Academic Interns

  • Amanda Bartko and Emma Vescio in Meg Webster’s new Solar Grow Room at the Mattress Factory


    The Sky's the Limit: Two Pitt Interns Discuss Art and Education at the Mattress Factory

    Authors: Emma Vescio and Amanda Bartko

    Museum Studies Interns at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    Emma Vescio:

    During the Spring 2018 semester, I am interning at Mattress Factory in the Development Department. Along with preparing for the annual Urban Garden Party, and various day-to-day tasks helping the office move at a quicker pace, I will be working on attracting younger adults (18-25) to purchasing museum memberships. Many people within that age group attend an academic institution that provides free admission; however, the Development team is interested in how to increase memberships for those out of school or graduated.

    Another project that I am helping with is the building the James Turrell’s “Skyspace”. Turrell is a leading contemporary artist, and having another one of his pieces in Pittsburgh would set the city at a clear advantage and make Mattress Factory even more distinctive. My task will be gathering names collected in a petition earlier this year to make this installation happen, I hope I can help the Development Department with this process, and I am excited to see the progression of my time there.

    Amanda Bartko:

    This term, I am going to be working in the Education Department at the Mattress Factory to assist with "INSTALL: Afternoons @ The Factory" – a twelve-week program for children in grades 3 through 5. There are nine students enrolled, many of whom come from a local elementary school, Allegheny Traditional Academy. A teaching artist supervises sessions with them and gives distinct lessons each week that corresponds to themes of habitats and the natural environment. At the end of six weeks, another artist will takeover and lead the classroom for the remaining term.

    I am most eager to observe differences between the two teaching artists. Because of my interest in and background with Psychology, I suspect that the artists’ methodologies will have meaningful impacts on the students in the classroom.

    I was drawn to this internship because it is inherently interdisciplinary. I will be able to learn by shadowing gallery tours, or when interacting with staff from various departments; but I am looking forward to the possibility of making connections across disciplines of art, education and Psychology.

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  • Photography set up for documenting works on paper from UAG collection


    Documentation, Databases, and Attention to Detail

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2017

    In Spring 2017 I interned at The University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery. As part of my work tasks, I worked with the CollectiveAccess database, updating object records and selecting works on paper from the collection to photograph for documentation.
    During the semester, I photographed hundreds of works on paper for several weeks, and imported nearly one hundred photographs into the database website. I archived other photo files to be easily accessible for future use. From the UAG’s extensive art collection, we prioritized documentation and photographs of Andrey Avinoff’s (1884-1949) watercolor sketches of the Nationality Rooms. Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar students used these sketches and images in the UAG exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Immigration and Identity in Pittsburgh

    Working alongside UAG curator, Isabelle Chartier, I found this work extremely rewarding and informative. Before this internship I had never had the opportunity to handle artwork so extensively. I value this new art handling experience while also being able to improve my skills in photography and photo editing. I enjoyed learning the gallery’s organizational systems, where I honed the attention-to-detail required to maintain accuracy within the database, object records, condition reports, storage locations, object IDs, and file naming. 
    For the internship I had to improve my time management and communication skills in order to successfully complete my work within the designated time frames. The skills that I gained while working on this project will benefit me both academically and professionally. I am thankful that I was able to complete an internship that provided hands-on experience in a gallery setting. 

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    Promotional Poster from the opening of "The River Ran Red".


    Experiencing Domike

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) - Fall 2017

    Coming into the university archives, I knew two things about Steffi Domike. I knew that she was a filmmaker and I knew that she was a women’s labor activist. But that’s barely scratching the surface when it comes to the career of Steffi Domike. My first real exposure to the material came from reading the entire finding guide. As I went through the finding guide, I made a list of boxes and folders with titles that intrigued me. That list guided me through the actual collection for the first time. Each box or folder revealed a new aspect of Domike’s career.  Her collection is housed in two sections, the first portion being in the labor section of the archive stacks. The materials I read were pretty much what I expected; pamphlets, buttons, flyers for various events, photographs, and newspaper articles. What surprised me about Domike’s interest in labor activities in the 19th century. However, I had only gone through a small portion of the collection so I put my curiosity aside. I moved on to the other section of her collection and read syllabi for her classes, personal art projects, and various proposals and summaries for her films. The materials from Life Without Father really caught my interest and I read everything from that particular film project. By the end of that first week, my understanding of Steffi Domike had changed dramatically. She was no longer simply a labor activist and filmmaker; she was a professor, creator, and researcher. She is this renaissance woman who kept her overall goal of advancing labor and women’s rights at the front of her work.

