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

    Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?, 1989, offset laser or inkjet print poster. The Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, © Guerrilla Girls

     

    Guerrilla Girls and the CMOA

    Author: Annie Abernathy, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    “Only 4 of the 42 artists in the Carnegie International are women.” So declares a message by the Guerrilla Girls in 1986, produced as part of this feminist art collective’s sustained attack on the inequalities of the art world. As Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the 57th edition of the Carnegie International, the situation is thankfully much better. This year, 17 out of 32 artists included in the International are women.

    The Guerrilla Girls are also making their presence felt in the permanent collection displays of the Carnegie Museum of Art. As part of Crossroads, the museum’s recent rehang of the contemporary galleries, a collection of their posters are currently on display in the Scaife Galleries. What would the Guerrilla Girls think of This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, the student curated exhibition at the University Art Gallery that opens a few weeks after the Carnegie International? Given their own iconic billboard designs of the 1980s, what might they make of our inclusion of Tom Blackwell’s print I-610 North? Where the Guerrilla Girls use art to protest the art world itself, Blackwell’s work appears to merely repeat and reinforce traditional gendered imagery. Both women in these works are reminiscent of classical depictions of the female nude such as Manet’s Olympia or Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Drawing upon a history in which women have consistently been presented as passive objects, the Guerrilla Girls take a stand. The group of their posters on show in Crossroads at CMOA use the traditional female nude to call out institutional sexism.

    This is not Ideal also uses a historical lens to confront contemporary issues, reinterpreting artworks in the collection to expose their sexist content. The CMOA has often collected works through the Carnegie International, such that the decisions of its curators make a lasting impact on the museum’s collection. As the students curating This is not Ideal have discovered, it is a constant struggle in exhibition making to acknowledge the limits of the collection you are drawing upon. The UAG collection also has its disparities: the statistics are difficuly to calculate, but only about 8% of the works in the collection were created by women. In This is Not Ideal, sexist and traditional histories are challenged through their dialogue with non-normative images. By using a biased history to tell a new narrative, we hope that viewers will see how the past still resonates in the present, and what transformations must occur to effect lasting change.

    Crossroads is now open in the Scaife Galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Marsha P. Johnson), 1975, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Important Identities: Recognizing and Remembering the Faces of Ladies and Gentlemen

    Author, Rebecca Moser, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum – Summer 2018

    As the most comprehensive single-artist museum and archive in the world and the largest in North America, The Andy Warhol Museum certainly doesn’t lack research material. During my Fine Foundation Fellowship at the museum under the supervision of Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck, I spent the summer experiencing the daily operations of the museum and learning about the curatorial process. My favorite thing about working at the Warhol was seeing the lengths that the dedicated staff go to exhibiting Warhol’s artworks in new contexts in order to connect with diverse communities.  The opportunity to participate in these efforts was one of the most rewarding experiences of my internship.

    This summer I assisted in the curatorial staff’s research on Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series (1975) as they prepared for a temporary exhibition opening this fall. Ladies and Gentlemen is portrait series featuring predominantly black and Latinx drag queens and transgender women from New York. The series was commissioned by Luciano Anselmino, an Italian art dealer, and is arguably Warhol’s largest undertaking. The series, including Warhol’s preliminary work, is comprised of 268 paintings, 65 drawings, a print portfolio containing 10 collages, and over 500 Polaroids of 14 models. Select prints, paintings, drawings, and Polaroids from Ladies and Gentlemen will be exhibited for the first time as a comprehensive group at the Andy Warhol Museum in conjunction with Devan Shimoyama’s first solo museum exhibition, Devan Shimoyama: Cry, Baby (October 13, 2018–March 17, 2019).

    In an effort to recuperate the stories of figures who have historically been marginalized and overlooked, even by Warhol himself, we focused on the models’ biographies. During Warhol’s lifetime, the models for the series were left anonymous at exhibitions. Due to this persistent disregard for the individuality of the models, they were grouped together and commodified as anonymous faces of an oppressed subculture. After Warhol’s death, when works from the series were displayed, the models were occasionally named, but still little was known about their lives. Thanks to efforts by the researchers behind the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Volume 4, published in 2014, extensive information about the models and the series was uncovered and compiled. We now know they did not lead easy lives and most of them lived on the streets fighting homophobia and transphobia in society, even in gay activist circles.

