in Pittsburgh. I found many instances of these survivors becoming a part of communities that worked to make the immigration process smoother when transitioning to their new life.  By creating an engagement with the history of the Holocaust and viewing it through a local lens I was able to create a connection with injustices that are happening in our own backyard.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A picture of a person sitting at a table and smiling over three books. Two are exhibition catalogs with illustrations, one is an open leather binder.

    Jon with some items he will scan for the digital archive.

     

    Together: The Bonds within Text and Bronze at the Selma Burke Center

    During the Fall semester of 2019, I was a Museum Studies intern under Rebecca Giordano, the Mellon Fellow of Curation and Education here in Pitt’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Rebecca is developing an exhibition examining the works and pedagogy of Selma Burke, a prominent Black artist and educator of the 20th century. My job was to aide Rebecca with preliminary research about Burke and the art school that she founded in Pittsburgh. We worked to describe the relationship between the school and the community it existed in, in the context of Black radical art traditions. For me, this research was done mainly through careful analysis of period newspapers and the creation of a digital archive.

    The Selma Burke Art Center operated at 6118 Penn Circle South in East Liberty from 1971 to 1981. During this time, it provided cheap and accessible arts education – only $1 per class! – to the residents of the city, especially to the Black children of the neighborhood. Hundreds of students came through the Center and even more people visited its extensive galleries and public programs. As we can see in papers like The New Pittsburgh Courier, across its tragically short lifespan, the Center became a key organ of its community. These days, the building it once occupied has evaporated, replaced by the concrete edifice of studio apartments. I have walked through that lot many dozens of times across my college life, unaware of the vital things that happened there.

    What I loved about this research that reading the Courier provided a look into that moment, with all its potential still intact. A newspaper contains more than just dates for events and names of exhibits, but the language and texture of the community the paper exists for. In these archived pages, I learned about how people saw and felt about the Art Center – what shows they got excited for, what they saw in its paintings and prints, and what values they thought art and education had. Research like this exposes the discourse around a subject. The thoughts, motivations, and organizing that grew around the Selma Burke Art Center tell a deep and rich history we can learn much from.

    What I liked best is looking at the paper’s pictures and seeing the proud face of a neighbor. Walking the streets now, I feel like I am retracing their steps, and I don’t walk alone.

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

    Jon working at the Community Plaza in July 2019

     

    Art for Us with Rivers of Steel

    Author: Jon Engel, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Summer 2019

    How can art serve the community it exists in? When it comes to securing grants, the visual arts often promise to act for the public good. What would it like for artists to act for that good more directly? This past summer, I worked with Rivers of Steel Arts (RoSA) to develop a new series of monthly events called Homestead First Fridays. Homestead – a majority Black neighborhood with a median household income of about $25,000 – is an area which the fine arts sector rarely touches, except to buy up its buildings for studios and galleries. As such, our goal with Homestead First Fridays was not just to facilitate art in Homestead, but for Homestead.

    This seems like a timely goal. Just this past summer, the CEO of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust wrote that homeless people Downtown made the area less “safe” and demanded tighter policing on them. To him, the homeless and other “unchecked” elements undid the “reputation and achievements” that the arts brought to the city [1]. Intentionally or not, a clear statement was made. Art, we are to believe, is not “for” the homeless. If anything, it is “against” them. In the context of a gentrifying Pittsburgh and nationwide artwashing, this is a chilling idea. How, then, could Homestead First Fridays do something different?

    We came up with a guiding vision. Every First Fridays event must bring money into Homestead to benefit the neighborhood and/or must be accessible to and oriented towards the residents that live there. From this, First Fridays was born as an evening of indoor and outdoor cultural programming that RoSA developed alongside local businesses, community groups, and artists. Our style was makeshift and guerilla, aiming to bring the event “to the people.” Everything was built on the main street of Eighth Avenue. We transformed the street visually, postering windows, dispensing maps, and wrapping graffiti-style plastic signs around light poles at high traffic intersections. Bars and restaurants held live music outdoors while empty lots and unused storefronts were filled with pop-up art activities.

    To us, the heart of this was our Community Plaza, a lot we populated with tents of vendors, music, and free artmaking demos. This put money in the hands of our neighbors while also empowering Homestead residents to create. Here, art is not something “over there” done by “someone else.” Art is in everything that ordinary people do, from their industrial jobs to their weekend hobbies.

    We also mounted several pop-up exhibitions in nontraditional spaces, such as an abandoned CVS. All were free and featured local practicing artists. I curated a show using this model – Fresh Air: An Ecofuturist Art Show – in a recently closed lawyer’s office. The show was a commentary on local environmental issues and ecosystemic collapse, concerns deeply relevant to the industrially devastated Monongahela River area. With an open door, a DIY aesthetic, and unconventional and interactive pieces, Fresh Air tried to break from the traditional confines of fine art. It encouraged the audience to participate in art and political conversations that have normally excluded and ignored them. Ultimately, this was the goal of First Fridays as a whole.

    My work with Rivers of Steel provided me with formative experiences in event planning, organizational cooperation, and exhibit curation. More importantly, it was an attempt at art that serves its people. What I learned is this: to be radically accessible, art must be free, public, and locally created.

     

     

    [1]. Belko, Mark. “Peduto clashes with Cultural Trust over Downtown safety concerns.” 2 August, 2019. Accessed 28 October, 2019 from post-gazette.com.

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

Pages