    The second week of the internship a box of new materials appeared on my desk and I was tasked with housing its contents within the permanent collection. I wanted to do the collection justice and find the best home for each of the new materials. I began by reading every piece of material completely. Once I had finished reading and making notes on everything in the box, I began making connections between the new material and the themes and elements of the collection. Events and themes began to come to the forefront: the Battle of Homestead, the Patriot Act, the decline of the steel industry, and non-profit finances. While reading the materials about the Battle of Homestead, which is the subject of Domike’s River Ran Red, I realized how old and embedded the labor movement was in the fabric of Pittsburgh steel. Until this point, almost of the materials I had read were from the 1970s and 1980s, which is what I had been expecting. I gained a completely new perspective on her work while working with anything dealing with River Ran Red or the Battle of Homestead Centennial materials. I became almost obsessed with the event and took on a small rehousing project for her binders of images from the film. In my mind the scope of Domike’s career had drastically changed. I had been under the impression that Steffi Domike became a creator because she desired justice for her own career within the steel industry, but in reality Domike desired justice for all those who had been wronged by the steel industry.

    As this experience comes to an end and I spend my final hours working with Domike, I have a deep sense of accomplishment for each of the materials that I’ve been able to place into the collection. I believe that I’ve done the everything within my ability to put these materials in effective places within the collection. But in truth, I’ve learned much more than practical archival skills this semester. I’ve learned to always approach a new experience with an open mind rather than letting my expectation cloud the experience. Domike and her career taught me that at times expectations can potentially be the downfall of a great learning experience. Academically, I’ve chosen to focus on history that is much older and broad in scope than Domike. I concentrated on Ancient Civilizations in my history studies and so Domike’s career is much too modern for my liking, but by no means does that diminish that value of Domike to me personally. Quite frankly, I’ve become quite fond of Domike over the past last few months and I’ll miss her presence in my daily life.

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  • Chambers, Nicholas. Adman: Warhol before Pop. Sydney: New South Wales, 2017.


    Discovering Adman

    Museum Studies Intern at The Andy Warhol Museum - Fall 2017

    When I began my undergraduate career at the University of Pittsburgh, hours from home and eager to explore my new city, one of my first stops was The Andy Warhol Museum. I was immediately fascinated by the concept of a museum dedicated to a single artist and equally interested in the museum’s mission to ‘contribute research and scholarship about contemporary art and Andy Warhol.’ (1) Before my first visit, I was somewhat familiar with Warhol’s most popular work, including his portraits of celebrities and Campbell’s Soup Cans, but was naïve to the breadth and longevity of the Pittsburgh native’s career. On countless return trips to the museum, I was always intrigued by both the work of curators who continuously reimagined the collection and of Warhol’s ability to produce art that remains relevant decades after its inception.

    This past semester I had the opportunity to intern with Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck. My work for the term centered around researching two upcoming shows, Adman: Warhol Before Pop and Cry Baby: Devan Shimoyama. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time at The Andy Warhol Museum has been the opportunity to gain insight on the inner workings of the curatorial process. Compiling bibliographies on Warhol’s Boy Book drawings and photography has not only increased my personal knowledge of previous scholarship on Warhol, but also allowed me to provide valuable sources of reference to the curatorial team. During this process, I utilized Pitt’s University Library System. Having access to databases and sources helped me do my job efficiently and continue to learn more about Warhol as I researched.  

    Serving as a curatorial assistant at The Andy Warhol Museum has been extremely gratifying. As an Art History and Museum Studies student who is interested in contemporary art and passionate about the city of Pittsburgh, this position has allowed me to explore future career possibilities and learn about the innovative, complex, and immortal work of Andy Warhol.  

    (1) ‘Museum.’ The Andy Warhol Museum,

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    Image of the Carnegie Funerary Boat within the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt


    To Survey or not To Survey: Conducting Audience Evaluations

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2017

    A survey is just a piece of paper or an online questionnaire that takes a couple minutes of your time; a completely insignificant portion of a lifetime. Who knew that the small piece of paper, or the few seemingly simple questions could hold so much weight in the world of museum curation.

    This semester I had the privilege of interning with Dr. Erin Peters, the Assistant Curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in the development stages of the new Egyptian exhibit Egypt on the Nile. I was tasked with creating and carrying out formative audience evaluations; gathering feedback from the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt visitors on the plans and ideas for the future exhibit. Before my time on the museum floor, I began by reading articles and past evaluations to gain an understanding of the methodologies and importance of the audience evaluation. Although the curators and the museum staff have the final word in an exhibition, audience feedback will feed into the creation of the exhibit; after all, the exhibit is for the visitors.

