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


Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh


    The Andy Warhol Museum: The Legacy of an Icon

    Author: Leslie Rose

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship at The Andy Warhol Museum - Summer 2017

    Recently, I have heard one of the truest statements that I will probably ever come to understand: “Once you’ve got The Warhol bug, you’ve got it for life.” This “bug” is much more than just an admiration for the iconic artist. It’s appreciation for all that he and his legacy, The Andy Warhol Museum, represents.

    Until my fellowship with The Warhol, I didn’t fully comprehend the importance of such an institution. I respected and enjoyed Warhol’s work as much as any other artist, but this museum is far more than a single artist museum. As the University of Pittsburgh’s Fine Foundation Fellow for the summer, I had the opportunity to work with the Warhol’s chief curator, Jose Diaz, and Milton Fine curator, Jessica Beck. My experiences in this internship opened my eyes to the necessity of The Andy Warhol Museum and institutions like it. In almost every possible way, from its programs and publications to its exhibitions and staff, The Warhol provides an inclusive environment and enriching content that generates a dialogue amongst the people of the Pittsburgh community and thousands of visitors from around the world. The museum brings together people from all walks of life, something that I believe people need in today’s divisive social and political atmosphere. It is not just me taking notice.

    One way The Andy Warhol Museum promotes inclusivity is through their staff. The Warhol received recognition by Ithaka S+R as one of eight institutions in the country striving to make the museum world more open to marginalized groups. I participated in Ithaka S+R’s research interviews and when learning of the other museum in that list, Brooklyn Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Detroit Institute of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Spelman College Museum (Atlanta), and the Studio Museum in Harlem, I was elated that the Warhol ranked among them. It thrilled me that I was a part of an institution that made diversity a priority. As faces and voices of the institution, a diverse staff means numerous perspectives are being explored and welcomed.

    Through my fellowship, I was able to assist the curatorial team on their upcoming exhibitions. With each project, I learned more of what it truly means to carry on Warhol’s legacy. This legacy means more than finding artists who similarly practiced art, but it is Warhol’s mindset—critiquing and questioning today’s culture head on. The 2017 Spring show, Firelei Baez: Bloodlines featured the works of contemporary Dominican artist Firelei Baez, who’s work tackled past and present understandings of race, power and beauty. In the fall of this year, The Warhol will open Farhad Moshiri: Go West, which will showcase the works of Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. Throughout my internship, my primary focus was Go West and I helped to create an exhibition catalogue and didactic wall labels. Moshiri’s work explores Iranian traditions, the appeal and influence of Western culture, and how people have come to define their own cultural identities. In the wake of recent, caustic, political rhetoric, aimed to make people’s differences seem like dangers, the museum finds that Moshiri’s work highlights the commonalities between the East and West. Addressing complex current issues of identity, race, power, The Warhol aims to bridge gaps, acknowledge, and celebrate people’s differences through exhibitions and events such as these.

    My time at The Andy Warhol Museum has taught me more than I can imagine— Andy Warhol’s life and work, working with contemporary artists, planning an exhibition, and how a museum of this size operates on a day to day basis. It was the museum’s mission, continuing Warhol’s legacy and making it accessible to all people, that has made the greatest impact on me and is something that I will carry with me.

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    Visitor experience map of floor 1


    Interpreting Visitor Experiences at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Author: Caroline Fazzini

    Interpretation Intern - Museum Studies Internship Program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    While working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as an interpretation intern, I was challenged to think holistically about museum experiences while experience-mapping their permanent collection galleries. Working closely with staff from across the institution, I mapped the entire museum in terms of the visitor experience preferences met within each space. The product, two massive 7’ x 5’ color-coded floor plans, exposed the current unbalanced distribution of interpretive content. These maps will be used over the course of the next several years as the Museum reinstalls these spaces. Through my involvement with this project I gained a practical understanding of how to think about and plan balanced museum experiences. This shift in mindset caused me to think of interpretation in a far more comprehensive way. Specifically in terms of designing experiences that speak to diverse audiences as well as satisfy individual preferences.

