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

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    Botany Hall: The Advantages and Disadvantages To Navigating A Self-Directed Research-Intensive Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016 

    As I applied to an academic internship over the previous summer, I was invited to collaborate in an ongoing research endeavor that was being led by two Ph.D. candidates in graduate school at the University of Pittsburgh, Colleen O’Reilly of the History of Art and Architecture department, and Aisling Quigley of the Information Sciences department. Their research was concerning Botany Hall of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and was conceived out of the realization that there is very little knowledge about the conception of the hall and its content available to museum visitors. With the pursuit of finding more knowledge about this mysterious hall that is tucked away on the second floor of the museum, in the spring of 2016 Colleen and Aisling began conducting research through many veins like provenance, history, and individuals who helped make the physical hall, as well as individuals in charge of curating and making decisions about it on behalf of the museum. The purpose of the research was to eventually create an online exhibition of Botany Hall that would be available to the public for educational and informational purposes.

    Colleen informed me at our first meeting of their current research and end goals. I was very intrigued, but expected that I would do basic internship tasks to aid their process and help nurse along their end goal of an online exhibition. To my surprise, Colleen told me that they wanted myself and two other undergraduate students to conduct our own research of our choosing that relates to Botany Hall. We would eventually contribute our own final product, of which the platform would also be up to our discretion, to be a subset of their final online exhibition.

    After visiting the hall and considering what knowledge could be emphasized to museum visitors, I decided to do my research from an art historical and visual studies angle. I found the dioramas that made up the hall to be extremely interesting, yet contradictory. I was confused why there was an artistic painting in the background of each diorama. Why was art in a science museum? The time spent on my internship each week was rather autonomous and up to my discretion. The only requirements I received were that I must work on my internship for 10 hours per week, that I should keep a journal of my progress, and that I would also meet with Colleen weekly to discuss my progress and findings. The only person I reported to was Colleen and Aisling, as they dealt with the relationship with the university and museum. Other than that, my research and final product were up to me and therefore, my weekly schedule of what I needed to accomplish was the same, along with what type of final product I would want to contribute.

    Throughout the semester I would conduct research by finding primary sources related to the museum and the hall as well as secondary sources that related to the display style and related topics in visual studies. I would also visit exhibitions like the botanical show in the Hunt library at CMU, make appointments to see various Carnegie archives, and explore other areas of the Carnegie museums to research. Over the course of the semester, I felt a lot of feelings of being overwhelmed or alone on my research due to the nature of the internship. The autonomy can be very exciting as it is based on self-inquiry, yet it can also be extremely overwhelming when you have little direction on your process and end-product. Meeting weekly with Colleen was very helpful, but it would have been nice to be able to meet with the two other undergraduates working on their own research and projects on Botany Hall more often. Unfortunately scheduling became a major issue since we did not have specific time, we all met together during the week and our busy school and work schedules made it almost impossible to find time to collaborate and inform one and other along the way.

    Throughout the semester my topic also evolved many times as I found more information or realized I wanted to focus more on another element. My plan for an end-product changed many times from originally wanting to do a formal essay to the more visual and interactive media of a Prezi presentation. My final Prezi presentation discusses the oddity and general disinterest revolving the artistic qualities of the dioramas, specifically the idealistic background painting and why there is art in a science museum? I later go on to discuss problems of trustworthiness with subjective images such as art paintings that are used for the education of science. After arguing for why we can trust these images, I ultimately prove why those same artistic qualities are the what make the diorama so effective as an educational tool. Furthermore, I explain how art through different mediums and media can be advantageous for communicating educational material, specifically scientific information in this example.

