Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at https://haa.pitt.edu/ckp.

 

Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    • Danse Macabre, Mabel Dwight
    • Photograph of the exhibition layout drafting process.
    Danse Macabre, Mabel Dwight

    Mabel Dwight, Danse Macabre, 1933, lithograph in black on woven paper.

     

    Learning the Curatorial Process through Alone Together

    Julia Lepre, Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art – Spring 2022  

    This semester, I worked with Professor Alex J. Taylor, alongside two other interns, Lee Silva-Walker, and Tiffany Sims. Professor Taylor specializes in modern art and visual culture, and works as an assistant professor and academic curator at the University of Pittsburgh’s History of Art and Architecture Department. He is the guest curator of the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism, being shown at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art from May 29, 2022, to September 25, 2022. An amalgamation of modern 20th century and contemporary realist art are displayed together in this show, drawing connections between the past and the present through mutual expressions of uneasiness, loneliness, and isolation in times of unrest.  

    Primarily, my fellow interns and I were responsible for researching the artists whose works are included in the show. At first, the work was overwhelming, and I found it difficult to organize the administrative processes required to manage this information. However, over time I was able to find a process that was more efficient and effective, and researching became more enjoyable. Checking in with Professor Taylor each week allowed me to reflect on the research I collected and determine which directions I should go in next. Eventually, I felt more confident in my own capabilities, and I gained a better understanding of the curatorial process. The more research I did on the different artists in the show, the more I found unexpected, but interesting, connections between the artists and their works that added new depth to the exhibition. It also showed me how frustrating the process can be; often your research can lead you to dead ends, and important questions can be left unanswered. This experience not only improved my own research skills but revealed to me how the process of curating a show is an ever-evolving one. Towards the end of the semester, we also got to help Professor Taylor design the exhibition space. Together, we looked through all the research we had compiled and used that to make logical, meaningful, and aesthetic decisions for the placement of the works in the gallery space. We discussed the different connections we found between artists and their works and if they made sense together; we discussed the flow of the room, and the experience of the viewer, as well as which pieces would work best in certain spots.  

    Although the collection was already formed by the time we began researching the artists, we had done no preliminary research at this point, so we were going in blind. One of the artists I was researching was O. Louis Guglielmi and I came across a book on Guglielmi and the different exhibitions he had participated in. As we worked through the research I had collected on Guglielmi, as well as that conducted by my fellow interns, Professor Taylor discovered that Arrest No. 2 by Henry Billings, and The American Dream by O. Louis Guglielmi, had an unexpected, shared history. In the 1937 exhibition of the American Artist’s Congress, both paintings appeared together; and almost 100 years later they were to be brought back together in the same show, all without prior knowledge of their past. These kinds of exciting discoveries are what you are hoping for through all the hours of skimming articles and books, and they make the experience worthwhile. I realized that while I was researching, I was learning more about the show itself, and finding new ways to interpret its meaning and the relationship between each piece. Overall, this experience made me more enthusiastic about the curatorial process, as I was given the opportunity to work hands-on with this project and gained valuable experience from the work I did.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Cultivating Community in the Greer Lankton Archive

    Author giving curatorial talk at the Mattress Factory’s 'Greer Lankton Birthday Bash.'

     

    Cultivating Community in the Greer Lankton Archive

    Celia Kaine, Museum Studies intern at the Mattress Factory Museum –  Spring 2022

    Preserving art as a form of personal history has never been a more essential process. Creation, as a reckoning with the self, brings the intangible realities of life lived to colored actualization. It’s an important aspect of the makeup of cultural history and contributes to a broader, more vibrant understanding of the world. These sentiments are gospel in archival work and have been powerfully reinforced throughout my three months working in the Greer Lankton Archive at the Mattress Factory Museum.

    Under the instruction of Archivist Sarah Hallet and the Project Digitization Archivist Sinead Bligh, I’ve gained firsthand experience in physical and digital object management as a part of a more extensive digitization project encompassing a massive collection of artist Greer Lankton’s work and personal objects. In April, the release of an online archival finding aid provided public access to the extensive digital collection for the first time. An intuitive system created with researchers and the general public in mind, the finding aid epitomizes why archivists do what they do and how their work maintains the integrity of history and art for years to come. This resource allows the community to interact with Greer’s art within the different contexts of her life as a Trans female artist at the forefront of the East Village art movement in the 1980s. It also encourages an introspective examination of identity through the lens of an artist who was so uncompromisingly herself. 

