Academic Interns

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    Curating Little Steel

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area - Fall 2016

    This past summer, I worked at Rivers of Steel, in Homestead curating an online exhibit called Little Steel. The exhibit documented the lesser-known steel mills in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. When one thinks of Pittsburgh steel, one thinks of companies like Carnegie Steel, US Steel, and Jones & Laughlin. However, there were over four hundred medium-sized and small mills that operated in Western Pennsylvania. These smaller mills competed with the bigger companies by producing high-quality specialty products. Despite the success of some of the smaller mills, US Steel bought many of them at the turn of the twentieth century. I looked through boxes of postcards, archival photographs, ephemera from the steel mills to decide what to include. Moreover, I took advantage of the numerous records digitized and freely available through Google books and Historic Pittsburgh database to find information on the small steel mills. The picture included here is one of the advertisements I found. Looking through old maps and city directories on Historic Pittsburgh, it was interesting to see all the urban redevelopment, especially in the Strip District, and the North Side, both of which were major areas of industry in the first half of the twentieth century. When one visits these parts of the city, one can sometimes see some remnants of industry. Throughout the course of my research, I discovered several previously-unknown steel mills. All in all, I wrote biographies for about fifteen steel mills and accumulated over one hundred photographs and advertisements. As more books like steel industry records become available in the public domain, researchers will be further able to discover and write about the previously-overlooked steel mills that played a vital part in Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

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  • From the Special Collections Department's Walter and Martha Leuba Collection
     

    Making the Archives Accessible: Metadata Collection and Digitization

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Fall 2016       

    For my internship this semester, I worked in the Special Collections Department at Hillman Library to help to facilitate the online accessibility of the Walter and Martha Leuba Collection. The Leuba collection is composed of several hundred original woodcuts, wood engravings, metal cuts, and linoleum cuts, as well as thousands of books. As an art history major, I took on the task of compiling metadata about the woodblock prints, engravings, and lithographs within the collection. The metadata I collected, including the medium of each print, the dimensions, and some biographical information about the artists, will be used to update the archival finding aid. After examining each print, I rehoused the prints into acid-free folders to send them out for digitization, and they will eventually be available for viewing online. I also wrote two blog posts about some of the prints I worked with on the Special Collections Department Tumblr blog, http://pittspecialcollections.tumblr.com. This internship gave me the opportunity to learn more about the archiving side of art history, and I developed some problem solving skills in trying to locate the prints in the library and in trying to keep the prints organized once I found them; in addition to learning how to use an Excel spreadsheet, I taught myself to devise an efficient system of notes in order to keep track of what I was finding, changing, and missing within the collection. The project is not anywhere near done; I picked up where someone else left off and someone will pick up after me, but as a result of our efforts, the collection of prints will eventually be accessible online with images and information about each piece.

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    Women of Carnegie's Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016       

    Located on the second floor of CMNH, adjacent to the North American Wildlife Section, the Hall of Botany seems like a forgotten space by the museum. Initially, I was unsure if I would find a story that genuinely interested me.  I had no idea of the wealth of research avenues that would peak my interests.

    The narrative that I found most engaging was women’s roles in the conception and creation of the dioramas featured in the Botany Hall. In the beginning, I believed that researching the work and lives of these women and writing their biographies would sufficiently tell this story. However, while I was exploring through the abundant archival documents and photographs, I began to realize that there was something larger going on. I quickly learned that by learning about these women’s lives, I was only scratching the surface. The questions that came to mind focused on the subject of botany as a discipline. Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? If so, how did this happen? What happened to the study of botany in academic settings? Has it been labeled as another topic? Other questions related to the subject’s relationship with museums. Why was CMNH neglecting this section? Were other museums doing the same thing? Did this lack of interest relate to gender? I was really seeking to understand these relationships. 

    I think the biggest challenge I have faced so far in this research project is trying to create a coherent narrative that connects the women of CMNH’s Botany Hall to this broader investigation into Botany’s importance in natural history museums and as a discipline general. Through these weeks of research, I have formed many questions but at times forming the connections between these queries seem disjointed or forced. In the coming weeks, I believe that as I continue my research and gather more details I will be able to see the connections that exist. 

