Academic Interns

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    The Joy of Virtual Connection

    Museum Studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh - Fall 2020

    I surely don't have to express how strange this year is, but I would like to discuss how important social media and virtual experiences have been in the current context. Social Media has been a staple for some time now, but it became nearly essential over the course of this year. It gained a new power as one of the only ways to escape our quarantined space and live vicariously through the images, words and videos that were generously posted. My internship allowed me to add to this virtual experience. 

    The incredible task that I was able to work on for my internship at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh was to create weekly videos that highlighted the artworks and creative places that can be found across Pittsburgh. These videos were posted to Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s Instagram. The Executive Director, Madeline Gent, hatched this plan along with my input as she insisted I was to be involved in a project I would enjoy and be proud of. While I was also involved in a variety of day-to-day tasks, my main objective was the production of these videos. To do this, I would visit various galleries and organizations and make a video that would last no more than one minute. This was done to show AAP support for local art galleries, museums, organizations, and artists.  

    Through this opportunity, I was able to learn how important social media is and how it can be beneficial to the development of a company's digital outreach. People would view these videos and sometimes even contact me to thank me for showing them a new place or artist. I was so happy to increase audience for these arts venues and provide a virtual experience with art at a moment when it was most difficult to visit in person. 

    This was a tough year for so many reasons but art could provide an uplifting form of human expression or even a form of escapism. Social media became the most important museum in the world, and one in which all are eligible to participate and explore. This internship opened my eyes to both the importance of being social and also the inner workings of a cultural sector non-profit. It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad I was able to be involved and happy I could put something positive out for people to view.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A photograph of 34 people at Area nightclub.

    Photo by Michael Halsband, 1984. Courtesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh.

     

    The Lankton/Warhol Connections

    by Grace Marston, Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Fall 2020

    When I sought to conduct my Museum Studies Internship at the Mattress Factory’s Greer Lankton Archives, part of the idea was to get some museum experience outside of the Andy Warhol Museum, where I have worked for nine years. Indeed, it has been extremely rewarding to work in a different museum with a different collection, yet I started noticing connections between Lankton and Warhol on my very first day.

    Greer Lankton’s datebooks indicate that she went to nightclubs like Pyramid, Palladium, and Club 57 during her years in New York in the early 1980s. Andy Warhol frequented those same clubs. Lankton created dolls modeled after Divine and Diana Vreeland, who were both friends with Warhol. Lankton knew Rene Richard, Teri Toye, and Stephen Sprouse, who are all mentioned in Warhol’s diaries. Peter Hujar photographed both Lankton and Warhol. Lankton compiled folders of magazine clippings about Warhol Superstars such as Jane Forth and Candy Darling. Lankton owned a book of Warhol’s prints and cut out images of several artworks.

    Sometime in the afternoon of my first day at the Mattress Factory, I came across a newspaper clipping of an advertisement for a nightclub called Area. It was a group photo taken by Michael Halsband featuring 34 people, a dalmatian, and a horse. On the far left of the photo was Andy Warhol, and on the far right was Greer Lankton. I recognized many of the people in between. It was exciting to see evidence that these two artists were in the same room at the same time, at least once.

    I spent the next few weeks digitally cataloging photographs in the Greer Lankton Archives and generating content for the Mattress Factory’s social media accounts, but my mind kept returning to that Area photo. Eventually, I discovered that the Andy Warhol Museum had a behind-the-scenes photo that Warhol had taken on the day of the Area photoshoot. I also found that Stanford University’s collection of Warhol photos contained two more contact sheets of behind-the-scenes images from that photo shoot. I decided to use these resources to begin a research project about the Area photo.

    I managed to identify 26 of the 34 people in the photo. I learned a lot about the lives of the regulars at this notorious nightclub, people who were part of both Lankton and Warhol’s worlds. I’m not surprised by Lankton’s quote that Warhol was the “dullest person I ever met;” she clearly knew a lot of fascinating people who were probably much less reserved than Warhol. Despite the pithy quote, obviously she was a Warhol fan in her own way. I felt uniquely well-positioned to investigate this overlap between the collections of the Mattress Factory and the Andy Warhol Museum; and for me there was never a dull moment.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Interning in the Digital Age

    To finish out my final semester at Pitt, I had the opportunity to be a Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography. 