    Overall, this internship was extremely helpful in strengthening my confidence in my research and preparation and time management abilities. It also gave me a taste of what it takes to do research at a higher level of education, which is something I found useful as I am interested in graduate school. Not only did I enjoy the material I researched, but it also inspired me to further this research. With an interest in focusing more on visual knowledge through the study of botanical illustrations, I applied to the London Field Studies Program in 2017, to which I found out I was accepted! If it were not for this internship, I would have never had the chance to do so much independent research on my own and strengthen the necessary skills, but I especially would not have been introduced to a topic that I find so fascinating.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Gallery Ambassador at CMOA

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Fall 2016

    For my internship, I worked as a gallery ambassador for Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium at the Carnegie Museum of Art (CMOA). To Organize Delirium is an art exhibit which includes Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica's original artworks as well as reconstructions. The exhibit contains participatory, wearable, and sensorial art. It will be exhibited in CMOA from October 1, 2016–January 2, 2017; The Art Institute of Chicago from February 19–May 7, 2017; and the Whitney Museum of American Art from July 14–October 1, 2017. As part of my internship responsibilities, I facilitated visitor experience by engaging in conversations with a diverse range of individuals. My primary concern was to educate the public about the life and artwork of Oiticica. I also indicated to visitors which artworks are interactive and which are not, ensured that artworks were not damaged, and directed visitors to act appropriately within the galleries. As a result of my internship, I gained valuable communication and teaching skills. I also learned how to better interact with and educate visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Fortunately, I will continue my work as a gallery ambassador beyond the end of my internship. In addition to the shifts I spent inside the museum, I was inspired to write a short piece of criticism on the ways by which museums address sensitive topics. In curating Hélio Oiticica: To Organize Delirium, CMOA had to determine the most appropriate ways to address Oiticica’s drug addiction. In To Organize Delirium, the curators chose to exhibit CC5 Hendrixwar. CC5 in an immersive and sensory artwork which includes projections of Jimi Hendrix’s face marked with lines of cocaine. Oiticica uses cocaine as an artistic medium to enclose, emphasize, and obliterate Hendrix’s face on his War Heroes album. Topics deemed controversial by mainstream society, such as drug use, raise questions about a museum’s responsibility to its public. Museum staff must navigate between personal ethics and professional responsibilities as an educational institution. Curators must choose between portraying the facts of an artist’s life without adopting a stance, expressing explicit disapproval of high risk activities, or eliminating all references to controversial topics. I grapple further with this dilemma in my criticism. Colleen O’Reilly, Alex Taylor, and Kirk Savage were crucial in helping me in the beginning stages of this project, and I hope to expand it into an honors thesis with the assistance of Professor Josten.

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    Changing Roles of the Botany Hall Dioramas Video - Final Blog Post

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    It has been enlightening and eyeopening semester while working on the Botany Hall internship. Not only have I gain a great deal of knowledge about Botany and the hall and the workings of the museum, but it has allowed my to realize the amount of work and drive that is required for an internship that is largely independent work. My project is a short documentary about the changing context of dioramas, specifically those of Botany Hall, in museum context. Here is an exerpt from the intro to my script:

    "First constructed in the late 1920’s with its last exhibit being installed in 1973, Botany Hall depicts the astonishing diversity of plant life. The hall emphasizes four different biomes found in the continental United States: a Florida everglade, a Mt. Rainier alpine meadow, an Arizona desert, and Pennsylvania landscapes that include Presque Isle during the summer, a Warren County bog in the fall, and the Allegheny Natural Forest in the spring. Additional exhibitions in Botany Hall feature plants that have been used for food, as medicine, or in industry. Among these are a diorama depicting a western Pennsylvania herb garden and exhibitions of plant fibers, edible fruits and nuts and poisonous plants. Each diorama contains hundreds of specific species based on fieldwork research.

    Dioramas differ from art and other historical objects in museums due to their blend of unique scientific and artistic input. The early dioramas of Botany hall are the production of a specific impression that the artists, Ottmar Von Feuhrer, and Hanna Von Feuhrer wanted to create. Ottmar was primarily responsible for the backgrounds and overall design while Hanna and a large group of primarily women, made the individual specimens. Their work was based on scientific field expeditions that gathered specimens. From these collections, reproductions were made of wax and paper. Everything from the time of day, season, to exact plants is specifically and deliberately chosen to recreate a snapshot of a location in time and nature that is normally in constant fluctuation. The dioramas come together to form one entity that surrounds viewers in carefully recreated nature.