    At the PMA, I also took part in conducting audience research for a digital interactive designed to make a Chinese temple ceiling from the 1400s more visible through the use of virtual reality. During testing, I assumed multiple roles including observational note taker and interviewer. From this, I gained experience not only developing research methodology and protocols, analyzing data, and communicating findings, but also dealing with real people as they actively engaged with an interpretive device in a museum context. Our results from testing will be used to improve the prototype’s functionality.

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    A memorandum of agreement between MGM and the Pittsburgh Pirates, found in the Branch Rickey Papers at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The letter discusses the use of Pirates gear and facilities in the film Angels in the Outfield.


    Celebrating Pittsburgh as the Hollywood of the East: A Fellowship at the Heinz History Center

    Author: Monica Marchese

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship at Senator John Heinz History Center - Summer 2017

    What word comes to mind when you think of Pittsburgh? Is it steel? Sports? Pierogies? Yinzers? This summer I had the unique opportunity to explore one of Pittsburgh’s lesser known exports – movies. In recent years, the city has become one of the biggest movie hubs in the east without even realizing it. Thanks to the government-sponsored Film Production Tax Credit Program in Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh’s unique personality, production companies have been flocking to the city in the past couple of years to film their next big hit. Our varied landscapes – from scenic rivers and bustling downtown streets to cozy neighborhoods with local flavor – make our city ideal for all types of projects. Not to mention the five-star casting companies, film crews, and more-than-willing extras available at directors’ disposal.

    As the University of Pittsburgh’s Milton Fine Fellow this summer at the Heinz History Center, I had the opportunity to work with curators Leslie Przybylek and Lauren Uhl on a project documenting the history of Pittsburgh’s film industry from the 1900s to the present. I jumped into this project in its very early stages. As a collecting initiative and eventual exhibition, this project required a two-pronged approach. My goals for the summer were to conduct preliminary research on which movies and individuals would best tell this story, and to locate artifacts and materials for the museum to either acquire or borrow in the future. I chose to focus my research film by film, creating thematic connections and logical arguments between each. In some cases, the intense study of a film proved very fruitful. In others, I found only dead-ends.

    My research led me to interviews and objects from films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), filmed all around Pittsburgh, and the animated feature film Big Hero 6 (2014), which used soft robotics technology from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute as the inspiration for the character Baymax. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Atkeson, creator of the inflatable soft robotic arm and renowned professor at the Robotics Institute, in his laboratory. He showed us the original arm technology (pictured above) and encouraged us to “get into character” to understand the advantages and challenges of using inflatable robots. As I quickly found out, walking, gesturing, and holding objects proved exponentially more difficult when wearing an inflated Baymax suit (see above).

    Two of the most rewarding discoveries were related to the films Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). These two films could not be any more different. Angels, a film about a fictitious general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who encounters angels (you guessed it) in the outfield, allowed me to explore the more secluded, archival side of research. I found original letters, scripts, and legal agreements from film production. This film was also important to my research because it immortalizes Forbes Field in a very unique way. In an official letter (pictured above) between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and the then Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Bill Meyer, it was agreed upon that MGM would have full use of the Forbes Field facilities, Pirates uniforms and equipment, and park staff while filming. So while the characters – and the World Series win at the end of the film – are imaginary, a large majority of the film is authentic and serves as an accurate portrayal of baseball life at Forbes Field.

    Perks, a coming-of-age film about a high school boy and his group of friends, allowed me to explore a different aspect of curation. I was able to get in contact with the novelist/screenplay writer/director/producer of the book and film, Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky, a native Pittsburgher who now lives in California, wrote Perks based on his own high school experiences growing up in Upper St. Clair. He was more than willing to speak with me on the phone about all things Perks and Pittsburgh, and even offered to help the museum acquire costumes, props, and scripts from the film.

    Working on this project has allowed me to meld my love of film, history, and Pittsburgh. I’ve had the chance to dig through archives and special collections, make important contacts within the film community, locate key artifacts, and develop thematic connections between films, people, and objects. I am honored to have had this unique opportunity at the Heinz History Center.