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    Midterm Blog Post- Update on Progress

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    After reading only a mere summary of a few possible academic internship opportunities, I really had no idea what to expect when I chose to join an internship that involved working on a digital exhibition of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what my role in this project would be, nor how large of a project this digital exhibition would be. When I first met with PhD candidate, Colleen O’Reilly, one of the two students in charge of creating the idea for the exhibition and curating it through each stage of the process, I was a little overwhelmed when she explained my role in the project. I was told that I could basically contribute any final project to the digital exhibition that I saw suitable after visiting and extensively researching Botany Hall – a site in the museum that mysteriously seems to have little obvious and accessible information available about it to the public. I was generally confused about what Botany Hall was, considering I knew it had been years since I visited the Carnegie Natural History Museum. She explained that the hall contained dioramas of various biomes around the United States.

    After meeting with Colleen and being introduced to the project, I examined Botany Hall on my own using a careful and precise art historical lens and the first thing that really stood out to me was the oddity of the idealistically painted backgrounds in the dioramas. They were made to be illusionistic and to make the three-dimensional objects in the foreground appear to extend into the background painting, giving an overall trompe-l’oeil effect. It seemed so odd that something so subjective like art could be used as an educational tool for something accredited with being so objective like science. At this point I knew my contribution to the digital exhibition would revolve around researching the background paintings and I ultimately decided that I could best contribute to the digital exhibition on the hall through producing an essay and wall text with images.

    Probably the biggest problem that I have had is one that might seem like a positive at first, but I have had the bittersweet problem of finding so much information, whether primary or secondary, to sift through it to ultimately choose what information is relevant. To my advantage in research, individuals that worked on this project previously had digitized a lot of primary sources that were at my disposal, so accessing that information was not as much of a struggle. The only aspect that therefore overwhelmed me were the many angles to pursue in looking at Botany Hall which made it hard to form just one cohesive argument. That one narrowed down argument is something that I am still struggling to define and is always being polished and refined in my process towards materializing my research as a final product.

    A lot of my time has been spent contacting other archives or individuals that would be primary sources regarding Botany Hall as well as researching data bases for secondary sources that hold relevance. The biggest problem I have faced that is both a pro and a con is the large amount of autonomy that I have in setting my own work schedule, research topic, and final product that contributes to the larger picture of a digital exhibition on Botany Hall. At this point in the semester, I have done a lot of research and am now just waiting to meet with other individuals and finalize my ideas for my contributions. For the time being, my research questions are whether art can be considered a legitimate platform for conveying scientific knowledge, and what scientific knowledge can be learned from 2D art paintings in this specific style versus other styles, mediums and media such a 3D crafted objects. I hope to make this a more precise and polished statement as I continue my process.

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    • Dioramas in Context
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    Clayton: The Frick family's Pittsburgh home and our main attraction

     

    An Introduction to Curation: My Semester at The Frick Art Museum

    Museum Studies Intern at The Frick Pittsburgh - Spring 2016

    Remember the first bit of your freshman year of high school when it felt like you couldn't get through the week without another teacher thrusting another aptitude test in your face? I must've taken at least 7 throughout the course of that year, but the only one that mattered was the one whose results introduced me to the word "curator" and claimed I'd be a good one. A google search was done, and about 2 minutes later, I knew what I wanted be when I grew up. Flash forward almost 6 years, and here I am, telling you about my experience as a curatorial intern this past semester. Funny how life works sometimes, right? 

    Since January I have been fortunate enough to intern at the Frick Art and Historical Center in their Art Museum's curatorial department. I've been working under head curator, Sarah Hall, to help prepare and plan for the museum's upcoming exhibition,The Frick Collects, as well as its accompanying publication. The goal of this exhibition is to provide a deeper look into the museum's permanent collection to tell a more complete story of the Frick Collection, and to encourage it's continued growth. To achieve this, the curatorial office has been digging into forgotten corners of storage, and considering how to organize the galleries in order to effectively tell a story through the juxtaposition of objects that may not normally even be in the same building.