    By revealing their names and their stories, the images of Ladies and Gentleman become more personal, allowing viewers to connect with the artworks in new ways; especially when the series is put into conversation with Shimoyama’s portraits of black boys and men in queer spaces. Over forty years after the completion of this series, these drag queens and transgender women of the past will be recognized as early advocates in the fight for racial and queer justice and equality that continues today.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Wilhelmina Ross), 1975, Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas. The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Ladies and Gentleman: Queer subjects at the Warhol and the UAG

    Author: Rebecca Moser, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

    The student curated University Art Gallery exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation focuses on themes that revolve around idealized beauty and gender norms as well as the subversions of these ideals by queer subjects. It is no surprise that there is a huge collection of art at the Andy Warhol Museum that can be discussed in regards to gender and sexuality. One of Warhol’s series of works that best fits into such discussions is his Ladies and Gentlemen series.These works are currently on display in conjunction with the Warhol’s forthcoming solo exhibit of the work of Devan Shimoyama, curated by Jessica Beck.

    Although queer subjects are rarer in the University Art Gallery collection than at the Warhol, several works in This is Not Ideal do present variations from the conventions of gender expression. Historical prints of the Chevalier d’Eon and Mary Frith, for example, register the long history of non-normative identities. A more contemporary example featured in the exhibition is the photograph titled Jennifur, by Daniel D. Teoli from his Gender Bender series. As a self-taught social documentary photographer, his goal was to assemble an archive of the people and cultures of Los Angeles street life in the 1970s. While no record of the sitter’s identity exists, their appearance suggests the sitter to be a drag performer or a transgender person.

    This photograph was taken at the same time that Warhol started shooting the Polaroids for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. In recent years, Warhol’s models have begun to be identified and credited, but Teoli’s models still remain unknown. The biggest difference between the works, however, is how each of the artists deal with the fine details of their sitters. In his paintings, Warhol erases the models features that seem less ideal to him, such as masculine attributes, obvious wigs and overdone makeup. These are characteristics that Teoli instead accentuates. Shot on opposite sides of the country, both Teoli and Warhol’s images provide important documents of queer culture in the late twentieth century.

    Devan Shimoyama: Cry Baby opens October 13. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

    Rebecca Mosser was also the Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum in Summer 2018.

    Read more about her internship experience here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Rural Queerness and the KKK

    Author: Nick Marsellas, PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition in the Department of English and Making Advances Workshop participant

    The project of whiteness in America has always been a project of gender and sexual oppression as well. One can see this quite clearly in the way that violence based on race, sexuality, and gender intertwines in the pages of local Pittsburgh newspaper Planet Q (“Planet Queer” until August 1995). I came across this newspaper in Pitt’s Special Collections of local underground presses during Pitt’s Making Advances workshop. Planet Q provided a radical voice for Pittsburgh queers, publishing articles on local and national politics while rejecting the assimilationist energy of national newsletters like The Advocate that were also publishing at the time. Digging into these local papers can offer us a glimpse of the more radical, leftist, rural politics that are left out of queer historical narratives that build on assumptions of the cosmopolitan, white, affluent queer.

    Michael Hames-García, in his chapter “Queer Theory Revisited,” critiques queer activist histories for what he sees as their invisible whiteness: “gay liberationism and lesbian feminism [have been made to] appear to be developed by whites without significant participation from people of color, with the consequence that their histories can be told without reference to works by people of color.” (24-25). The way that current genealogies of queer activism are written is not only false, Hames-García argues, but also whitewashes the importance of queers of color in developing the theories and practices of resistance that would eventually be translated into “queer theory.”