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    Fighting air pollution with a whisk

    Author: Shelby Brewster

    PhD student in Theatre and Performance Studies and Consuming Nature Workshop participant

    On our visit to the University Archives Services Center, I came across a collection of materials from the Group Against Smog & Pollution, a Pittsburgh-based activist group founded in 1969. I was particularly interested in the Jeannette Widom Papers. She was one of the charter members of GASP, and she also happened to be a stellar baker, repeatedly winning baking awards at the Allegheny County Fair. Widom, passionate about combating air pollution in Pittsburgh, put her baking skills to work for the organization.

    The centerpiece of Widom’s baking for GASP was a Dirty Gertie cookie, resembling GASP’s cartoon mascot, a bird whose wings are choked by air pollution. One of the members of GASP enlisted her husband to craft a metal cookie cutter in the shape of Gertie. The cookie’s wings were covered in chocolate sprinkles to replicate the gloomy air of Pittsburgh. This idea became a massive fundraising event for GASP: The Dirty Gertie Cookie Project. GASP reached out to other community groups to help bake, providing them with complete kits of ingredients and cookie cutters. The first round of baking resulted in 1200 Dirty Gertie cookies, all of which were sold to raise money for GASP. Widom would continue “fighting pollution with a rolling pin,” publishing three cookbooks (“Party Cookies Only,” “Fun Buns for Kids to Make, Bake, Decorate, and Eat,” and “Just Coffee Cake”) and donating the proceeds to GASP. Her fame as a celebrated baker also helped draw attention to GASP’s work.

    GASP’s use of cookies to fight air pollution resonated with a contemporary artist group that I have written about in my research, the Center for Genomic Gastronomy. Like GASP, they harnessed the potential of taste as a political tool in an effort to draw attention to air pollution. In 2011, on location in Bangalore, India, artists with the Center began “harvesting air” from the most polluted areas in the city. Because meringues are up to 90% air, by whipping up egg whites in the polluted areas the meringues capture the air pollutants present in the air.

    The Center encourages other artists, community groups, and students to make their own meringues in their own cities. They envision the cookies as powerful political statements, as they can be tested for particular pollutants or mailed to politicians as a commentary on city conditions. So, continuing the GASP tradition of mobilizing baked goods for environmental justice, I’ll be making smog meringues to serve at GASP’s Air Fair event. I chose two locations near my home, the McConway and Torley Steel Foundry on 48th Street and the bus stop at Negley and Centre Avenue, to make my meringues.

    Stayed tuned for a second post covering the making of the meringues and the Air Fair itself!

    Read about the event here

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    John Yodanis Papers, 1919 – 1987, MSS 293, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center


    Revisiting Pittsburgh’s Pigeondom

    Author: Melissa Yang

    PhD student in English (Composition) and Consuming Nature workshop participant

    The American Racing Pigeon Union (ARPU)’s Souvenir Book of the 1937 Greater Pittsburgh Convention opens on a charming exchange of two epistolary poems between Edgar A. Guest and Peter P. Barry. Guest’s four stanzas of aa/bb rhymes, addressed “To the Owner of a Homing Pigeon,” detail the antics of a pigeon who “stopped to spend the day with us.” Barry responds to thank Guest, and requests he “Do again that sportsman’s deed,/Give him water and a bit of feed,” if the pigeon again chooses to rest upon his roof on his route home.

    There is abundant poetry—intentional and unintentional, whimsical and solemn—in the five boxes of materials compiled over sixty years by Pittsburgh pigeon racer John Yodanis (1910 – 1988). Housed in the Heinz History Center’s archives, these boxes are packed full of documents, from pigeon breeding guides to lineage charts, racing diplomas to gift-like bundles tied up in paper and string, which unwrap to reveal piles of pigeon-centric newspapers, catalogues, convention yearbooks, and more.