    As they were in the later stages of the evaluations, the survey I created had to be more specific to the designs of the new exhibit. I was focused digital display for the Carnegie Funerary Boat, specifically its auditory segment. This resulted in a multi-style question survey about the possible interactive ideas for the boats installment. In addition to the survey, I used visual aids to give the visitors a clue as to how the exhibit will come together, and to illustrate the new themes and digital additions to the current objects on display. This resulted in approximately one-hundred and five total responses. I will be concluding my internship by compiling all the responses and analysis into a final report that will be used in to next stages of exhibit development.

    Due to the large number of responses in a short amount of time, the significance of visitor feedback becomes more apparent. While compiling the results you begin to realize how a collective audience feels about a museum experience; what kinds of displays attract the most people, how lines affect a museum experience, whether visitors are willing to stop and read labels, and what they are hoping to learn when they enter a museum space. This survey will help dictate the use of hand-sets versus overhead projection of sound, how the boat segments are displayed, whether or not they utilize both auditory and visual displays, and even what themes and concepts are focused on within the exhibit as a whole. As a past visitor I never really get a chance to see the impact I made on the exhibit just by visiting, but working behind the scenes I got the chance to experience first hand not only how important the visitors are, but how stopping to fill out a few quick questions can shape future museum experiences.

    Overall, this internship provided me with a greater appreciation and understanding for the work and effort needed to create an accessible and effective exhibit, as well as the skills and the drive to continue working on curatorial projects in the future.

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    Timing and tracking at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Fall 2017

    Think about your favorite museum. What immediately catches your attention? Which attractions—whether an artwork, a specific exhibit, an interactive activity—do you always make sure to see? Are there ones that don’t interest you, ones you tend to skip over?  

    This fall, I was given the amazing opportunity to conduct a tracking-and-timing study as an intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art. During this time, I observed visitor behavior in the Created, Collected, Conserved: The Life Stories of Paintings exhibit in the museum’s Scaife Galleries. Tracking and timing is an observational method that gives museums an idea of how their spaces are being utilized—what museum components attract the most attention, how long visitors are spending in museum spaces, and more. It’s a great tool for museums to understand which elements of their exhibits work—and which ones do not—in order to better construct exhibits that truly engage their visitors.

    Before I began this internship, I was an employee of the Visitor Services department at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History; I have worked there since October 2016, and working directly with visitors proves to be an eye-opening experience every day. However, verbal or written visitor feedback is often lacking or impractical—it would be nearly impossible for a visitor to recount their opinion of every work in a given exhibit, and surveys are relatively infrequent, and thus less reliable. In this case, timing and tracking, a way to anonymously ‘survey’ visitors, can signal the good and bad in a museum solely based on the behavior and movements of a visitor in a gallery or exhibit.

    The most important thing I learned from this internship is how much our understanding of visitor opinion changes when we view museum-goers in a more natural, relaxed state. As a Visitor Services representative, my job is to directly engage with our guests and ask them blatantly, ‘How did you like our museum?’ My tasks included taking surveys directly from the visitor, seemingly looming over them while they choose from formulated answers to closed-ended questions. I’ve come to realize how intrusive formal surveys can feel to a visitor. But my task as an intern was to take a hands-off approach with visitors, to watch them from afar, to let their actions answer the questions we have about our galleries. These behaviors are incredibly informative; by studying patterns of our guests’ movements and coding the pertinent behaviors, I was able to glean which artworks were the most eye-catching and which ones tended to be ignored, and study. Based on their engagement with each art object, visitors wordlessly showed me what they liked and what they didn’t find interesting. It was amazing to see how some of the most valuable visitor feedback lay in the unconscious behaviors of museum-goers.

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    Working on the Graphotype dog tag machine.


    Connecting the Past and Present at Soldiers and Sailors

    Museum Studies Intern at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2017

    At Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum almost everything is connected, which giving tours showed. Many days for me would start on the World War II Era Graphotype dog machine creating dog tags for different occasions like those tours or to honor veterans. The tours are the key piece that connects everything together with each one beginning with giving the students their custom dog tag that I made along with a certain role such as Squad Commander or Scout. After they have their roles and supplies they go out and have to find specific displays and describe them to get a feel for the museum right before they are taken on their tour. The tours also give us the opportunity to help the students connect with the stories of the past and hopefully gain more interest from them.