    One might assume that there has always been a substantial rift between white queers and people of color, but this was not always the inevitable, or even most likely, conclusion. The trajectory of early queer activism could be traced through both institutional and individual patterns of white supremacist violence against queer people just as easily as it could through poststructuralism and battles for legal rights. Many early scholars talk not about the importance of visibility and institutional recognition but about sanctioned and unsanctioned state violence at the hands of the police and the AIDS epidemic. There is relatively less mention of the KKK as an institution of homophobic violence, likely because those early scholars who are traditionally understood as inaugurating queer theory were writing in and about cities rather than the more rural sites of conflict where the KKK posed a threat (though queer people were certainly aware of this violence as well). In fact, archival evidence suggests that queer people (both white and people of color) had far more in common with other marginalized groups in the 90’s than with the institutionalized whiteness that seems so fundamental to the typical genealogy of queer activism today. The newspaper showcases the imprecise violence of white supremacists, among whom the KKK featured heavily but not exclusively. A few of the acts of violence reported in Planet Q are as follows:

    • In Montana, the KKK mailed a flier on gay pride weekend that urged the public to “wear surgical masks outside for protection from airborne transmission of the AIDS virus. (June 97)
    • In Arkansas, two men beat and strangled a black cross-dresser and pled a trans-panic defense, though they also scrawled “KKK” in blood on his wall. (Aug 97)
    • In Minnesota, a gay bookstore was vandalized for the fourth time in six months, with the words “fag,” “KKK,” and “187” (the police code for murder) spray-painted on the store’s window. (May 98)
    • In Alabama, a gay man was killed and his body set on fire by a “racist skinhead” who frequently wore a KKK t-shirt. (Apr 99)
    • In California, two brothers with white-supremacist ties shot and killed a gay couple after committing a string of arsons at three synagogues. (Aug 99)
    • In New York, the skull and pulverized bone fragments of a 19-year-old murdered by his white step-father were found with his social security number, a racial epithet, and a derogatory term for gays scrawled on the skull. (Mar 00)

    Not only did Planet Q record higher-profile national violence, but it also chronicled the ongoing violence and intimidation occurring here in Western Pennsylvania. A right-wing preacher and local chapter of the KKK joined together to harass, damage property, and threaten violence against Johnstown’s “alternative” bar, the Casa Nova. These acts of intimidation, which lasted over three years, resulted in a variety of creative resistance efforts like the “Burn in Hell” bus trips from Pittsburgh to Johnstown and the fire-eating Lesbian Avengers, who came up from Washington DC to perform in the Casa Nova parking lot. Rather than providing assistance, it was believed that the police chief was running the plates of Casa Nova patrons and passing that information along to members of the KKK.

    After three years of intimidation and protest, the owners were forced to sell the Casa Nova in April of 2000. The experience of Western PA queers – witnessing the nationwide terrorism of the KKK and experiencing it firsthand at home – forces us to rethink queer activism’s origin stories. Tracing local grassroots resistance and activist work reveals a different set of priorities than what we are usually taught about (white) queer history. The queer publishers and readers of Planet Q knew the importance of racial solidarity – not from a sense of charity or obligation but out of the very practical sense that, for both people of color and white queers (and certainly queers of color), the same people wanted us dead.

     

    Citations:

    Hames-García, Michael “Queer Theory Revisited.” Gay Latino Studies: A Critical Reader, edited by Michael Hames-García and Ernesto Javier Martínez, Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 19-45.

    Planet Queer, Pittsburgh PA, c1994-2000.

    Further Reading:

    Compton, Julie “Why Are So Many White Nationalists 'Virulently Anti-LGBT'?” NBC News, 21 Aug. 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/why-are-so-many-white-nationalis.... Accessed August 27, 2018.

    Hobson, Emily K. Lavender and Red: Liberation and Solidarity in the Gay and Lesbian Left, University of California Press, 2016

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Shack, during the workshop, at the Senator John Heinz History Center

     

    Classification systems and critical cataloging

    Author: S.E. “Shack” Hackney, PhD student in the School of Computing and Information and Making Advances Workshop participant

    This summer I had the privilege to view and conduct research with the collections of a handful of the excellent libraries and archives across Pittsburgh as a part of the Making Advances workshop. Day after day, we were presented with the highlights of each collection, curated especially for our interests by diligent librarians and archivists. As a student of Library and Information Science myself, I am always interested in how professionals in the field choose to present their work directly when given the choice, but also in the systems of knowledge that work to give the public access on a daily basis. My own research touches on the ways that knowledge organization systems affect the ways that marginalized communities are able to describe themselves, and I wanted to write a little bit about the issues at hand within the formal fields of Cataloging and Classification within LIS.