    Throughout this process, I have been responsible for creating and updating object files as new objects are added or more information is required of old ones, writing and formatting gallery labels as well as tombstone texts, updating and adding to the object checklist that pertains to The Frick Collects publication, and creating the filemaker database also corresponding to the publication. The nature of this work has been very independent, allowing me to develop a sense of self-motivation in the workplace. In addition to the technical work I was doing, my site mentor, Sarah, encouraged me to exercise curatorial ways of thinking by asking me to prepare my own input on the exhibition's design, which I then presented to her, and to find possible additional objects that I believed would be assets to the exhibition. 

    Even though,The Frick Collects has been the primary focus of my position, during my time at the Frick I have been involved in various stages of three different exhibition. From installation to filing to research, this internship has had it all. I've been able to apply and improve skills gained through past professional experiences to my work, while gaining and becoming adept at new skills pertaining to curation.

    This experience has been an invaluable asset to my Museum Studies program, and I would reccommend it to everyone interested in museums, a career in the arts, or arts management. Moving forward, I am excited by the prospect of applying to more positions with my resume updated to reflect this experience. This internship has given me the skills and confidence necessary to keep chasing my dream job, so that in another 6 years I can look back and once again say, "funny how life works sometimes, right?"

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    ULS Special Collections Exhibits Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Spring 2016

    I made a video to discuss my Special Collections exhibits internship and show people a part of the library that they don't often see! Please enjoy.

    Descriptions of Pittsburgh in Maps, Words, and Images will be in the Special Collections department, Hillman Library room 363 until July 2016. 

    Beyond the Nine Mountains and Nine Forests: Folk and Fairy Tales from Eastern Europe will be in the display cases on the second floor of Hillman Library through Summer 2016.

    -Caris Windhausen

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    From Duchamp to Diamond Dust: My Research at the Warhol

    Museum Studies Intern at The Andy Warhol Museum - Spring 2016

    I’m currently a Curatorial Intern at the Andy Warhol Museum. My official job description entails assisting the Associate Curator, Ms. Jessica Beck, with two upcoming exhibitions: Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei, from June through August of 2016, and Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body, scheduled for later in the fall of 2016. ‘Assisting’ is quite a broad term, but as a whole, most of my work encompasses utilizing the library here as well as scholarly databases for research, namely on the biographies of artists involved in the exhibitions as well as their individual works of art and exhibition histories – needless to say, I’ve done a number of searches on Warhol.

    Ultimately, my research is compiled into concrete documents for either the public or the curatorial department – I’ve written up bibliographies for exhibition research, wall texts, and the like. My current big project is working on a blog post - on Warhol’s ties to China and Chinese contemporary art - that will hopefully be published on the Warhol’s blog in tandem with the upcoming exhibition.

    My experience as a whole has been absolutely inspiring so far. I love research, so getting to learn about Andy Warhol’s fascinating life has been a treat in itself, but beyond just that, the experience I’m getting here at the museum has only reaffirmed my love for both art history and museum studies. From running around the offices to waiting in line at the café to overseeing actual exhibitions being put together, my internship at the Warhol has given me a taste of what working in a museum environment (and an office!) is like, with all of its varied departments (that come together in the most excellent ways) and talented staff. I know that the skills I’ve learned – compiling exhibition materials, working with a varied staff, and powerwalking through the Cultural District to catch the bus on time – are all skills that I will utilize many more times in the future, and I’m grateful that I got the chance to learn so much here as well.

    Working at the Warhol has been a humbling, inspiring, and incredibly rewarding experience. I haven’t got much time left here, but I know that there will be new projects for me to work on, and new things for me to learn about Warhol, his work, and his legacy even in this brief span left until the end of the term. If there’s anything that this internship isn’t, it’s unexciting!

