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


    ULS Special Collections Exhibits Internship

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System - Spring 2016

    I made a video to discuss my Special Collections exhibits internship and show people a part of the library that they don't often see! Please enjoy.

    Descriptions of Pittsburgh in Maps, Words, and Images will be in the Special Collections department, Hillman Library room 363 until July 2016. 

    Beyond the Nine Mountains and Nine Forests: Folk and Fairy Tales from Eastern Europe will be in the display cases on the second floor of Hillman Library through Summer 2016.

    -Caris Windhausen

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    From Duchamp to Diamond Dust: My Research at the Warhol

    Museum Studies Intern at The Andy Warhol Museum - Spring 2016

    I’m currently a Curatorial Intern at the Andy Warhol Museum. My official job description entails assisting the Associate Curator, Ms. Jessica Beck, with two upcoming exhibitions: Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei, from June through August of 2016, and Andy Warhol: My Perfect Body, scheduled for later in the fall of 2016. ‘Assisting’ is quite a broad term, but as a whole, most of my work encompasses utilizing the library here as well as scholarly databases for research, namely on the biographies of artists involved in the exhibitions as well as their individual works of art and exhibition histories – needless to say, I’ve done a number of searches on Warhol.

    Ultimately, my research is compiled into concrete documents for either the public or the curatorial department – I’ve written up bibliographies for exhibition research, wall texts, and the like. My current big project is working on a blog post - on Warhol’s ties to China and Chinese contemporary art - that will hopefully be published on the Warhol’s blog in tandem with the upcoming exhibition.

    My experience as a whole has been absolutely inspiring so far. I love research, so getting to learn about Andy Warhol’s fascinating life has been a treat in itself, but beyond just that, the experience I’m getting here at the museum has only reaffirmed my love for both art history and museum studies. From running around the offices to waiting in line at the café to overseeing actual exhibitions being put together, my internship at the Warhol has given me a taste of what working in a museum environment (and an office!) is like, with all of its varied departments (that come together in the most excellent ways) and talented staff. I know that the skills I’ve learned – compiling exhibition materials, working with a varied staff, and powerwalking through the Cultural District to catch the bus on time – are all skills that I will utilize many more times in the future, and I’m grateful that I got the chance to learn so much here as well.

    Working at the Warhol has been a humbling, inspiring, and incredibly rewarding experience. I haven’t got much time left here, but I know that there will be new projects for me to work on, and new things for me to learn about Warhol, his work, and his legacy even in this brief span left until the end of the term. If there’s anything that this internship isn’t, it’s unexciting!

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  • Entering data at my work station in the University Art Gallery


    Collective Access: A Fresh View of the UAG

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Spring 2016

    As a University Art Gallery Intern, I am working to update and standardize the online database system, Collective Access, in conjunction with the old system, Past Perfect, and paper files to create a more comprehensive and accessible database. Additionally, I am creating a Collective Access Data Entry Guide to ensure the system is consistent in the future. This position is very rewarding as it allows me to enrich the resources the UAG offers to art history researchers and to the curious public alike. The breadth of the database is quite extensive, cataloging basic information, physical characteristics, geography/culture, valuation, etc. Of all of these categories, I find the condition reports to be the most fascinating piece of information. Currently, I am working on updating the Nicholas Lochoff Collection, displayed in the Cloister of the Frick Fine Arts building. The resources for this collection are extensive and a very detailed condition report was conducted on several of the pieces in 2002. Physical maintenance was conducted on these pieces in 2003. It is extremely interesting to see both the natural aging of the materials and works as well as the impact of the restoration by comparing the first condition report to the treatment report following the maintenance. This internship has been a fulfilling, educational, and unique capstone to the Museum Studies minor. 

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    This is one of the first legal pieces done at Carrie along the 400-foot wall designated for graffiti. It features the iconic logo of Rivers of Steel in the center. 


    Spray Cans and Stereotypes

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

    Click. Click. Click. Shhhhhh.