    If you’ve been on the planet in 2020, you know that there has been a global pandemic. Although life slowed down for a while during the summer lockdown, once the fall semester rolled around had to get back to work and prepare to graduate. One of my final degree requirements was to obtain a Museum Studies internship for the completion of my minor. I was lucky enough to secure a position at Silver Eye!

    In past years, Silver Eye offered students a very hands-on experience, where they could learn how to print photographs as well as get a glimpse of the behind the scenes process of putting together a gallery exhibit.  Even though we could not physically go into the gallery, I found our weekly zoom meetings to be highly informational and just as eye-opening. 

    Prior to my time at Silver Eye, I had a basic understanding of photography since my major was in Film Studies. Even if both mediums use a camera, I did not know that photography was a very different art form altogether. It was almost as if I was exploring an entirely new world. Silver Eye immersed me in the image-making process. I always thought photos were more so a documentary style, but here I found myself redefining what photography meant to me. It was so much more creative, expressive, and personal than I had noticed before. 

    Because the internship was conducted remotely, I also explored the ways in which the gallery interacted with the public through its online presence. I enjoyed most of the videos that were on their youtube channel that featured artist talks. The artists featured in previous exhibitions would talk about their thought process, methodology, and lives in general. It not only let me peer into their creative process, but it also outlined what it was like to be a working artist today. I found myself thinking more deeply about photographs than I ever had before, and it was so easy! Just by watching their youtube videos, I was able to glean new information to build new connections. Little did I know, this was all preparing me for the culminating project of the semester--making my own online exhibition.

    Currently, I am in a class called Exhibition Presentation so I am eager to combine the skills I used learned there with the training I received at Silver Eye. With my online exhibition, I get to engage with my chosen photographer and present their work to the online Silver Eye audience. All of the new questions and interests I have developed over the course of the semester now will come in handy when I have to conduct an interview. Silver Eye made learning something new really fun for me, and I am excited to make learning fun for somebody else.  

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • Lawson Pace next to a millstone reading "In Honor of Nellie Bly"
    • Nellie Bly raising her hat, dressed as she would have been on her journey around the world
    Lawson Pace next to a millstone reading "In Honor of Nellie Bly"

    Posing with the millstone memorializing Nellie Bly in Cochran's Mills, Pennsylvania.

     

    Traveling From Home: Following Nellie Bly

    Museum Studies Intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center - Fall 2020

    Telling a story about a whirlwind journey around the world seems ridiculous at a time when a global pandemic has led many countries to restrict travel or even close their borders, and yet this was my task this semester as an intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center. Working closely with the museum’s excellent curatorial and marketing staff, I helped to research and write material for the History Center’s website and social media pages telling the story of Nellie Bly’s trip around the world.

    Bly’s real name was Elizabeth Cochran, and she worked as a reporter for the New York World. Bly was already known for her daring and confidence, having faked mental illness to be admitted to a mental asylum in 1887. Her exposé of the asylum’s miserable conditions inspired public outrage and reform of the medical system. In 1888, she had the idea to embark on a journey around the world in a publicity stunt for the newspaper. Departing in November 1889 and returning in January 1890, Bly broke the record for the fastest circumnavigation of the globe, managing the feat in only 72 days at the age of 25. Later in life, she owned and operated a major manufacturing firm and even reported from the Eastern Front during the First World War. Nellie Bly was a journalist, feminist, industrialist, inventor, and an all-around fascinating woman.

    I started my internship by researching Nellie Bly and her trip broadly, trying to understand who she was and her significance to the time that she lived in. Since my internship was entirely virtual, I used digitized newspaper records extensively. After several weeks of preliminary research, I began the main task of my internship, to write twenty short articles following Bly’s journey day-by-day. My previous writing experience was predominantly academic, so I worked with my supervisor to develop my skills writing for a general audience. As I wrote, I began to discover that the story I was writing was not only about Nellie Bly; it was also about gender, race, imperialism, and the rapidly changing world of the late nineteenth century. Learning how to engage with these topics in a sensitive way was one of the most important parts of my internship.