    Classification systems are used by libraries and librarians as a way to sort books and other library holdings into related groups. This practice is fundamental to what makes a library different from a storeroom of books, and while there are many classification systems used worldwide, the two most prevalent ones are the Library of Congress Classification/Subject Headings (LCC/LCSH) and the Dewey Decimal System (Olson, 2001, p.641). These classification systems divide all potential areas of knowledge into sub-groupings, and then provide descriptions and related terms for each grouping. The practice of applying these grouping to items in a library’s collection is called cataloging, and translates the broadness of a classification system into the individual practice of a cataloger, and the item she is cataloging. However, any classification system is an imperfect representation of the knowledge system it adheres to, and choices must be made which necessarily reflect the priorities, worldviews and opinions of the people who make them. This often becomes transparent over time, as “acceptable” terminology shifts with social consciousness, but is also dependent on the interpretations of library users, as they seek materials within the collection.

    Activist catalogers have continually raised issues with the ethics of flattening a complex and ever-changing world into a functional classification system. Sanford Berman in particular has called on the Library of Congress to erase or amend offensive subject headings, and the publication of his treatise Prejudices and Antipathies systematically outlines parts of the LCC that are outdated or offensive. He notes in the introduction to Prejudices that, “the LC list can only ‘satisfy’ parochial, jingoistic Europeans and North Americans, white-hued, at least nominally Christian (and preferably Protestant) in faith, comfortably situated in the middle- and higher-income brackets, largely domiciled in suburbia, fundamentally local to the Established Order, and heavily imbued with the transcendent, incomparable glory of Western civilizations” (Berman, 1971, p. 15). Berman’s work over the past forty plus years has resulted in changes to more than 140 of the headings that he suggested should be amended, and he continues to advocate for further additions and revisions (Knowlton, 2005, p.127-8).

    Catalogers working today, such as Barnard Zine Librarian Jenna Freedman, also struggle to apply headings to works that do not fit the standardized ideal of materials collected by libraries. Freedman’s work with zines in particular, and her struggle to find appropriate headings, reflects the narrowness of scope that the authors of the LSCH had (and continue to have) in mind when creating subject headings. Freedman notes that “A typical LC excuse for its offensive headings is that their job is to serve members of Congress, so the headings they choose reflect Congressional language and culture,” however, she continues, “The works I'm cataloging, zines, are usually created by women, and young women at that. They are often created by queer women, and in smaller numbers they're by women of color, people outside the gender binary, and women with disabilities. The zines are typically informed by an anarchopunk political and social ethos that I would venture to say is not highly represented in the House of Representatives.” (Freedman, 2016).

    Melissa Adler explores the difficulty of finding materials related to gender and sexuality, both in her own experience, and through the example of the work of queer theorist Eve Sedgwick, whose writings span literary criticism, poetry, and personal essay and whose subject headings fail to capture the nuance of her work (Adler, 2017). Adler raises questions of access, wondering “why wouldn’t this literary memoir [Sedgwick’s Dialogue on Love] be placed in the section that seems to be trying to collocate her work under her name?” (Adler, 2017, p.95). But in addition to collocation and access, Adler explores the potential censoring effects of classifying works by queer authors with such headings as “Sexual Perversion” and “Deviance.” How then, Adler argues, can a classification system claim to be unbiased and neutral when homosexuality continues to be associated with criminality? In this case, the LSCH itself is taking a moral stance through its application, and that stance is one that asserts that non-heterosexuality is immoral.

    Similar issues arise when discussing the experiences of people of color, whose language and self-descriptors are absent entirely from the vocabulary provided by the classification system, and are likely to be cataloged by librarians who likewise lack access to the appropriate vernacular (Olson, 2001).

    While activists such as Berman and Freedman advocate for changes to the Library of Congress, other LIS scholars debate the ethics of erasing the controversy and complications within classification systems. Emily Drabinski considers cataloging and classification systems from the perspective of queer theory, which argues that categories are permeable and in continuous flux. Drabinski suggests, then, that no classification system will ever be perfect or unbiased, and that the work of librarians should be not to erase past offenses, but to highlight the gaps within the system, and to engage in “dialogue with patrons that will help them tell the troubles of those schemes. Users can be invited into the discursive work of both using and resisting standard schemes, developing a capacity for critical reflection about subject language and classification structure” (Drabinski, 2013, p. 107).