    During my spring at the Mattress Factory, I primarily focused on the scanning and digital processing of 2D art from Greer Lankton’s life between the years 1975 through 1996. I interacted with portraits, self-portraits, and notebooks that Greer created throughout her career, from ages 17 to 38. I also helped in overseeing final edits of scope and content descriptions for the archival database. At times, it was hard to fathom the purview of the archive, especially when I’d only worked on a small fraction of the thousands of objects, including Greer’s 3D artworks, her infamous dolls, photographs, correspondence, and even personal planners detailing her daily life. What I didn’t expect from my experience was how much the artwork and objects I encountered impacted me. It’s an extremely singular experience to flip through the pages of someone’s life and art, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to help tell their story and shine a light on their extraordinary practice. And that’s what archival work is, story-telling through objective preservation, which is made evident through the archive’s finding aid.

    At the end of my semester, I had the incredible opportunity to see the payoff of all the work done in the archive with an event celebrating the release of the online finding aid coinciding with what would’ve been Greer Lankton’s 64th birthday. Along with a few former interns and fellows who had also contributed to the digitization project over the past three years, I was tasked with curating a couple of selected objects from the collection. This allowed me to share how Greer’s artwork had impacted me personally and examine the themes of glamour, gender, sexuality, and self-actualization I find so compelling about her artwork. During this experience, I met members of Greer Lankton’s family who had traveled from Michigan for the event. Talking with them was incredibly moving and solidified for me the significance of taking care in preserving an artist’s story. I’m grateful to have been a part of such an impactful project and look forward to a future in additional artistic stewardship. 

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

    Mobilizing Visitor Feedback at the University of Pittsburgh’s Nationality Rooms

    Ellie Downs, Museum Studies intern at the Nationality Rooms – Spring 2022 

    The return to in-person tours in February of 2022 marked the first time in nearly two years that the Nationality Rooms could welcome visitors into its physical spaces again. While they host groups varying from K-12 students, Boy and Girl Scout troops, Pitt students and their families, retirement community groups, and tourists to Pittsburgh, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nationality Rooms moved all their activity online. Until this February, they were limited to virtual tours over Zoom for visitors to learn about the Rooms through videos, photographs, and live narration. With the re-introduction of physical tours and events alongside their online offerings, the Nationality Rooms have taken advantage of this unique opportunity to hear from its new and returning visitors.  

    In this internship, I worked with Michael Walters, the Nationality Rooms tour coordinator, to create new tools to collect visitor feedback and evaluate visitor satisfaction. Our goal was to develop processes that would continue gathering data after the end of this semester. I crafted surveys intended for specific types of visitors, such as large groups or current Pitt students, to gauge visitors’ satisfaction with their tour experience, ways in which that experience could have been improved, and their broader familiarity with other offerings at the Nationality Rooms.  

    The goal of these surveys is partly to provide insight into how much visitors know about Nationality Rooms events and festivals so that they can optimize the promotion of those events on their recently launched website, Pitt and UCIS newsletters, and on social media. Another focus of this project is to gain a clearer picture of what draws visitors to the Nationality Rooms and what aspects of these rooms they find most intriguing. That feedback will ultimately factor into future decisions about styles of tours to offer, including new types of online content for virtual visitors. Ultimately, although in this Spring semester I established a few of the mechanisms the Nationality Rooms will be using to collect visitor insights and reactions, the results of this project still lie farther down the road as visitors start to return to in-person activities in the coming months.

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

    Tear Gas and Water Hoses by Edward Biberman

     

    Building Exhibitions Together at Westmoreland

    Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art – Spring 2022 

    This semester I had the opportunity to work with Alex J. Taylor, the guest curator for the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This exhibition’s collection brings together historical and contemporary works of Magic Realism, focusing on the shared experience of living and working in challenging times. My involvement in the show was to research the historical artists whose art is being displayed in the exhibition. I worked with two other interns doing research on the artists, which helped give more depth to the show and taught me how much thought and planning that goes into curating an exhibition.  

    A highlight for my research was on the work of Edward Biberman, whose painting Tear Gas and Water Hoses is the key image for the exhibition. He was the first artist I started doing research on this semester. In the process of exploring the subject of the painting, which depicts a union protest outside the Warner Brothers studio in Los Angeles, we discovered the newspaper photographs in the Los Angeles Times that were Biberman's source. Biberman transformed these news photos into a painting by compositing shapes from the references together and simplifying the scenes. Another subject that I was able to research was Biberman’s personal connections to political issues. Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director, is Edward’s brother who was one of the Hollywood Ten and then blacklisted by Hollywood Studios. The Hollywood Ten was a group of writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  