    But now museums all over the world are facing a new challenge. These dioramas seem very far removed from modern methods of display that use digital technology. Museums are a timeless entity, protectors of the past and history for future generations, but now that technology has become such a staple in people’s lives, how do dioramas compete with it? Prior to the 21st century, the dioramas were an engaging museum attraction. However in recent years the dioramas have received less attention and since the 70s no major changes have been made to the hall. Should Botany Hall’s representation of nature be adapted to fit the current context of the world? We turn to current Carnegie Museum employees to learn their thoughts"

    Getting permission and the chance to film the museum and its employees was a great opportunity that allowed me to work on my filmmaking skills and I gained a valuable insight into the world of diorama making and their current context in the Carnegie Museum. It was at times difficult to figure out what to do about the technical logistic issues such as permission to film the museum and its employees but luckily I had a great internship mentor in Colleen and she was always so helpful when it came to dealing with issues that neither of us new about. From flipping through old archives in the museum annex to constantly rewriting a script to finally filming the museum, it was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to learn by my own mistakes as well as giving me insight into the professional realm of the museum world and the documentary filmmaking world.

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    Display and Design in Special Collections

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Fall 2016

    As a Special Collections Department exhibit design intern during the Fall 2016 semester, I was given a unique look at one of the lesser-known aspects of scholarly research. My responsibilities were primarily related to the curation of the exhibition, James Boswell, Biographer and Diarist, as well as the documentation that accompanied it, which is a critical but often overlooked aspect of curation. In addition to preparing the books for installation, I was responsible for formatting and printing the labels, compiling the exhibit catalogue, and preparing a Libguide, which will be accessible at https://pitt.libguides.com/boswell2016 upon its publication. Both the catalogue and the Libguide required research on my part, but are essential to the use of the Smith-Boswell collection by scholars in the future. Additionally, I helped out with any other odd-jobs that came up, such as re-shelving books, reading through various materials to determine their usefulness, and office tasks such as copying and organizing. Through this array of activities, I was able to gain a new respect and awareness for the level of detail that is required in a museum or archival setting, as well as an appreciation for the behind-the-scenes tasks that librarians and museum staff undertake in order to best serve the community.

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    Looking Behind the Glass: Rediscovering the Women of Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016 

    This semester I had a research internship with the department to work with a group of undergraduate students on the dioramas of CMNH’s Botany Hall. With graduate student Colleen O’Reilly as my mentor, I was given the opportunity to create my own independent project on the topic of my choice. My primary focus was the role women played in the creation of the dioramas from past and present. This subject interested me most because it was a point where botany, museum studies, and gender studies intersected. The section of Botany in the Natural History museum was dominated by women compared to the other departments. The broader thoughts that challenged me throughout this project were about the museum’s accessibility to women during the different stages of botanical dioramas; was Botany Hall a space which simply allowed women to flourish, one that confined them to a subject that was considered “appropriate”, or one that was passed off as “women’s work”? I wanted to take a different approach to presenting this research so I worked with an online program called Scalar. Scalar is a platform that creates a digital book that allows readers to navigate their own path through the narratives that I present. The pictures and documents found in the museum’s archives were vital in the understanding and creation of this project and I felt that I needed a platform that showcased that. Though I ran into just as many technical challenges as I did with my actual research, it was really rewarding to watch it all come together

    Categories: 
    • Agency
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Curating Little Steel

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area - Fall 2016

    This past summer, I worked at Rivers of Steel, in Homestead curating an online exhibit called Little Steel. The exhibit documented the lesser-known steel mills in Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania region. When one thinks of Pittsburgh steel, one thinks of companies like Carnegie Steel, US Steel, and Jones & Laughlin. However, there were over four hundred medium-sized and small mills that operated in Western Pennsylvania. These smaller mills competed with the bigger companies by producing high-quality specialty products. Despite the success of some of the smaller mills, US Steel bought many of them at the turn of the twentieth century. I looked through boxes of postcards, archival photographs, ephemera from the steel mills to decide what to include. Moreover, I took advantage of the numerous records digitized and freely available through Google books and Historic Pittsburgh database to find information on the small steel mills. The picture included here is one of the advertisements I found. Looking through old maps and city directories on Historic Pittsburgh, it was interesting to see all the urban redevelopment, especially in the Strip District, and the North Side, both of which were major areas of industry in the first half of the twentieth century. When one visits these parts of the city, one can sometimes see some remnants of industry. Throughout the course of my research, I discovered several previously-unknown steel mills. All in all, I wrote biographies for about fifteen steel mills and accumulated over one hundred photographs and advertisements. As more books like steel industry records become available in the public domain, researchers will be further able to discover and write about the previously-overlooked steel mills that played a vital part in Pittsburgh’s steel industry.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • From the Special Collections Department's Walter and Martha Leuba Collection
     