    The shadow watches as a single stream of black spray paint shoots from the nozzle. Shaking the can softly again, the ball mixing the paint rattles encouragingly to continue. One hand steadies the canister while the other shakes slightly in nervousness. Just a few more lines…done. The writer flings the can into their opened back pack before trailing back through the moonlit trees in front of the Carnegie Library.

    What image did you create as you pictured the scene? If you were being completely honest, who in your mind’s eye is the culprit of the vandalism to your library? Is he a teenager with too much time on his hands? Is he a rowdy youngster, craving recognition that his parents just don’t provide? Is it a destructive gang member out to create a disruption in their mundane, mainstream environment to prove a point for his or her buddies? Whether we like it, acknowledge it, or bother to care, our prejudices and pre-conceived notions of the graffiti writer influence us and our perceptions of their art. Who is this invisible individual leaving a trail of paint drips, words, and images?

    This sad, yin and yang eyed face reveals that the writer is aware of his transgression. (see above image) Ironically, he acknowledges that a spray paint can in hand may not adequately relieve him or provide him with what he is after. Yet another scrawl is located close by: “I wish I were a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”[1]

    Now unless you are a poetry guru, you would have never known that these lines were taken from a T.S. Eliot poem. In this simple black scribble, we are confronted with our artist who is certainly no desperately bored teen seeking a temporary thrill. This piece is charged with meaning, shows intentionality, and demonstrates an appreciation of 20th century poetry, all in a single quote drawn in spray paint. Our artist is aware of his site and the ironic sense the quote carries on the library. It is an internal, deep, and reflective statement. The phrase shows the writer’s heightened conscientiousness in wishing to express ideas of independence, freedom, and power. In a single scrawl, previous biases are washed away. This piece encapsulates graffiti’s many provocations. What I am interested in, not only as an Art History student but also as a Psychology major, is if and how stereotypes and notions of graffiti play into how people experience viewing graffiti.

    It is at the unexpected spot of Carrie Furnace in Pittsburgh where I have found graffiti flourish alongside these questions and thoughts. Carrie stands—her huge, gaping, and rusting exterior—against the serene backdrop of the Monongahela River. For almost 70 years, these blast furnaces produced iron for the Homestead Works and at their peak, were producing almost 1250 tons of iron a day. The site was left empty in 1978, but once the steel mill workers left, graffiti artists filled their places. Graffiti tags accumulated across pipes, walls, and the precarious peaks of the furnaces. In 2010 however, the historical preservationist organization Rivers of Steel claimed ownership of the site.

    Yet, the graffiti scene continued to prosper once Rivers of Steel realized that the colorful murals were attracting visitors to the industrial wonderland of Carrie. A 400-foot wall and the interior space of a power house were dedicated for new, and most importantly, legal graffiti developed by talented and art-minded graffiti artists. Ron Baraff, the proponent of the movement says this of the graffiti artists—“They’re coming in here, creating this art, so let’s give them this canvas, and by giving them this canvas and showing them that respect, we can then educate them on what we’re trying to do.”[2]  

    The graffiti writers, hipsters, and those interested in their local history aren’t the only visitors however. Returning, finally, are the former steel mill workers who give tours of Carrie. A handful of men dedicate their afternoons to instilling a sense of pride in their listeners as they walk through Carrie’s echoing caverns. They tell of lives threatened by brutal working conditions. They share stories and discuss labor unions. They paint pictures of history that mingle right alongside the painted murals. But, do these two ever collide?

    As the workers return to their former place of employment—a place of pride and power—how does the graffiti affect them? As they conduct tour after tour, does the graffiti just fade into the background and become common place? Or does the destruction of a place they identify with so closely enrage them? This month, I have been collecting oral histories from a few of these workers in hopes to understand their views as either supporters or rejecters of the graffiti. We are all participating in a past history of steel while simultaneously crafting the history of a future that challenges former notions of graffiti and its creator. 


    [1] “Pittsburgh 360: Carrie Furnace Art.” WQED video, 6:51. October 17, 2013.