    Besides the many other things that she was, Nellie Bly was also a Western Pennsylvanian. She was born in Cochran’s Mills, a small village in Armstrong County built around the mills that her father owned; and she got her start in journalism at the Pittsburgh Dispatch. One Sunday, I decided to drive out to Cochran’s Mills to see what remained of the hometown of the woman that I feel that I have come to know so well. I found a church, a fire department, a few scattered houses, and a millstone with a plaque honoring Bly. The 45-minute drive felt like a surprisingly long trip to make to see a single historical marker at first, but it made me think about how the pandemic and its accompanying isolation has altered our perception of distance and what constitutes “travel.” I was struck by the irony of the fact that this short trip was the furthest I had ventured for a project about travelling the world. However, I believe that the peculiarity and irony of this project reveals potential paths forward for museums in a transformed world. We can only grow by embracing the contradictions.

  • Dinosaurs in Their Time gallery at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

     

    Problematic Language in the Prehistoric

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2020

    When walking through the galleries of a museum, how often do you read the labels on each display? Do you dissect each one with careful detail? Skim them for important information? Or perhaps skip them entirely, paying more attention to the visual display right in front of you? As a student interested in pursuing a career in public health, my interest is often directed toward the public. I was able to integrate that interest with my internship at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History by taking a closer look at the display labels in each gallery, specifically addressing the language used to describe species interactions.

    Under the supervision of Dr. Jessica Landau, my investigation led me through many galleries, however the one I found most interesting from the results it yielded was Dinosaurs in Their Time. As one of the largest galleries featured in this museum, with extensive collections of fossils and prehistoric skeletons, there were plenty of display labels available for me to break down and record for my data collection. For statisticians, scientists and researchers out there, a large sample size is key, right?

    I recorded the explicit occurrence of each word in a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet, allowing me to quantify the usage of positive (symbiotic or cooperative) or negative (competitive or predatory) species interaction vocabulary being used in the gallery. When I recognized the explicit occurrence of a word being used in a display label, I recorded it in my spreadsheet. In addition, I took careful notes about what kind of interaction was being displayed by the fossils themselves. I performed this same data collection routine with all the display labels in the gallery.

    The quantitative results I found from the initial investigation were dramatic. Out of the 61 display labels available, there were 50 occurrences of negative species interactions and 2 occurrences of positive species interactions. This frequency of predatory and competitive language identified in this gallery unveiled a unique trend that motivated the rest of the project I worked on for the three months of my involvement in this internship.

    Conducting this research was exciting and continued to pique my curiosity as trends revealed themselves through each gallery breakdown. Additionally, investigating the labels in this way allowed me to think critically about the interactions the public is having with the language used in the display labels and how they affect their experience as a viewer or museumgoer. I look forward to seeing this research develop further, and possibly shape how this museum and many more approach writing display labels in the future.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Journal by Charles Bonaventure Scully, 1843.

     

    Manuscripts, Documents, and Journals - Oh My!

    Museum Studies Intern at Archives Service Center – Spring 2020

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve simply loved old things. I started at a young age by watching history documentaries with my parents and reading books on Egyptology. Later on, I began to collect old things.  My book collection is now at almost 60 books, with some from as early as the 1730s. My love of “old things” has always driven me to ask questions about the past and look at primary sources to see first-hand what was happening in the era I’m studying. While working at the University’s Archives Service Center this past semester, I tried to do exactly that.

    I worked on Polish in Western Pennsylvania, a collection a with multiple subseries, and focused on the Polish Societies section. The collection needed to be streamlined  to be more widely used by professors for research. I began by going through the six boxes in the series to become familiar with the many Polish societies in the Pittsburgh area and their wide influence. Just within the Lawrenceville area, there were about 3 separate chapters of the Polish Falcons of America Society. 

    After I did a first look through the materials, which consisted of documents from as early as 1916 and as recent as the 1990s, I sorted through and organized documents from the Societies subseries in Polish in Western PA Collection. I developed a plan to move the documents around and re-foldered them so they could be more easily used in future research, a kind of overhaul of the subseries. The amount of materials I had to go through was at times daunting, but I knew that by organizing this subseries, I was giving this collection a better chance of educating the public. I learned how to use Archivist Toolkit, a program the Archives Service Center uses for creating the online finding aids for the collections. I worked on updating the finding aid and making it more specific with my new organization of the folders, although it has not been published yet.

    Although my work this semester was interrupted due to COVID-19, there was actually a silver lining. I had a very interesting opportunity to do more than one project. I am now working on a transcription of the diary from 1843 by a man named Charles Bonaventure Scully, a local collector, lawyer, and Pitt graduate. Back when Scully attended the university, it was still called the Western University of Pennsylvania. His diary was fascinating in that it gives a glimpse into the daily life of a man from more than 150 years ago.