    Making the Archives Accessible: Metadata Collection and Digitization

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Fall 2016       

    For my internship this semester, I worked in the Special Collections Department at Hillman Library to help to facilitate the online accessibility of the Walter and Martha Leuba Collection. The Leuba collection is composed of several hundred original woodcuts, wood engravings, metal cuts, and linoleum cuts, as well as thousands of books. As an art history major, I took on the task of compiling metadata about the woodblock prints, engravings, and lithographs within the collection. The metadata I collected, including the medium of each print, the dimensions, and some biographical information about the artists, will be used to update the archival finding aid. After examining each print, I rehoused the prints into acid-free folders to send them out for digitization, and they will eventually be available for viewing online. I also wrote two blog posts about some of the prints I worked with on the Special Collections Department Tumblr blog, http://pittspecialcollections.tumblr.com. This internship gave me the opportunity to learn more about the archiving side of art history, and I developed some problem solving skills in trying to locate the prints in the library and in trying to keep the prints organized once I found them; in addition to learning how to use an Excel spreadsheet, I taught myself to devise an efficient system of notes in order to keep track of what I was finding, changing, and missing within the collection. The project is not anywhere near done; I picked up where someone else left off and someone will pick up after me, but as a result of our efforts, the collection of prints will eventually be accessible online with images and information about each piece.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Women of Carnegie's Botany Hall

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016       

    Located on the second floor of CMNH, adjacent to the North American Wildlife Section, the Hall of Botany seems like a forgotten space by the museum. Initially, I was unsure if I would find a story that genuinely interested me.  I had no idea of the wealth of research avenues that would peak my interests.

    The narrative that I found most engaging was women’s roles in the conception and creation of the dioramas featured in the Botany Hall. In the beginning, I believed that researching the work and lives of these women and writing their biographies would sufficiently tell this story. However, while I was exploring through the abundant archival documents and photographs, I began to realize that there was something larger going on. I quickly learned that by learning about these women’s lives, I was only scratching the surface. The questions that came to mind focused on the subject of botany as a discipline. Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? If so, how did this happen? What happened to the study of botany in academic settings? Has it been labeled as another topic? Other questions related to the subject’s relationship with museums. Why was CMNH neglecting this section? Were other museums doing the same thing? Did this lack of interest relate to gender? I was really seeking to understand these relationships. 

    I think the biggest challenge I have faced so far in this research project is trying to create a coherent narrative that connects the women of CMNH’s Botany Hall to this broader investigation into Botany’s importance in natural history museums and as a discipline general. Through these weeks of research, I have formed many questions but at times forming the connections between these queries seem disjointed or forced. In the coming weeks, I believe that as I continue my research and gather more details I will be able to see the connections that exist. 

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Midterm Blog Post- Update on Progress

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2016

    After reading only a mere summary of a few possible academic internship opportunities, I really had no idea what to expect when I chose to join an internship that involved working on a digital exhibition of Botany Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I had no idea what my role in this project would be, nor how large of a project this digital exhibition would be. When I first met with PhD candidate, Colleen O’Reilly, one of the two students in charge of creating the idea for the exhibition and curating it through each stage of the process, I was a little overwhelmed when she explained my role in the project. I was told that I could basically contribute any final project to the digital exhibition that I saw suitable after visiting and extensively researching Botany Hall – a site in the museum that mysteriously seems to have little obvious and accessible information available about it to the public. I was generally confused about what Botany Hall was, considering I knew it had been years since I visited the Carnegie Natural History Museum. She explained that the hall contained dioramas of various biomes around the United States.

    After meeting with Colleen and being introduced to the project, I examined Botany Hall on my own using a careful and precise art historical lens and the first thing that really stood out to me was the oddity of the idealistically painted backgrounds in the dioramas. They were made to be illusionistic and to make the three-dimensional objects in the foreground appear to extend into the background painting, giving an overall trompe-l’oeil effect. It seemed so odd that something so subjective like art could be used as an educational tool for something accredited with being so objective like science. At this point I knew my contribution to the digital exhibition would revolve around researching the background paintings and I ultimately decided that I could best contribute to the digital exhibition on the hall through producing an essay and wall text with images.