    I learned I had to focus on finding information that was relevant to the pieces in the show. I gained new research skills like identifying what is useful information among the results of the search. Since I drew upon materials from five database sources to search for books and articles about or by Biberman and other artists this method helped save a lot of time which allowed me to get through more search results. The importance of the research we did on the artists was revealed by Alex Taylor, who used it to write the artists’ labels and much more. The labels are essential as they give the viewers information that shapes how they experience the show. The other interns and I also helped with the layout of the show. This was my favorite part of the semester because it felt like solving a puzzle. We had to think about what people see first, what they see together, and how the pieces look in relation to each other. Taking all that into consideration, along with the sizes and aesthetics of the works, we were then able to perfect the arrangement of the exhibition. Bringing together our research in the context of the display gave depth to the show, and I had the opportunity to also help assemble the layout of the works, I felt like a real curator. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Inside AAP’s gallery space and their current exhibit
     

    Education Through Art at the AAP

    Isabel Meline, Museums studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh- Spring 2022 

    Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) is a local nonprofit which organizes shows in the Pittsburgh area for artists in the region. With the assistance of AAP staff, artist members design exhibits to display and sell their work. With a focus on accessibility and community, AAP works to promote diversity, inclusion and education within the art world. This semester, with guidance and assistance from executive director Madeline Gent, I have been responsible for designing additional educational programming for two of their upcoming exhibits in the summer and fall.  

    The first project I was involved in was a retrospective of the artist Mary Culberston-Stark, an AAP member of 30 years who has had a successful career as both a well-respected artist and educator. Since the show is a celebration of her career, we approached the design with the aim of giving an intimate experience with the artist and insight into her process. Madeline and I came up with two events: a modified and personalized version on the popular ‘Paint and Sip’ activity and a tour of the exhibit with the artist herself. Before we could pitch our ideas to Mary, I had to create a project proposal which included a potential budget and supply list. It was the first time I had undertaken such a task , and it helped me ensure that I was thinking of all the necessary details and possibilities involved in each program.  Our meeting with Mary went very well, and we are in the process of nailing down dates for each event while her exhibition is open over the summer.  

    The second show I worked on was a project developed by AAP member, Brent Nokomoto. The show was designed to highlight the work of Asian American artists in the Pittsburgh area and features eight artists who utilize a variety of styles and mediums. A major goal of the show was not to simply focus on the variety of Asian American identities and culture in the Pittsburgh, but also to help shift the stereotypical face of the art world away from that of exclusive whiteness. For the programming I decided to focus on workshops targeting younger audiences. Again, I had to create project proposals. This exhibit was much more difficult to design programming for since it involved so many different artists and I wanted to be able to design something that was properly representative of their diverse practices. 

    It was exciting to be able to collaborate with artists in the design process. Taking these programs from the online research phase to speaking to them in person showed me how important collaboration is. Because Madeline gave me so much freedom, trust, and responsibility working on these projects I was able to really get out of my comfort zone and learn by doing. I look forward to continuing to develop the programming and to seeing it executed once the exhibits open. It was challenging to have so much responsibility with very limited professional experience, but Madeline was a great advisor and was able to balance giving me freedom and specific instruction.  

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Image of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister in the Frick Fine Arts Building.

     

    Facing the Past of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister

    Lydia Bailey- Museum Studies Intern at the University of Art Gallery – Spring 2022 

    Every week, hundreds of students filter in and out of the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building. Rushing to and from class, most students probably do not think about the story this building tells about its donor or what it means to the University of Pittsburgh. As an intern at the University Art Gallery in Spring 2022, I spent a significant amount of time in this space and quickly learned that its history is worth sharing with the public. 

    As a UAG intern, I was encouraged to identify a signature project topic that related to my interests in the field of museum studies. Working with Isaiah Bertagnolli, graduate assistant of the University Art Gallery, I devised a plan to research the development of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister and the provenance of the Italian renaissance copy paintings which fill its walls. This research was to be completed in conjunction with intern Anika Agarwal’s whose signature project focused on the architectural history of the building.  

    At the early stages of this project, some foundational information regarding the Lochoff Cloister became clear. The building was donated to the University of Pittsburgh by Helen Clay Frick in honor of her father, a wealthy industrial tycoon in Pittsburgh in 1965. She wanted this space to embody fine art - to Frick, this meant Florentine architecture complemented by Renaissance artworks. In order to achieve this, she purchased a series of frescoes by Russian artist Nicholas Lochoff, who was known for his copies of Italian masterpieces. What is more important is that when Frick made her donation, University administrators agreed, with some hesitation, that she could have control over employment offers in what was then the Department of Fine Arts, and that the building would not be a space for contemporary art. This contract was ultimately broken, but the ongoing tension between the institution and its donor still impacts students who enter the cloister and see Italian artwork as the sole expression of the category of “fine art”.  