    Throughout this semester, I was able to work at the most basic level of the Archives and see the functioning of a research center. I had no idea how deep the Polish roots were in Pittsburgh and just how important these societies were to the basis of the city. My work this semester made me realize that my love of collections and old things could become more than just a hobby— it could be my career. We need collections in order to preserve human history.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Small Things That Make Art Great

    Clara Wang
    Museum Studies Intern at Pittsburgh Glass Center – Spring 2020

    As an artist, I am always interested in approaching art from new perspectives to discover how different views and experiences will change the way I see the art world. Working with the curator and marketing team at the Pittsburgh Glass Center this semester allowed me to get involved in the working process in an art gallery and it also brought my imagination about this job to back to earth.

    When I started the internship, I spent a lot of time researching and cataloging work to assist the marketing team to find more resources and promote the exhibitions. I spent weeks researching galleries and spaces where artists could display their works and hold small exhibitions. These kinds of research tasks are small compared with curating a show or developing a marketing plan for an exhibition. However, as I kept working on similar tasks, I realized that these small things are crucial to the functioning of the Glass Center. Working in the art world doesn’t always mean to be creative and critical all of the time. Indeed, many of the skills and responsibilities are the same as a lot of other jobs. Communicating with organizations to find the right resources; building connections with people of different professional backgrounds for potential cooperation; working with a team to figure out due dates and plans. When I finished steps like making contact lists and checking the grammar of the exhibition invitation, I kept in mind that each of these small steps are for art. Even though they didn’t seem so artistic in their process, they all promote the artists and their works to the public.

    Working with the curator to prepare the new exhibition, I was again surprised by how many small things a curator needs to manage for an exhibition. From cleaning tiny stains on display easels to deciding the font of wall text, these details all rely on the curator. During the process, more problems will come up. For example, in the beginning, we needed to connect with every artist multiple times to check on their process to ensure the full collection of works by installation. We needed high resolution photos and descriptions of the works and artists beforehand to advertise. At the same time, we had to plan and schedule the transportation of the work. Installation was the most difficult part. It was not simply about avoiding breaking a fragile artwork. For some works, for example, you had to record how each component of the work was packed and placed in the box because after the exhibition they need to be arranged the same way again.

    Large and small, the whole process of this internship gave me the chance to understand the reality of working in the art world. The huge variety of details could be repetitive and sometimes stressful. But, by the time when everything is put together, you see that it is the small things that make the art shine.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A view of It’s all About ME, Not You. Courtesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh.

     

    My Friend Greer

    This spring I interned at the Mattress Factory in their Greer Lankton Archive; Lankton was a doll-maker, sculpture, and mixed-media artist who came up in the East Village arts scene in the 1980s. Her work is a visceral exploration of the body and identity, that captures both the joy and the grotesque of making and remaking oneself. During my internship in the archive, I was able to spend hours sorting through not only Lankton’s artworks, but also through her correspondence, family photos, and personal belongings. The archive is part of a larger collection of Lankton’s work, most popularly known by her permanent installation It’s all About ME, not You.

    I came to the archive as part of an ongoing digitization project that hopes to relaunch the online database of her work and preserve it for future studies. I thought that I would learn how to make digital scans of images, catalog all kinds of information, and learn best practices for the preservation and storage of physical and digital items, and I did. What I did not expect was how quickly looking through all these personal items would create an emotional bond between myself and Lankton. Over the months I was there, I read her diaries, letters from friends and family looked through her childhood photos, the photos of her friends, even her driver’s license and death certificate. Greer was the kind of person who wrote everything down, and was never shy about how she felt; she was beautiful, passionate, and deeply troubled. Even though she died before I was born, she feels like a friend going through the same things as everyone else. Preserving her legacy feels like an intimate bond of trust, it feels like I need to take care of her and whatever we have left. Lankton’s work is undoubtedly beautiful, poignant, and uniquely transparent about who she was and how she struggled.

    While I was there in the archive I wrote indexes and finding aids to make the space more accessible to visiting researchers and future staff, who need to be able to know what the archive contains and where to find it. I also learned the international standard for digital archives known as FADGI and how to use various Adobe software to help streamline the process and ensure consistent quality. My managers, Sinéad Bligh and Sarah Hallett, emphasized the need to maintain a parallel structure across the physical archive, on external hard drives, and in cloud storage, which ensures redundancies to protect the data and makes all three preservation systems mutually intelligible. I also handled, sorted, and stored a large number of Lankton’s 2D work from sketches to full illustrations and paintings. Tangibly connecting with work from across an artist’s whole career is a rare opportunity few people are lucky enough to have.