    Cataloging is often considered some of the driest, most tedious work within the field of librarianship. It is also lonely, technical work, and it can be easy for the cataloger to feel separated from the world as she attempts to apply labels to its documents. However, the ethical issues related to the creation of classification systems and their application through cataloging are deeply pervasive, and affect not only the internal workings of a particular library, but also the lives and social understanding of each patron who seeks to find themself represented in the stacks. Librarians must be aware of how these technical decisions to play out, and whose voices are privileged at in the systems they apply, and likewise researchers in all fields need to be aware of the systems of power at play that influence which materials they are able to access, cite, and circulate.

    References

    Adler, Melissa. (2017). Cruising the library : perversities in the organization of knowledge. New York : Fordham University Press.

    Berman, S. (1993). Prejudices and antipathies: A tract on the LC subject heads concerning people. Jefferson, NC : McFarland & Company, Inc.

    Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the catalog: Queer theory and the politics of correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2), 94-111. http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/669547

    Freedman, J. (2016, March 27). Can I quit you, LC? Lower East Side Librarian. Retrieved from http://lowereastsidelibrarian.info/lcsh/quityou

    Knowlton, S.A. (2005). Three decades since Prejudices and Antipathies: A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, Vol. 40(2), 123-145. DOI: 10.1300/J104v40n02_08

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Workshop participants at the Greer Lankton exhibit at the Mattress Factory, It’s all about ME, not you (2009)

     

    Religious Thought and Queer Representation in the Making Advances workshop

    Author: David Givens, PhD student in the Department of Religious Studies and Making Advances Workshop participant

    A primary goal of the 2018 Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh: Making Advances workshop was to help participants appreciate and connect historic materials related to sex, sexuality, and gender identity with challenges individuals and society currently face around these issues. Visual representation is a powerful means of exploring identity, belonging, and desire within complex social systems of meaning; my participation in this workshop has greatly enhanced my capacity to connect these systems and narratives within the evolving struggles that sexual and gender minorities continue to confront. The museums, archives, and libraries we explored throughout Pittsburgh curated representations of visual politics, material embodiment, and the power of sexual and gender expression in ways that will continue to influence my own research and writing .  

    My initial interest in this workshop stemmed from its confluence with my own dissertation research. For the past several years, I have explored the ways people seek to understand aspects of their identities online as both spiritual and LGBTQ-identified individuals and communities . The complex signifiers frequently referenced by online actors include the traditions of saints combined with the fluidity inherent in contemporary understandings of gender and sexuality. This overlap between my research and the objectives of the workshop fostered additional perspectives on, and critical distance for, issues of representation and visibility over time, including the ways that images are utilized to create and maintain narratives that shape, explain, or defend aspects of personal and group identity.  

    A prime example of the workshop’s enrichment of my work on the evolution of LGBTQIA artistic and symbolic representation was the Greer Lankton exhibit and archive at the Mattress Factory; specifically, the recreation of her Chicago apartment, It’s all about ME, not you (2009). The space was anchored around a series of three personal shrines to the most important role models in Lankton’s life: Candy Darling, Patti Smith, and Jesus.  The latter was comprised of traditional Catholic images of Jesus, Mary, and a few female saints, but the central image of Jesus had been altered to accentuate the fullness of his lips and suggest lipstick; other images of Jesus were superimposed with stylized representations of the artist herself. Lankton’s playing with the gendered representation of Jesus in what would be read as traditional, holy portraits creates powerful statements on the transmutability of gender expression and identity, questioning the role of physical bodies and their characteristics (or others’ perceptions thereof) in maintaining and articulating one’s sense of self.  It is also a striking combination of religious and camp imagery; portraying a genderqueer Jesus with lipstick, or the stylized face of the artist herself combined with images of Jesus, offers an interpretation of the relationship between self and the divine that is at once a subversive political expression and a clear representation of a larger ontological narrative. 

    Serious playfulness with religious imagery is hardly unique to Lankton, and immersion in her work has opened new avenues of exploration in my dissertation research: for instance, how subjects in digital communities are engaging saint imagery or figures from classical works to construct new narratives that speak to contemporary LGBTQIA experiences. Moreover, Lankton has inspired me to identify and assess online postings of home shrines to “queer saints” (and some “Gay Gods”) in my work as well.  