    Probably the biggest problem that I have had is one that might seem like a positive at first, but I have had the bittersweet problem of finding so much information, whether primary or secondary, to sift through it to ultimately choose what information is relevant. To my advantage in research, individuals that worked on this project previously had digitized a lot of primary sources that were at my disposal, so accessing that information was not as much of a struggle. The only aspect that therefore overwhelmed me were the many angles to pursue in looking at Botany Hall which made it hard to form just one cohesive argument. That one narrowed down argument is something that I am still struggling to define and is always being polished and refined in my process towards materializing my research as a final product.

    A lot of my time has been spent contacting other archives or individuals that would be primary sources regarding Botany Hall as well as researching data bases for secondary sources that hold relevance. The biggest problem I have faced that is both a pro and a con is the large amount of autonomy that I have in setting my own work schedule, research topic, and final product that contributes to the larger picture of a digital exhibition on Botany Hall. At this point in the semester, I have done a lot of research and am now just waiting to meet with other individuals and finalize my ideas for my contributions. For the time being, my research questions are whether art can be considered a legitimate platform for conveying scientific knowledge, and what scientific knowledge can be learned from 2D art paintings in this specific style versus other styles, mediums and media such a 3D crafted objects. I hope to make this a more precise and polished statement as I continue my process.

    Categories: 
    • Visual Knowledge
    • Current Projects
    • Academic Interns
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

    Clayton: The Frick family's Pittsburgh home and our main attraction

     

    An Introduction to Curation: My Semester at The Frick Art Museum

    Museum Studies Intern at The Frick Pittsburgh - Spring 2016

    Remember the first bit of your freshman year of high school when it felt like you couldn't get through the week without another teacher thrusting another aptitude test in your face? I must've taken at least 7 throughout the course of that year, but the only one that mattered was the one whose results introduced me to the word "curator" and claimed I'd be a good one. A google search was done, and about 2 minutes later, I knew what I wanted be when I grew up. Flash forward almost 6 years, and here I am, telling you about my experience as a curatorial intern this past semester. Funny how life works sometimes, right? 

    Since January I have been fortunate enough to intern at the Frick Art and Historical Center in their Art Museum's curatorial department. I've been working under head curator, Sarah Hall, to help prepare and plan for the museum's upcoming exhibition,The Frick Collects, as well as its accompanying publication. The goal of this exhibition is to provide a deeper look into the museum's permanent collection to tell a more complete story of the Frick Collection, and to encourage it's continued growth. To achieve this, the curatorial office has been digging into forgotten corners of storage, and considering how to organize the galleries in order to effectively tell a story through the juxtaposition of objects that may not normally even be in the same building.

    Throughout this process, I have been responsible for creating and updating object files as new objects are added or more information is required of old ones, writing and formatting gallery labels as well as tombstone texts, updating and adding to the object checklist that pertains to The Frick Collects publication, and creating the filemaker database also corresponding to the publication. The nature of this work has been very independent, allowing me to develop a sense of self-motivation in the workplace. In addition to the technical work I was doing, my site mentor, Sarah, encouraged me to exercise curatorial ways of thinking by asking me to prepare my own input on the exhibition's design, which I then presented to her, and to find possible additional objects that I believed would be assets to the exhibition. 

    Even though,The Frick Collects has been the primary focus of my position, during my time at the Frick I have been involved in various stages of three different exhibition. From installation to filing to research, this internship has had it all. I've been able to apply and improve skills gained through past professional experiences to my work, while gaining and becoming adept at new skills pertaining to curation.

    This experience has been an invaluable asset to my Museum Studies program, and I would reccommend it to everyone interested in museums, a career in the arts, or arts management. Moving forward, I am excited by the prospect of applying to more positions with my resume updated to reflect this experience. This internship has given me the skills and confidence necessary to keep chasing my dream job, so that in another 6 years I can look back and once again say, "funny how life works sometimes, right?"

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