    Pigeons have long been featured in and have fostered an enormous range of human communications. Pigeon post, after all, was the fastest method of message-transmission from ancient times until Samuel Morse developed his code in the 1830s and 40s. Perusing more recent papers, it is nevertheless striking how valuable these birds were to their caretakers, and how stark the contrast is between the dedicated treatment of these pedigreed pigeons and the feral “rats with wings” marginalized in city streets today. Still, racing birds were bred to serve a purpose and, unlike most pets, had to earn their keep.

    This common attitude is reflected across Yodanis’s materials, including the four-volume Four Seasons Real Course About Pigeons. Penned by M. Joseph Heuskin for novices in the 1920s, this relic meticulously describes the proper composure, composition, and disposition of an ideal bird. He notes, “A pigeon of value has often a bigger eye than a common pigeon,” and “watches you wherever you go, for it is very inquisitive.” Breeders are advised to kill birds not up to snuff because “Marvelous pigeons are scarce,” and only achieved by “cultivating your colony” carefully. The anthropomorphism of the watchful, bright birds juxtaposed with casual culling directives render this guide darkly memorable, and the sport susceptible to criticism from animal welfare activists. (Pigeon racing ethics are controversial enough to warrant their own entry.)

    The modern sport of pigeon racing first emerged in Belgium in the 1850s, as carrier pigeons were being phased out by newer messaging technologies. Aficionados were motivated by a passion for pigeons, as well as prize money. The sport spread across Europe, and when Europeans migrated to the United States, they brought their birds with them. This is how Pittsburgh, PA—whose abundant job openings in factories and steel mills attracted European immigrants—became an epicenter for American pigeon racing in the following century.

    “Pittsburgh Promotes Pigeondom’s Progress” appears as a bold announcement in the opening pages of Yodanis’s 1948 commemorative book for the 38th annual ARPU convention (and the 4th annual “Ladies Auxiliary” meeting). Several pages of a welcome essay boast, of all the sports in Pittsburgh, “One of the finest sports of all, the realm of Pigeondom, is enthusiastically proclaimed by a great number here.” The Pittsburgh Center of the ARPU was the largest in America at the time, with thousands of members within a 50-mile radius of the city.

    John Yodanis was inducted into Pittsburgh’s pigeondom by his father and brother at age 14 in 1924. One of the collection’s final news clippings, from 1984, features the 74-year-old retired steamfitter reflecting on growing up when “every other yard had a pigeon loft and the association of racing pigeon clubs known as the Pittsburgh Center had more than 2,400 members.” Near the end of Yodanis’s life, he estimated only “175 racing pigeon owners remain in the Pittsburgh area.” Today, numbers continue to dwindle.

    The Tarentum Homing Club is one of the few active pigeon racing groups remaining around Pittsburgh, where a few devotees—mostly male retirees—continue to race their birds on weekends. When I interviewed member David Corry, he attributed the decline of pigeon racing in part to a lack of interest in the time commitment required of animal husbandry among young people today. Curiously, a concern for adolescent apathy can already be discerned in Yodanis’s earlier documents, some of which even cite “prevention of juvenile delinquency” as rationale to encourage children to pursue pigeon racing. Corry, who laughingly recalled how he was almost arrested for climbing grain elevators to catch pigeons in his youth, followed up to say, “You do not have to be nuts to get involved in pigeon racing but to some degree it helps.”Pittsburgh’s pigeondom may be endangered, but there is a liveliness, passion, humor, and resonant lyricism in even the most matter-of-fact of the extant discourses and documents. John Yodanis’s collection offers a fascinating glimpse into this niche area of local history well worth remembering and revisiting.

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    • Deinstallation
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    Natalie (left) is examining works for condition reports and Kate (right) is cutting foam


    Delighted to Make Your Acquaintance: Deinstallation of Edward Eberle Exhibition

    Author: Abigail Meloy

    Fine Foundation Fellowship at Contemporary Craft - Summer 2016

    During my Saturday shifts at Contemporary Craft I would routinely stop, stroll around, and admire the individuals works in Edward Eberle Retrospective, including the one presented here. The ceramic artist’s fame arose from the deconstructed forms of his works and his streams of consciousness approach to painting the surfaces of his pieces. The exhibition had recently closed and we needed to prepare the objects for their travel to The Clay Studio in Philadelphia. We had our supplies: foam boards, leftover bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, and tape, lots of it.