    Many people with whom I’ve discussed my research express surprise that subjects are creating narratives and images online in which saints speak to LGBTQIA experience. Personally, I don’t find it surprising. I see the ongoing influences—both for better and for worse—of religion and spirituality throughout American society, including within this workshop. At the Frick Fine Arts Library Special Collections I noticed parallels between the (nonreligious) zines created by lesbian and queer authors/designers and the digital spaces I research; their political, cultural, and sexual expressions reflect some of the same sentiments I now study in communities online. Zines physically manifest the democratization and expansion of queer free speech, untethered from traditional publication constraints and institutionalized censorship. Seeing these contemporary underground materials, many predating the Internet, has supported my own inclusion of “in-between” precursor narratives for saints, most notably the semi-underground following surrounding Judy Garland during the 1950s and 60s.

    Echoes of religious thought ran deep through the images and narratives of the workshop, including connections between time and place for representations of embodiment—of physicality-as-sexuality.  Seated mostly-nude male spreads of the 1950s (for health and fitness, of course) in Hillman Special Collections juxtaposed strikingly with 16th century images of the seated, risen Christ with a barely concealed erection in the Falk Library Rare Books Collection.  This illustrated to me the power of the sexualized gaze in all its contexts.  

    In the University Library Archives Service Center we saw documents describing how women’s religious organizations organized home care ; in the Detre Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center, there were numerous records of religious groups supporting the early work of the Pittsburgh AIDS Taskforce. In the Andy Warhol museum, a small display about Warhol’s family discussed the artist’s deep and lifelong commitment to Roman Catholicism. In Deana Lawson’s exhibit in the Forum Gallery at the Carnegie Museum, I couldn’t help but notice the crosses subtly worn by nearly every single subject. 

    My point in highlighting these details is to demonstrate how my own thinking about these multifaceted topics has been expanded. These collections have helped me connect in more nuanced ways to the complex and sensitive interactions that occur among expressions of sexuality and gender identity, and various roles that religious institutions and individuals beliefs can play in those spaces . This workshop demonstrated tangible ways our society has advanced LGBTQIA discourse and representation over time—as well as ways it has not. And alongside those developments, it is clear that religion and spirituality continue to play both outsized and subtle roles as well. 

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    The Susquehanna Art Museum’s VanGo!

     

    Interning Aboard the VanGO! Museum on Wheels

    Author: Olivia Rutledge, Intern at The Susquehanna Art Museum – Summer 2018

    This summer I worked as an intern at the Susquehanna Art Museum (SAM) in Harrisburg, PA. The Susquehanna Art Museum is central Pennsylvania’s only dedicated art museum, and its exhibitions explore a wide range of aesthetic and artistic interests while also reflecting the cultural heritage of the area.

    The majority of my internship was devoted to helping SAM’s educational outreach program aboard their mobile museum, the VanGo! The VanGo! travels to surrounding schools, summer camps, apartment complexes, etc. displaying an annual exhibition. On these visits, we presented the current show and paired it with a hands-on activity. I was responsible for assisting the educators by helping with the presentations, teaching kids the activity, and setting up the VanGo! for the next outing.

    This year’s VanGo! exhibition is Behind the Scenes, a show about jobs in and related to art museums, that aims to expand kids’ awareness of the types of careers that are possible.

    The exhibit inside the VanGo! includes: an app the museum helped to develop where visitors curate their own exhibition of Van Gogh paintings and choose how and where on the wall to hang them using a projector; a station where visitors restore a damaged sculpture; a lighting activity where visitors practice lighting a still life in different ways; and many more interactive stations that preview various aspects of museum work.

    The hands-on activity that I led for most frequently explored the work of art registrars and the conservators. Each child was given a box and told that it contained damaged art objects donated to the museum and that it was their job to act as inspectors, marking down where and how each of the objects was damaged. We told the kids that these objects would then be given to a restorer or a conservator to fix them and put them back in our museum.

    I think it is really important that SAM is using their outreach program to spread awareness about jobs in museums. As a kid, I was not exposed to that, and it was not until high school when I learned just how many jobs are available in museums and in the arts in general. It was very rewarding to be a part a project that makes museums and the arts more accessible for kids.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Kendall in the Yayoi Kusama’s "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" installation

     

    Development Difficulties: the Challenges of Working to Secure a Non-Profit’s Financial Future

    Author: Kendall Dunn, Mellon Museum Profession Fellow at the Mattress Factory – Summer 2018

    Over the summer of 2018, I worked in the Development Department of the Mattress Factory as an Mellon Museum Profession Fellow. Having served as an Education intern in the previous semester, I was generally familiar with the staff and offices of the museum. Transitioning from Education to Development, however, was definitely harder than I expected. Working in Development requires patience, determination, and focused work behind a computer, whereas museum Education is more creative and active work.  This fellowship gave me a better understanding of how valuable a development department is to any non-profit organization.