    Completing this signature project required close attention to detail on research of primary and secondary sources, ranging from Lochoff Cloister descriptions and exhibition catalogs to searches in more recent, student-written news articles. In conclusion, I have realized that critical conversations surrounding the artwork in the cloister cease to exist within a few years of Frick Fine Arts’s establishment; these conversations are necessary to have as the physical surroundings of an academic space are formative to the knowledge produced by students. By delving into a topic which suited my interests, I was able to think critically about this space which I have spent significant time in, and synthesize a project which challenges one’s preconceived notions of what constitutes fine art. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A look at Collectrium, the database software I worked with this semester.

     

    Researching Female Printmakers of the 20th Century

    Carson Sanov, Museum Studies Intern at O’Brien Art House – Spring 2022 

    This semester I worked with independent curator Hannah Turpin to help digitize Marty O'Brien's private art collection. My main goal for the semester was to research the exhibition and publication history of the prints in his collection, and to enter that information for each piece into the Collectrium, the digital management system that Marty is using to keep track of his collection.  

    The driving force behind Marty’s collection is his passion for art, especially art that went unappreciated in its own time. The focus of his showcase is twentieth-century artists who were well regarded and influential in their time period, but for whatever reason failed to become as well-known as some of their contemporaries – think “the best artists you’ve never heard of.” In keeping with that idea, I decided to focus my research on the female printmakers represented in the collection. The sexism that permeates every industry and trade did not make many exceptions, but the progress of the last few decades has encouraged many to appreciate previously uncelebrated contributions to the art world. 

    At the start of this internship, I struggled a bit balancing thorough and comprehensive research with making my deadlines and deliverables. Of course, my goal is to provide as complete a picture as possible of the display history of each piece, but it is unreasonable to spend an entire day researching a single work of art. Fortunately, as I became more familiar with the resources I was using to find information (Google, Google Scholar, PittCat, other libraries and databases, etc.) and as I became more comfortable working with Collectrium, I was able to speed up my workflow without having to compromise the thoroughness of my research. 

    As I come to the end of this internship, I’m very proud of the work that I was able to get done and pleased with the experience that I gained. I have an increased understanding of how a collection is maintained and how information regarding a collection is gathered and updated, both of which were things I wanted to know more about at the start of the semester. Additionally, I have a much better understanding of Collectrium, and although different institutions certainly make use of other databases, my experience with it has been very informative and will be useful when the time comes for me to make use of another database. I found it very fulfilling to be able to help complete the story of these pieces and also these artists. Although extensive research and summarizing isn’t the most glamorous work, it is essential to make sure that these artists’ accomplishments are remembered. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Entrance of the University Art Gallery with a poster of the new 2022 Studio Arts Exhibition, open April 1-30

     

    From Square One: Redeveloping the UAG Website

    Anika Agarwal, Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery – Spring 2022 

    My time as an intern at the University Art Gallery allowed me to learn about and contribute to the critical work that goes into providing a positive museum experience for visitors. Working under the guidance and supervision of Isaiah Bertagnolli, graduate assistant of the University Art Gallery, intern Lydia Bailey and I were able to aid in the redevelopment of the UAG website. Additionally, we were each expected to devise our signature projects by the end of the semester.

    I am here to tell you all that redeveloping a website for a university gallery that has hosted a multitude of exhibitions since the dawn of the 1960s was no easy task. Contrastingly, the amount of insight that I gained surrounding the production of an exhibition, be it from transcripts of conversations between curators and artists to the invitation lists for the premieres, helped me further understand the myriad of thinking behind the culmination of an exhibition. A massive takeaway from my journey at the University Art Gallery was a broad understanding and diversified perspective on all the elements that go into developing and executing an exhibit from start to finish.  

    As a student intern, my work entailed cross-referencing online exhibitions displayed on the website with their physical counterparts. When trying to compile information for online exhibitions physical catalogs came in handy as they helped form the base for descriptions that were then projected onto the website. Although it was easier to do this for later exhibitions, I started to face many hurdles when it came to exhibitions from decades ago. Older exhibitions featured on the website would lack descriptions or physical catalogs and pivotal information was lost. This is where I faced most of my challenges.  