    One of my intern supervisors diligently worked on condition reports, documents that evaluate and note the state of the object’s appearance and quality. They are used for insurance purposes and serve as accounts to the individuals receiving the objects. Unlike packaging a painting, a fairly simple process, we were challenged to work around the unusual shapes that made these works distinctive. Like a sculptor, we carved each work’s negative from layers of foam after tracing an outline of the object.

    It took us four days to pack all that was moving onto Philadelphia. I became more acquainted with each object: not only the way in which it could fit in a box but also its weight, quirks, blemishes, and stress points. Rather than reading the dimensions of the objects on their label or admiring them from a distance, I handled them, looked at their underside, and traced the mesmerizingly intricate scenes with my fingertips. Ultimately, I gained a greater appreciation for the works themselves.

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    Ferdinand Bauer engraving


    What is the real, "real" object?

    PhD Student in the School of Computing and Information and Consuming Nature workshop participant

    As an information scientist striving to define and describe online exhibitions, I am constantly reflecting on what constitutes a “real object” versus one that is acknowledged only through its absence. The status of the object has historically correlated to changes in museology, and in this regard it seems we are in the midst of a particularly challenging moment. With the proliferation of museum apps, for example, museum visitors are simultaneously engaging with site-specific media while also being pulled away from their actual physical or “real” surroundings.

    In her writing, Andrea Witcomb suggests that objects in the material world carry “weight...authority, knowledge and privilege” whereas “multimedia,” or virtual objects, are characterized by their superficiality or otherness: their immediacy, temporariness, and popularity. (1) Traveling through and among the various institutions and collections that were included on the Consuming Nature workshop itinerary, I was constantly thinking about perceived distinctions between real and digital objects. Particularly as we hopped from the Hunt Library, with its exquisite engravings and ink drawings of botanical specimens, to the overgrown vacant lot of Carrie Furnaces, I thought about what distinguishes the real and the real object. This is a confusing and unhelpful qualification, but I have been trying to grapple with the levels of human intervention that are represented by or within any particular object, and how these levels contribute to notions of authoritativeness and authenticity.

    Of course, these ruminations largely revolved around the figure of the “curator,” the individual traditionally endowed with the power to transform an ordinary object into an extraordinary one. At the core of curation likes the act of selection or “the crucial idea” that “turns a part of the natural world into an object and a museum piece.” (2) As an “object,” where does Ferdinand Bauer’s engraving of Pinus cembra (1803-1824) stand in relation to the wild grass growing in the garden next to an abandoned Pennsylvania steel mill Throughout the workshop, I found myself pondering the distinction between reality and fiction, or between data and capta. With regard to this latter element, I was thinking about data in the eighteenth century sense, as something that is given or assumed rather than something that is captured, or taken. At its conclusion, I think my brain had accepted that everything we saw during the workshop was the result of human intervention: from the alcohol-soaked beetles in the CMNH’s section of entomology to the errant trees growing atop a former furnace.

    Should I be anxious about the way that museums incorporate real and fake representations of things? Probably not. Is it important to signpost these things, such as what parts of the dinosaur’s skeleton are actual fossils versus man-made plaster reproductions? For me, yes. Brenda Laurel, author of the book Computers as Theatre (1991), describes the artificiality of the computer interface as follows: “ the world of interfaces, the graphic designer renders the objects (like zoom-boxes and pop-up menus)” and represents “both concrete and ephemeral aspects of context through the use of such elements as line, shadow, color, intensity, texture, and style.” (p. 10) In depicting nature, broadly, so many representations (2D and 3D, alike) provide a similarly mediated version of “reality.” As Colleen O’Reilly and I endeavor to describe and even re-contextualize the dioramas in CMNH’s Hall of Botany through our online exhibition project, these are some of the questions I continue to ask.