    [2] “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Poetry Foundation, accessed April 1, 2016,



    Marvelous Marketing: A Semester at Society for Contemporary Craft

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Spring 2016

    I currently serve as a marketing intern at Society for Contemporary Craft (SCC) in the Strip District. SCC is a small, nonprofit arts organization that aims to engage the public in creative experiences through contemporary craft. One of my primary duties as a marketing intern is to write and copy-edit media alerts and press releases for upcoming programs, events and exhibitions. Additionally, I am learning how to create content for various types of traditional and online marketing strategies, including online calendar submissions, social media and blog posts. I’ve also assisted with marketing research by monitoring and reporting on attendance and visitor surveys, which SCC will use to see how the organization is doing in comparison to previous years. SCC has provided me the opportunity to contribute towards inter-departmental projects; I have conducted exhibition research for the upcoming Fiberart International 2016, wrote text panels for satellite gallery exhibitions and assisted with artwork installation/de-installation at various locations, including a glass case at the Pittsburgh Airport!

    A major project I completed this semester is a promotional marketing video about SCC’s latest socially engaged art exhibition Mindful: Exploring Mental Health through Art, which aimed to break down societal stigmas surrounding mental health. I conceptualized, filmed, and edited a two minute video about the “Thought Cloud,” an interactive activity that encouraged written and sketched reactions, thoughts and words of encouragement from Mindful visitors. This video will hopefully travel with Mindful to other galleries over the next year in order to convey how the “Thought Cloud” works and the benefits of its reproduction. I was also in charge of writing a majority of the press materials for Pattern and Place: Quilts by Valerie Goodwin, a solo-artist exhibition that will be on display at SCC’s BNY Mellon Satellite Gallery from May 6th through July 4th, 2016.

    As a museum studies minor, this internship has provided me with the opportunity to see how a small, nonprofit arts organization approaches marketing strategies and has further solidified my decision to work in this industry after my graduation from the University of Pittsburgh.

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    CMoA Visitor Evaluation: She Who Tells A Story

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

    As an intern at the Carnegie Museums, I work closely with Assistant Curator Dr. Erin Peters on analyzing visitor evaluations of the recent exhibition She Who Tells A Story: Women Photographers from Iran and the Arab World. The exhibition displayed the works of 12 women photographers with themes ranging from personal identity to the social and political issues of the Middle East. In one gallery of the exhibition the museum provided visitor comment cards, each of which corresponded to particular artworks on view. My work this semester has been to code and analyze visitor experiences from these comment cards.

    Myself and two other interns categorized and entered the visitor’s self-reported demographic data from the comment cards by age, gender, location, and other information written on the cards. We then created codes for when visitors responded to a specific work from the show, as well as their general responses to the themes from the exhibition. I broke down the transcribed data further by extracting more specific qualitative information such as the percentages of visitors’ age ranges, languages, genders, and works that received the most response. The quantitative information that we gathered is what we presented at HAAARCH, a showcase of undergraduate research for the History of Art and Architecture and the Architectural Studies programs.

    Once we completed the quantitative aspects of our analysis, we moved onto more in-depth qualitative analysis. Again, we came up with codes but this time focusing more on the content of the cards. I have just finished coding the cards into groups such as comments thanking the artist and/or museum, positive reactions to the exhibition, negative or differing opinions to exhibition content – this includes comments on Muslim traditions negatively or positively, and on political or human rights more broadly – personal stories, quotes, visual analysis and many more. Data analysis based on these new codes is integral to our understanding of the impact of the exhibition on its audience and has proven to be very telling of viewer experiences.

    Dr. Peters has since presented our project in its quantitative stage to the CMOA staff and they have shown interest in hearing about our final results. We have recently been invited to present our project at the Women’s Committee monthly meeting at the CMOA. It is great to see that our work has reached other people outside of the academic audience we presented to in the past.