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  • Entering data at my work station in the University Art Gallery

     

    Collective Access: A Fresh View of the UAG

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2016

    As a University Art Gallery Intern, I am working to update and standardize the online database system, Collective Access, in conjunction with the old system, Past Perfect, and paper files to create a more comprehensive and accessible database. Additionally, I am creating a Collective Access Data Entry Guide to ensure the system is consistent in the future. This position is very rewarding as it allows me to enrich the resources the UAG offers to art history researchers and to the curious public alike. The breadth of the database is quite extensive, cataloging basic information, physical characteristics, geography/culture, valuation, etc. Of all of these categories, I find the condition reports to be the most fascinating piece of information. Currently, I am working on updating the Nicholas Lochoff Collection, displayed in the Cloister of the Frick Fine Arts building. The resources for this collection are extensive and a very detailed condition report was conducted on several of the pieces in 2002. Physical maintenance was conducted on these pieces in 2003. It is extremely interesting to see both the natural aging of the materials and works as well as the impact of the restoration by comparing the first condition report to the treatment report following the maintenance. This internship has been a fulfilling, educational, and unique capstone to the Museum Studies minor. 

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    Myself visiting Waynesburg University for a presentation about WWI using the Soldiers and Sailors' footlocker program. The photo was taken by professor Rea Redd. 

     

    Fostering Interest and Outreach

    This semester I had the pleasure and honor to intern at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland. As a history major I was very enthusiastic to be chosen to work with the staff of Soldiers and Sailors. The building itself was built in 1907 but only recently became a museum. Over the 100+ years as a GAR post and SUV headquarters, the Soldiers and Sailors museum acquired thousands of artifacts from the Civil War and both World Wars but has only limited space to display these artifacts. I was surprised at the number of people, including those who spend much of their time in Oakland, who were unfamiliar with the museum and had never visited or even heard of it.

    During the four months of my internship, I learned countless skills important to museum work but I feel the some of the most important were those involved with helping present the institute’s image to the public. I would like to focus this post on two particular projects; one outside the museum and the second from inside.

    To help bring the museum experience to those unable to visit Soldiers and Sailors and share artifacts not usually displayed, the museum’s director of education recently created the “footlocker program”. This is a collection of several large footlockers stocked with artifacts from different wars starting with the Civil War and up to the War in Iraq and Afghanistan. These footlockers have artifacts not normally displayed but also not rare or one of a kind. The theme of the lockers is to display common items such as uniforms and equipment of the average soldier in the field and some items from home. These lockers can be loaned out to high school teachers or other groups to be used for presentations outside of the museum.    

    In February I was introduced to professor Rea Redd of Waynesburg University, at an event hosted by Soldiers and Sailors for WWII veterans. Professor Redd oversees several courses offered by Waynesburg focusing on the World Wars and 20th century conflict. The department was looking for options to help students comprehend warfare during WWI and WWII as well as the individual soldier’s burden. This was an excellent opportunity to reach out with the footlocker program to a university that is local but still outside of Pittsburgh and project the museum’s image and message. We arranged two separate visits to Waynesburg, one for WWI and another for WWII scheduled about a week apart. The curator and director of education reviewed both footlockers for each above mentioned period and entrusted me to take both footlockers to Waynesburg University and give a presentation. Both presentations went very well and the students as well as the staff at Waynesburg were very interested and grateful to Soldiers and Sailors. These sort of presentations are essential for smaller more recently established museums to establish themselves with the public and create a base.

    The second project I would like to discuss was later in the semester. This second event was planned to bring people to the museum who never visited before by using more visual encouragement. “The Museum Comes to Life Evening” would use interactive displays as well as staff and volunteers dressed in period correct attire and equipment from various eras covered by the museum’s timeline. The approach to the evening was that visitors could easily become bored and unimpressed with artifacts sitting lifelessly behind glass, so this event would show how these items were used by troops in the field and in proper context by having actors wear the displays. This would allow the audience to establish a more first-person connection with each display and gain a greater understanding and promote further interest, and hopefully a return visit.

    Both of these projects were very enjoyable to plan and participate in. My internship at Soldiers and Sailors taught me much, such as inventory, acquisition, cataloging and creating displays. However, I feel that projects developing a connection with the public and encouraging them to visit are just as important as any skill in museum work, because overall, what good is a well thought out display if no one comes to admire it.       

    This is one of the first legal pieces done at Carrie along the 400-foot wall designated for graffiti. It features the iconic logo of Rivers of Steel in the center. 

     

    Spray Cans and Stereotypes

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area - Spring 2016

    Click. Click. Click. Shhhhhh.