    (1) Andrea Witcomb, “A New Approach to Thinking about the Impact of Multimedia in Museums,” in Theorizing Digital Cultural Heritage: A Critical Discourse, edited by Fiona Cameron and Sarah Kenderdine (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2007), 35.
    (2) Susan Pearce, “Museum Objects,” in Interpreting Objects and Collections, edited by Susan M. Pearce (New York: Routledge, 2003) 10.  

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    • Schenley Park Entrance 1922
    • Schenley Park and Forbes Field 1936
    • Maria Sibylla Merian, Der Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung
    • Andrey Avinoff at Carnegie Museum of Art
    Schenley Park Entrance 1922

    Schenley Park Entrance, 1922, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, courtesy of the Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh


    Picturing Nature in Early 20th Century Oakland

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    In the context of the Consuming Nature workshop, sparked especially by our plans to visit the Hunt Botanical Institute, I was thinking a lot about how to situate CMNH’s Botany Hall and its dioramas in the social and cultural context of Oakland. I had learned from research conducted by Kate Madison and Emily Enterline, collaborators on our project, of the involvement of Rachel Hunt with Andrey Avinoff in the creation of the botanical dioramas. Hunt (wife of Roy Hunt of Alcoa) was president of the Garden Club of Allegheny County, which contributed the funds for the first diorama of wildflowers of Pennsylvania, completed in 1928. Press from the time noted that the Garden Club of Allegheny County had also contributed to the improvement of the entrance to Schenley Park, which was visible from the windows that used to be in Botany Hall.

    I also had learned from the research of Peter Clericuzio (Visiting Lecturer in Architectural Studies at Pitt) into the architecture of Forbes Field that early twentieth-century Oakland was positioned as a cultural center and soothing escape from the grime of the city. I therefore came into the workshop with the notion that the dioramas might belong in this context, in which picturesque views of nature, leisure, and cultural enrichment worked together. At the same time, I was aware that the philanthropic funding behind the institutional framework for this came from the very industry that was destroying the environment.

    At Hunt Botanical Institute, we were able to see Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s portrait of Rachel Hunt (with background painted by Avinoff), as well as examples of the kind of botanical illustrations that were Rachel Hunt’s passion: large, richly detailed portraits of individual plants that almost seem to pose for the viewer. Chuck Tancin also mentioned to us that at the insistence of Roy Hunt, the shelves in the library reading room are aluminum (but painted bronze so as to fit with the overall aesthetic), which is a poignant anecdote for thinking about the intersecting agencies at work behind Pittsburgh’s institutional investment in the culturally sophisticated appreciation of nature.

    At CMOA, Lulu Lippincott shared with us some of her expertise on Avinoff, and we viewed some of his artworks. As Lulu explained, these works can be understood as depictions of his philosophy about the links between art, science, the natural world, and spirituality. Even though Avinoff was known as an entomologist, it is clear to me now that Botany Hall was of special interest to him. In the context of Avinoff’s interests and Hunt’s patronage, the representational strategies of the botanical dioramas, which must be described as picturesque, theatrical, and somewhat political, as much as scientifically accurate, come into clearer focus. It is important to imagine the museum, and the philanthropic culture that shaped the space of Oakland, as both driven by a dream of a unified sphere of progress and idealism of all kinds, rather than the division between art and science that came to structure the institutions in the later twentieth century. This cultural space allowed the appreciation of nature to remain congruous with the glorification of industry.

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    Architecture, Archives, and More: An Internship

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

    This spring I worked as an Intern for the Heinz Architectural Center on projects relating to the Hall of Architecture. As an intern, I undertook three major projects. The first project was the main reason the internship was offered, and paired well with my Intro to Visitor Evaluation class. In 2011, a design studio class at CMU had undertaken a major project on the Hall of Architecture; gathering visitor preferences and responses to the Hall to design a better signage system. I took the data they collected that they had recorded and their design ideas and analyzed that data to make graphs to show the results. I also put together a report containing those results that could be used for future reference instead of having to go back through the project booklets. There is something inexplicably satisfying about recording data and compiling it into graphs. Or maybe it’s just me.