    The tour is broken down into three different sections and the part I gave was in the hallway that contains mostly World War II displays with the end being display cases for the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. I focused on World War II since that was the subject the students were learning. After going through the hallway, I ended the tour in the museum’s Hall of Valor that honors veterans from Pennsylvania who received the highest honors possible like the Medal of Honor. I treated the tour as more of a conversation with the students and asked questions rather than just lecturing them hoping they would ask me questions as well. Some kids did ask questions which some connected with the topic, but not about the displays themselves that allowed me to connect the tour to other inventory that is not on display and the work I did with PastPerfect.

    The PastPerfect software allows the institution to keep inventory of all the different artifacts and pictures they have and much of my time was spent with it. When new objects come in they are put in a storage box and then more closely examined. I would then write descriptions for something like a Japanese grenade from World War II, and take its picture and add it into the system. This allows us to search for certain objects, like a decorated soldiers jacket, to have it ready to go on display or a traveling display like the one just put on during a Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena. The descriptions made me do research for some objects which gave me the ability to answer some questions from students during the tours.

    After finishing one of my tours, one student came to me to ask me more about the United Service Organization (USO) and soldiers downtime. I had previously organized pictures and different travel pamphlets from two different soldiers while looking at new inventory and entering it into the computer. With the knowledge I gained from those I was able to tell the student about other types of entertainment and activities soldiers did during their free time on top of what the USO provided.

    A final part of the students’ day at the museum is reading and writing letters like they are soldiers away at war. During this I had one of the younger students ask me how often soldiers would write letters. Since I also transcribed a journal from a WWI soldier I was able to answer his question based on the soldier’s writings. The tours I gave had focus on telling the stories of the different wars and conflicts through personal stories behind the objects on display. At Soldiers and Sailors just about everything I did connected to something else I did, just as their goal of telling stories keeps visitors connected to the past each time they walk the halls.

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  • We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene

    This is the facade that greets visitors at the start of the newest exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene


    We ARE Nature

    Museum Studies Intern at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2017

    Not to sound dramatic, but this semester I was a part of history being made here in Pittsburgh. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History was the host of the 2017 ICOM NATHIST Conference, facilitated by a partnership of the museum and the International Council of Museums and Collections of Natural History and focused on the newest addition to the winding exhibition halls.

    The exhibit is on the Anthropocene, a new geological age now being discussed in the scientific community, marking the impact humans (and human activity) have had on the earth. We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene is the first exhibit of its kind in all of North America. Described as “unflinching”, it is an incredible, in-depth reflection of how we have impacted the environment in a myriad of ways.

    While the museum bustled with regular programming and preparation for the conference, I was aiding the marketing department to keep the usual public engagement accounts running, like Instagram, Facebook and the Tumblr blog. Across accounts, it was my job to generate content that was, to borrow a word, symbiotic with the events and related programming to not only the conference, but the centerpiece itself, We Are Nature. From planting vertical gardens to beginning a backyard compost, the readers of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog are armed with information to retrace their steps back to nature and continue to make Pittsburgh a greener city.

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    • The Sick Child
    • Program for Death, Love and the Maiden
    The Sick Child

    1925 painting by Edvard Munch


    Death, Love, and the Maiden (and Me)

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Fall 2017

    I first read the title on an overcrowded spreadsheet, interesting, but no more so than Soup Tureens from the Campbell Museum, or America Underfoot: A History of Floor Coverings from Colonial Times to the Present. To me, it was just ‘EXH197502’, (no poster), one of 156 exhibits from 1969 till 2010. It only really caught my interest when I saw the program from an old file case in the Frick Fine Arts Reading Room. It was blue, crumpled, and featured a skeletal figure, cupid with a bow and arrow, and a sleeping woman. The program read, Death, Love and the Maiden with a conspicuous lack of an oxford comma. Grammar aside, it appealed to me.

    Most of my work this year, as an intern for the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery, has been useful if occasionally unglamorous. After I spent a month transferring the online exhibit Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia from the Constellations website to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website, I spent most of my time digitizing old posters and programs. It was a lot of unrolling posters, rerolling them into tubes, and balancing them on the shuttle on the way to the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Once there, I would unroll the posters, scan them one by one, and transfer the files onto a flash drive. Then I would reroll them into the tubes, balance them on the shuttle back to Hillman Library, where I would then crop and edit the files using Adobe Photoshop. After that I would crosscheck my spreadsheets, give them the proper file names, and upload them to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website.