    The shadow watches as a single stream of black spray paint shoots from the nozzle. Shaking the can softly again, the ball mixing the paint rattles encouragingly to continue. One hand steadies the canister while the other shakes slightly in nervousness. Just a few more lines…done. The writer flings the can into their opened back pack before trailing back through the moonlit trees in front of the Carnegie Library.

    What image did you create as you pictured the scene? If you were being completely honest, who in your mind’s eye is the culprit of the vandalism to your library? Is he a teenager with too much time on his hands? Is he a rowdy youngster, craving recognition that his parents just don’t provide? Is it a destructive gang member out to create a disruption in their mundane, mainstream environment to prove a point for his or her buddies? Whether we like it, acknowledge it, or bother to care, our prejudices and pre-conceived notions of the graffiti writer influence us and our perceptions of their art. Who is this invisible individual leaving a trail of paint drips, words, and images?

    This sad, yin and yang eyed face reveals that the writer is aware of his transgression. (see above image) Ironically, he acknowledges that a spray paint can in hand may not adequately relieve him or provide him with what he is after. Yet another scrawl is located close by: “I wish I were a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”[1]

    Now unless you are a poetry guru, you would have never known that these lines were taken from a T.S. Eliot poem. In this simple black scribble, we are confronted with our artist who is certainly no desperately bored teen seeking a temporary thrill. This piece is charged with meaning, shows intentionality, and demonstrates an appreciation of 20th century poetry, all in a single quote drawn in spray paint. Our artist is aware of his site and the ironic sense the quote carries on the library. It is an internal, deep, and reflective statement. The phrase shows the writer’s heightened conscientiousness in wishing to express ideas of independence, freedom, and power. In a single scrawl, previous biases are washed away. This piece encapsulates graffiti’s many provocations. What I am interested in, not only as an Art History student but also as a Psychology major, is if and how stereotypes and notions of graffiti play into how people experience viewing graffiti.

    It is at the unexpected spot of Carrie Furnace in Pittsburgh where I have found graffiti flourish alongside these questions and thoughts. Carrie stands—her huge, gaping, and rusting exterior—against the serene backdrop of the Monongahela River. For almost 70 years, these blast furnaces produced iron for the Homestead Works and at their peak, were producing almost 1250 tons of iron a day. The site was left empty in 1978, but once the steel mill workers left, graffiti artists filled their places. Graffiti tags accumulated across pipes, walls, and the precarious peaks of the furnaces. In 2010 however, the historical preservationist organization Rivers of Steel claimed ownership of the site.

    Yet, the graffiti scene continued to prosper once Rivers of Steel realized that the colorful murals were attracting visitors to the industrial wonderland of Carrie. A 400-foot wall and the interior space of a power house were dedicated for new, and most importantly, legal graffiti developed by talented and art-minded graffiti artists. Ron Baraff, the proponent of the movement says this of the graffiti artists—“They’re coming in here, creating this art, so let’s give them this canvas, and by giving them this canvas and showing them that respect, we can then educate them on what we’re trying to do.”[2]  

    The graffiti writers, hipsters, and those interested in their local history aren’t the only visitors however. Returning, finally, are the former steel mill workers who give tours of Carrie. A handful of men dedicate their afternoons to instilling a sense of pride in their listeners as they walk through Carrie’s echoing caverns. They tell of lives threatened by brutal working conditions. They share stories and discuss labor unions. They paint pictures of history that mingle right alongside the painted murals. But, do these two ever collide?

    As the workers return to their former place of employment—a place of pride and power—how does the graffiti affect them? As they conduct tour after tour, does the graffiti just fade into the background and become common place? Or does the destruction of a place they identify with so closely enrage them? This month, I have been collecting oral histories from a few of these workers in hopes to understand their views as either supporters or rejecters of the graffiti. We are all participating in a past history of steel while simultaneously crafting the history of a future that challenges former notions of graffiti and its creator. 

     

    [1] “Pittsburgh 360: Carrie Furnace Art.” WQED video, 6:51. October 17, 2013. http://www.wqed.org/tv/watch/?sid=574&series=4

    [2] “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Poetry Foundation, accessed April 1, 2016, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/173476

     

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