    Given the COVID-19 situation my museum studies internship was cut short. But,  I’ve been fortunate to be selected as a Fine Fellow for Summer 2020 and am continuing my work with Greer from home for the time being. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Owned But Not Accounted For

    Curatorial Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Spring 2020

     

    The Carnegie Museum of Art has about 600 unaccessioned works of video in physical format in its collection. This means that the museum has these things physically in storage but was unsure if they had ownership rights to the works. Many of these unaccessioned items were compilation tapes or copies of artist’s works that contained several copies of copies. The goal of the project and my job was to go through a spreadsheet that itemized every physical piece of film media, whether it was a CD, hard drive, VHS, etc., and compile enough information to be able to make a recommendation for every video.

    I had never heard the word “nebulous” as frequently as I did while working on this project for the Carnegie Museum of Art. There was no single satisfactory conclusion that was meant to be reached, and many films had been unaccessioned for 25 years or more, which meant very little documentation to work with. I worked with curators, database directors, collection managers, and registrars. The information that I needed to compile was found in the museum’s internal database, a filing cabinet in the offices of the museum, and archives in the basement of the museum. Once I compiled as much information as I could find from these sources it was up to the curators and registrars to make final decisions.

    The most important thing I learned at the Carnegie Museum of Art had nothing to do with the media I was working with. Instead, it was being able to see and hear how museum professionals communicate face-to-face. My previous two internships have been at small galleries where communication was near constant. At the Carnegie Museum of Art my office was in a small library on the second floor of the museum on almost the opposite end of the building as the main offices. The films and videos ultimately took a back seat to the experience of working in as complex an institution as the Carnegie Museum of Art. Learning how decisions get made in a world-class art museum and the extent of the information needed to make even minor decisions taught me how much respect has to be had for everything and everyone in the Carnegie Museum of Art.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Art on Campus and Its Public

    Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh, Art on Campus Project- Spring 2020

     

    Though people walk by public works of art every day, information about them is often not easily accessible to the average passerby. Many people come to recognize works of public art based only on their appearance, but have no means to easily understand their history, origin, and significance of its particular location. I wanted to learn more about how the general public experiences art, while working on a project that will make information more accessible.

    This past semester, as part of the Art on Campus project at the University of Pittsburgh, I collected information about public art on campus to contribute to a database and public website. Because many of the pieces we looked at were quite old, and data on them was not standardly catalogued, much of the research I completed was archival. I utilized many old newspaper articles and announcements. Much of the information I discovered will be included on a future website, detailing the public art on Pitt’s campus. This will be useful for future artistic endeavors and tours, and the average person who wants to engage with art in an easily accessible and digestible way.

    At the start of this project, I was intrigued- though I pass public works of art on Pitt’s campus every day and have interest in them, I hadn’t learned much about them. Outside of Lawrence Hall is a work that, prior to this project, I only knew as the “metal spaceship-esque sculpture.” However, after completing background research on this specific piece, I came to learn its incredible origin. Ode to Space (pictured above) is actually a memorial sculpture to the late Chancellor Litchfield. The artists, Virgil Cantini, has multiple works of art on Pitt’s campus and actually created the University’s Department of Studio Arts. It is eye-opening to consider the works of art surrounding you, their history, and their creation.

    Another aspect of launching this project on campus was not only to think about the past and to learn the history of many works, but also to think towards the future of public art on campus. At the start of the term, handouts were distributed around Oakland that asked what kind of public art people wanted to see on campus. It is crucial to gain feedback from the people who will be facing these works every day, and that they are representative of everyone’s lived experiences.

    As the community on Pitt’s campus changes, it’s vital that the type of art and artists present on campus changes, as well. As a student who is also studying Political Science, Sociology, and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, understanding how power dynamics, social relations, and identities interact with each other is imperative, and the types of artwork that are on display for the general public highlight what we as a community deem important. Throughout this project, I learned that most of the public works of art currently on Pitt’s campus were created by white men. Moving forward, I think that it is of utmost importance to consider what it means to have artists of backgrounds that are representative of their audiences create pieces of art that are so highly visible, in this case within the Pitt community.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work

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