    Working full-time every day for three months, I got a taste of what it was like to be an employee at the Mattress Factory, managing a set of day-to-day duties and long-term projects. My daily tasks included donation requests, membership mailing, and filing. In addition to this administrative work, I was responsible for four larger projects throughout my fellowship.

    One of my first tasks as a Fellow was to write two Letter of Inquiries to two different foundations, requesting funding for the Mattress Factory. In order to create persuasive and informed letters I learned to write project proposals, which included conducting research, drafting budgets, and establishing funding plans.

    Secondly, I did a lot of work to prepare for the Mattress Factory's 40th Anniversary Auction. I was responsible for creating artist folders for each winning bidder at the auction. These folders contained a certificate of authenticity, the artist’s bio, CV, and a photograph and description of the artwork donated for auction. I attended all of the auction planning meetings and worked closely with the museum's Archivist. 

    My last project involved visitor experience surveys. This task included, conducting research on museum surveys, compiling a long list of potential survey questions for the Mattress Factory, and then going into the galleries and surveying visitors on a weekly basis. These surveys were designed to supply staff in the Development and Marketing Departments with inspiring visitor quotes for grant writing, social media platforms, and advertisements. 

    Each of these projects were time consuming and detail oriented in ways I found challenging, but I’m happy that I have experienced the ups and downs of a Development office. I want to pursue a career in the museum world and by working in a Development Department I have learned the importance of communication, patience, hard work, and teamwork to professional life at a non-profit organization. Every department of the museum relies on Development to get the job done. I left the Mattress Factory with a greater appreciation for non-profit organizations. Each employee's drive, passion, and hard work contributes to the museum's reputation and financial future. My fellowship experience at the Mattress Factory is something that I will cherish forever, as I jump further into my future career in the arts.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • One of the focus group sessions at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Nile in Focus: Assessing Community Expectations for CMNH’s "Egypt on the Nile" Exhibition

    Author: Alec Story, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Summer 2018

    When preparing for the installation of a new permanent exhibition, museums often assess the needs and assumptions of the communities they serve. For its upcoming gallery rework entitled Egypt on the Nile, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been doing just that. Egypt on the Nile unites human and natural histories, a unique approach that differs from traditional Egypt-oriented galleries. The novelty of this concept necessitates properly gauging audience reactions to and receptions of the exhibition and its themes. Over the course of my summer fellowship I assisted curator Dr. Erin Peters in, among other things, the planning and execution of these community focus groups.

    Paramount to this process was recruiting participants from a wide variety of backgrounds: museum members, college students, K-12 educators, and senior citizens. Diverse groups were chosen in order to accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of those who visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Prior to the focus group meetings, we created prompts and questions that participants could respond to, and a session schedule to ensure we used our time effectively. Questions were designed to be open-ended, promote discussion, and to tease out valuable information on the proposed exhibition themes. During the focus group sessions we used an array of strategies including surveys, sticky notes, and open discussion to gather relevant information. The focus group environment allowed anyone, regardless of education or experience with Egypt, to come in and share their thoughts on one of the most famous cultures of all time.

    After the focus groups I was tasked with recording and synthesizing the data accumulated during each focus group. With this information the Egypt on the Nile team can even more successfully create an exhibit that both depicts all desired themes and does so in a way that is easily communicable to the public.

    This experience has allowed me to see how museums plan exhibits, how exhibits are constantly undergoing change and adjustment, and how cultural institutions interact with the community.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Inside Title Page of Sue’s Date Data Journal

     

    Where are the Children? Finding Sue in the Senator John Heinz History Center Archive

    Author: Brittney Knotts, PhD student in Critical and Cultural Studies in the Department of English and Making Advances Workshop participant

    Let me start by saying, I study children’s culture—but, I am not interested in the culture that adults assume children use or in the culture that we often attempt to thrust upon them. Rather, I am interested in what children do to shape and create culture. I am interested in how they write, converse, play, and work, as well as how they subvert a lot of the ideas handed to them by adults. Perhaps not surprisingly, the voices of actual children aren’t always the loudest in the archive. But, of course they aren’t—and this is what I expected. While parents may momentarily hold on to the art or writing of their children, or we may covet out our own childhood diaries and notes, what place do these voices occupy in archives that house important historical documents and rare texts?