    For the second project that I undertook, I worked with the Carnegie Museum's database. I researched the casts in the Hall of Architecture and recorded the dates, names, locations, and architect/sculptures of the original buildings or objects that they were cast of or from. Some of the buildings that the Carnegie has fragments or capitals from are more interesting than the main monuments that are currently displayed, such as the Tower of the Winds, which is only represented with a capital fragment, but the building is so much more interesting. It was the first weather station ever built and the original is still considered so important that it was recently restored to its original condition at great expense.

    The third project that I undertook was the most time-consuming because of the volume of material that I had to sift through. The archival records relating to the acquisition of casts for the Hall of Architecture and Sculpture Hall had been recently digitized and were sorted in boxes based on subject, such as the sender or recipient. My job was to sort the records instead by cast. I also recorded any interesting stories that I came across, such as the drama between the Director and a Met Museum staffer over a miscommunication over her notes on the history of the casts. My favorite story however, was the series of communications over the Lysicrates Monument. Andrew Carnegie wanted the monument to have one side restored, and one side as the monument currently was, but the cast makers said it was impossible, so he settled for the addition of a tripod, which the cast makers had to make only from references in historical documents.

    I also did additional research into some of the archival stories, such as the Allegheny Courthouse Controversy, for which I requested the National Register Nominations from the National Park Service. This internship was a wonderful opportunity that honed my research skills and taught me data analysis-related skills. I am proud of what I accomplished.

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    My Best Friend is a Vacuum: A Tribute to R2D2, the Faithful HEPA-Vac

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

    This semester, I was lucky enough to be an intern with Gretchen Anderson, the conservator at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I learned a lot. I cleaned a lot. And throughout all of this cleaning, I was always accompanied by R2-D2, the trusty HEPA vacuum. For most conservators, HEPA vacuums are the most efficient for the gentle cleaning of objects. For every diorama we were cleaning, R2-D2 was invariably by our side, waiting patiently to collect our dust.

    One of the first dioramas that I used R2-D2 on was the Nile Crocodiles in the Wildlife Halls. I never thought I would get up and personal with a Nile Crocodile and live to tell about it, but fortunately, these were dead. By wrapping a piece of vellux around R2-D2’s nozzle, we could gently suction away the dust and soot particles. This was a technique we used for most of the open-air dioramas.  

    During my internship, we also cleaned the Polar World exhibit. Bundled up in sweatshirts, we spent the week tidying up the various open-air dioramas in the exhibit. There was one minor issue, however; the artificial snow had trapped our number one enemy-dust-and was not relinquishing it without a fight. So we decided to vacuum up the snow and remove it completely, with plans to refresh the dioramas later. Shortly after we began vacuuming up the snow we realized that R2-D2 was getting clogged; poor R2 could not handle the dust and artificial snow together. So, we had to use a different bagless vacuum, one that happened to look like a jetpack. Each project had its own unique challenges, but the artificial snow was definitely one of the most testing obstructions we encountered to cleaning the dioramas.

    The most recent diorama I have been involved with is the Pennsylvania Marine Life diorama in Benedum Hall. For years, people have walked by and maybe some of them have noticed the fine layer of ocean silt that covered the exhibit. In reality, this fine layer of silt was actually the accumulation of about 30 years of dust. This was a diorama that Gretchen had been itching to get into since she first began working at the museum. After the glass was removed, we used brushes, air rockets, and of course, R2-D2, to clean the years of dust off of the objects. We also used facemasks to protect ourselves from breathing in the extremely small dust particles.

    These are just a couple of the projects I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this semester. This internship has opened up the world of professional conservation to me, and I could not be more thankful for my mentor, Gretchen, for giving me this opportunity. And also for R2, who always cleaned up my dust for me.  

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