    The work could become robotic, systematic, which was relaxing in some ways. It was an easy pattern I could fall into. The actual weight of what I was doing came in waves; I was holding something that might have been unseen for 40 years. These posters and programs are not just objects to be mindlessly catalogued. They are paper and cardboard objects yes, but they are also  primary sources, works of art unto themselves, and they are sometimes the last remaining artefacts of an exhibition.

    That wave of recognition came to me as I held the program for Death, Love and the Maiden in my hands. Outside of the usual research I did for my internship, I decided to investigate this particular show further. In my search, I came across a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about the exhibition from May 21, 1975, entitled “Pitt Art Exhibit Views Women.”  The article describes the exhibition as “a modest multimedia exhibit” that is “not only inherently interesting, but does what scholarship should do: present information that deepens awareness of life and art.” The article identifies the Sick Child, a 1925 painting by Edvard Munch, as the centerpiece of the exhibit. It was the only painting exhibited and was lent to the University along with two prints of the same subject by the Munch Museum of Oslo.

    A little more research let me to an image of the painting itself. The painting is haunting; its use of bright colors stands in direct juxtaposition to its dark subject matter; an older woman sobbing next to a child’s sickbed. Clearly the image haunted Munch himself, who painted six different versions of the painting over the course of 40 years. Critics speculate that the girl in the paintings is Munch’s sister Sophie, who died of tuberculosis at 15.

    Confronted with this image, I am reminded of the closing words of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s article about Death, Love and the Maiden; “the exhibit will not be forgotten by those who study it carefully.” Forty-two years later, the statement still rings true. While working with historic objects, it is easy to become desensitized, to see them only as objects devoid of history. But every once in awhile, I come across something with a story, something that sticks to my bones, and I think of all the other people the object is still stuck with, the memories it helped create, and the effort that went into making it. Then I find myself in awe of the passage of time and the persistence of memory.

    See Madeline's work at the UAG here

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    Assorted jugs and juglets from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary sites being cataloged and organized for the use of visiting scholars.


    Small Museum, No Small Feat

    Museum Studies Intern at The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology - Fall 2017

    The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology is nestled in a corner of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s basement, boasting treasures from the Herodian palace in Jericho, remnants of the long dead cities of Bab-Ed-Drah and Tel Beit Mirsim, and countless everyday relics of lives once lived in what is presently considered Jordan. The Kelso is kept open and alive by curator emeritus Dr. Nancy Lapp, part-time head curator Jennifer Hipple, and a handful of diligent but tirelessly busy work-study students and volunteers. I never expected an easy internship, but the challenges a small, understaffed, underfunded museum grapples with on a regular basis left me at a loss, particularly after my hands-off experience interning with the Smithsonian last summer.

    My mission this semester has been to aid the new curator in two tasks: updating any and all texts in the museum, and rethinking the way visitors interact with the museum. Some seven drafts and three months later, the final wordings of the item labels are still facing final revisions, a testament both to the complexity of properly portraying the museum’s intended voice as well as to the detriment a lack of full-time staff imposes. Originally printed (and still displayed) on computer paper held in place by hat pins, almost 300 labels need reprinting and reformatting on a durable but thin material called polystyrene in order to better impress the archeological and scholarly authority of the museum upon the public. Though Jennifer is given only a couple thousand dollars a year to update and upkeep the Kelso, a significant portion of this year's budget has been allocated to professionalizing the wall texts and labels. Because such a variety of printing materials and inks are considered acidic and ‘gassing’ (or emitting gasses that can harm or alter artifacts), the large part of the budget is necessary to ensure the safety of the ancient and oftentimes priceless artifacts of which we are stewards. Smaller museums like the Kelso constantly find themselves forced into this type of compromise, unable to update educational materials for the sake of preservation, and sometimes even vice versa.

    The secondary task of improving visitor experience continues to come to fruition in simpler ways like making exhibits more visually accessible and cohesive, improving general accessibility for those with increased needs, or making explicit what visitors may and may not touch through (yet unprinted) signage. It was in these smaller, more obvious tasks that it became apparent how much more there was to learn in a small museum. Unlike a larger and better funded institution, the Kelso inadvertently offered me the opportunity to get my hands dirty in every type of job, mostly just because someone needed to do it but there are never enough hands nor enough time in the day to do half the things that need doing, particularly while still giving both public tours and private, more specialized talks.

    Though I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to the Kelso and the family that comes with it come December, I’ll be sure to take my sweet time panting and wiping my brow between now and my next attempt at being a museum-variety jack of all trades.

    Learn more about the free-admission Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology in East Liberty here

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