    Because of this, when I took part in the University of Pittsburgh’s “Making Advances: Sex, Gender and the Politics of Images” workshop this summer I was ready to look at sex education guides from the 20th century, specifically those made for girls. I was not disappointed; Pitt’s University Library Systems have a great collection of sex and etiquette guidebooks and the Heinz History Center holds a fascinating record of the first implementation of sexual education in Pittsburgh public schools. I had all but given up on finding the voice of a child in a Pittsburgh archive.

    Enter the amazing archivists at the Senator John Heinz History Center. I seriously can’t say enough good things about the archives and archivists at the Thomas & Katherine Detre Library & Archives. First, the archives hold about anything you could think of related to Pittsburgh’s history. Second, the archivists are amazingly attentive. I started this workshop interested in sex education materials. Not only did the archivists have boxes pulled, but they also pulled a single box about a young Pittsburgh girl that they thought might be interesting. Since I am specifically interested in girlhood, the staff thought the memory books of a teenage girl would be of interest. And they were.

    The box was a donation by the Weiss family of albums and family memorabilia. Buried under a family album and a book of family trees, I found Sue Chottiner’s book of “date data” and (what appears to be) a briefly kept memory book spanning from 1956-1957. Sue appears to be a teenage girl at the time that she kept these notebooks. There is something special about holding someone’s past in your hands. The pages, which were never meant to be preserved for half a century, have begun to crumble and the folded papers taped or glued therein have started to fall out. This is how children can exist and be preserved in archives.

    The date book appears to be a mass-produced book with both blank pages and date review templates to fill out. The book provided Sue with prompts such as “This is where we met,” “Off-the-cuff comments,” and “Places where we’ve gone.” My favorite response to “off-the-cuff comments” was her assessment of her senior prom date, Jimmy, as “a great kid and good dancer.” Along with these blank writing spaces, there are check boxes offered to assess her date’s personality as well as “how he rates when it comes to dates.” For Jimmy, Sue checked off personality boxes for “jazzy dresser,” “good time Charlie,” and “big brain.” However, she did not rate him. It appears that Sue only used this book twice to keep data on her dating life.

    While her dating data book offers a snapshot of Sue’s dating life, her memory book gave an overview of a complex and social girl. Sue attended Emma Kaufmann Camp in 1953 (and potentially other years). From the camp she preserved a marriage certificate to Jimmy (yes, the same Jimmy from senior prom it appears), addresses of several friends, and a song book. She was active in the Jewish community, often keeping bulletins, song books, and memorabilia from her friends’ Bar Mitzvahs. She also documented her school life with schedules, notes from teachers, and awards and certificates she earned. Sue commemorated her life thoughtfully and with purpose. She took her work seriously, equal to any writer that we consider worthy of study.

    While I find these artifacts fascinating, piecing together Sue’s life is difficult. Her organization is counterintuitive to me, and I find her handwriting difficult to read at times (I imagine Sue would say the same about my organizational methods and handwriting). But I must remind myself that this writing isn’t for me. It was never meant to be. As Carolyn Steedman reminds us in her work on children’s story writing, we must “look for what the writing does for the writer, not what the writer does to it, nor what it does for us” (99). This is worth keeping in mind when thinking about the scrapbooks of Sue. She seems to have used these memory books for documenting her own life, for not only keeping track of her favorite moments but also for making a claim that she, in fact, was here.

    Now I wonder what other children may be whispering in archives, waiting for someone to discover their histories, their lives, their memories. Perhaps I may start to reconsider my own research objectives and the places my research may lead. Most importantly, the child must be at the forefront, and I must give them the space to speak.

    References

    Steedman, Carolyn. The Tidy House: Little Girls Writing. Virago Press, 1987.

    Learn more about the Making Advances Workshop here

    Categories: 
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Pages