    Conducting research from the bottom up with minimal to no information on the dates, names, or descriptions of exhibitions felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Additionally using search engines like Google Scholar, the University Library System, and other resources was often misleading and lead me back to square one. It wasn't until a little while later that I was introduced to a browser that referenced newspaper articles, with which I hit the jackpot. Looking back at my time at the gallery, the adversities that I faced, and the challenges that I overcame, I was was left with a sense of pride and accomplishment unlike any other. The knowledge I gained as an intern at the University Art Gallery will permanently expand my experience and interactions with museum settings, and I hope to have added some value to a gallery as enriched as the UAG. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Second floor room containing various collections at the University of Pittsburgh Library Archives and Special Collections

     

    Processing Pittsburgh's Past

    Jackie Bender, Museum Studies Intern at the University of Pittsburgh Library Archives and Special Collections – Spring 2022 

    The University of Pittsburgh Library System Archives and Special Collections works to preserve, catalogue, and in some cases digitize the physical history of Pittsburgh. They want to create a database available to those who need access to those records for scholarly purposes. Over the past semester I worked under David Grinnell, the Coordinator of Archives and Manuscripts at the Archives and Special Collections (ASC). My work as an intern varied greatly from project to project, allowing me to see and experience many aspects of the work required for working in the University of Pittsburgh’s archival system. 

    The most all-encompassing of these projects was the creation of a processing plan for the photographs of the IKM renovations of the Allegheny County Jail. This was a project that was required the creation of a finding aid that would help potential researchers find relevant information and materials. I was tasked with cataloging all the photographs that were given to the ASC, and separating them into three major groups: pre-renovation, during renovation, and post-renovation. Initially, I had to record the initial arrangement of the record, describe the conditions they were left in, and recommend any potential special considerations that needed to be considered for the catalogue. Also important was the research required to make a short historical overview of the collection that would help guide anyone that might want to do research into the jail. After this I created an arrangement for the materials that would simplify and adequately catalog the records.

    While this was one of the largest projects that I worked on over the semester, there were multiple smaller projects that I worked on that required different approaches. One task I assisted with was updating older collections or finding aids. This included the Pickard Collection, for which I was tasked with describing a small number of prints and lithographs that needed to be added to the existing collection holdings. Another project that needed to be updated was the finding aid for the Sala Udin and Tony Gaskew Cointelpro papers, which I reviewed and updated to current standards.  

    These are just three of the vast number of collections being preserved at Archives and Special Collections. There are many more records waiting to be used by future students and researchers. To anyone needing to do research into the city of Pittsburgh, they can plan a visit to the Archives and Special Collections and find more information at https://www.library.pitt.edu/asc-visit.   

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Two concrete paths both equipped with railings, one on the right with six steps of stairs, one on the left with a ramp, to access a raised concrete platform with chairs, a grassy area, trees. The platform is surrounded by a red brick building, and the single door directly parallel to 43rd street is the entrance for Associated Artists of Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville gallery space.

    Two paths approaching the entrance to AAP's Lawrenceville gallery space located at 100 43rd Street.

     

    Accessibility at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh

    Mythri Sundar, Museum Studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh — Fall 2021

    Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) works to connect visual artists with audiences and displays artists’ work in exhibitions throughout the year and at different locations. With galleries that are free and open to the public, AAP wants to welcome all community members into their spaces. To work toward this goal, my responsibilities as an intern were focused on these questions: What challenges may prevent people from engaging with the arts, and how can arts organizations be responsive and considerate of people’s needs? Under the guidance of Executive Director Madeline L. Gent, I had the opportunity to pursue projects in support of accessibility at AAP.

    To begin the process, I researched accessibility practices and looked into multiple Pittsburgh area museums to learn more about the information and accommodations they have available for guests to plan their visit. With these resources as a guide, I came up with a list of recommendations for AAP to strengthen navigation, enjoyment of exhibits, and access to supportive programs. These three areas also informed our creation of the “Visiting and Accessibility” webpage meant to communicate with visitors and encourage further discussion.

    As an organization focused on connecting artists and audiences, it is important for AAP to also translate the visual arts into non-visual mediums. We have begun working toward this through the use of image descriptions and alt text in AAP’s social media. Beyond digital spaces, the next goal will be to make AAP’s physical spaces also more accessible to blind and low vision guests. As AAP works on expanding gallery experiences, we will be installing a sign with information on AAP’s purpose and website domain (aapgh.org) where visitors can learn more about the organization and exhibits.

    Going forward, I hope that all visitors will feel empowered to share their experiences with AAP knowing that their feedback will have an impact in shaping the gallery culture. In addition, AAP is committed to equity and inclusion, so accommodations that consider safety, mobility, economic and other needs also have an important place in these discussions alongside broader diversity considerations.

    To plan a visit to Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, contact the organization, share feedback, or find links to additional resources, please search the website https://www.aapgh.org/accessibility.

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

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