    Myself and one other intern will continue to work on this project next semester. In the fall we plan to analyze and consolidate the data further. We hope to eventually write everything up as a research paper and then develop a more finalized presentation for the CMOA staff. My time as an intern working on the She Who Tells A Story project has shown me the importance of visitor evaluation and the role it could play in the Carnegie museum’s (or any museum’s) approach to exhibition curation. Our project has served to reinforce the value of evaluating visitor response and also help to establish a process for future evaluation. After Dr. Peters presented our initial findings to the CMOA staff, it seems that future visitor evaluation internships at the Carnegie Museum may be a possibility. This makes my current position even more crucial to the development, ideas, and articulation of our methods for this initiative.

    Our visitor evaluations and analysis could lead to the development of new viewer engagement activities and help us to further understand how demographic data and visitors’ responses can be applied to the planning of future exhibitions. Our research documents the museum’s efforts to present difficult subject matter, such as Muslim traditions and women’s experiences. This data not only provides visitor feedback that can be taken into consideration when approaching sensitive topics in the future, but also reassures the museum that exhibitions like She Who Tells A Story are important to present to the public and act as a step towards being more inclusive. My work on this project has shown me the impact that the addition of simple, interactive elements such as comment cards, can have on visitor reception of exhibitions and why it is important to investigate further into future use of these elements. I have learned so much about museum work, evaluation, and possible museum careers through this experience. I am very excited to continue working on this project next semester and hopefully help the museum create a reliable system for continued visitor evaluation.


    Postcards from the Past

    Museum Studies Intern at the Archives Service Center, University Library System, University of Pittsburgh - Spring 2016

    My job as an intern at the Archives Service Center differs from that of most interns in that I generally do not work with the collections preserved here at the archives. Instead, I work primarily on the exhibits that recently went on display around Pitt’s campus. As an undergraduate pursuing a minor in Museum Studies, this experience has been both challenging and rewarding. I’m enjoying having the opportunity to work on several different projects and having different responsibilities for each one.

    When I was asked to plan a small exhibit for the display case in the lobby of the Archives Service Center, I jumped at the opportunity. However, I soon discovered some interesting challenges, the first being what topic to choose for my exhibit. Initially, I had roughly a dozen ideas and was cycling through various online finding aids to get an idea of which ones I could realistically turn into an exhibit display. At first, the top contender was to focus the project on rivers in Pennsylvania. It felt especially relevant given that Pittsburgh is surrounded by rivers. But, while I was interested in the images and their stories, I realized that they weren’t eye-catching.

    Later, after cycling through several more ideas, the Lillian Friedberg collection was brought to my attention. Friedberg, who was a popular member of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community in the 20th century, had collected postcards for the majority of her life and her entire collection was donated to the Archives some years after her death in 1978. Her postcards were perfect for the case exhibit: they are small enough to fit in the space and don’t need to be printed, the way the photographs would have to be. However, I was unprepared for the size of her collection, she had accumulated about 1,700 postcards over the course of nearly 60 years and I examined every single one… many times.

    As I studied Lillian Friedberg’s postcards, I started to notice several different themes and decided to build the exhibit from those. Images of fine art make up the bulk of Friedberg’s postcards but she also had hundreds sent to her from friends and family on their various travels. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down the choices and I often found myself distracted by the messages written on the postcards. In the end, I decided upon 6 categories that would best represent the broad scope of Friedberg’s collection:

    • Art
    • Travel
    • Religion
    • WWII
      • Friedberg had many postcards featuring anti-Nazi propaganda from France and Germany
    • The World’s Fair
    • Radcliffe & Harvard
      • Friedberg was a graduate of Radcliffe College and her husband, Dr. Emanuel Friedberg was a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

    When it came time for installation, I faced an interesting challenge in that I had many more postcards than display stands to prop them on and many of the stands that were available for my use were too big to hold the postcards without showing from behind. The trial-and-error to find a workable solution that followed was actually pretty fun. In what felt like a true MacGyver moment, I ended up manipulating paper clips to act as stands, which worked surprisingly well once I managed to make them more stable. They put the postcards on a lower angle so the ones on the lower shelves can be viewed more easily. They also prompt the viewer to move closer to the case to get a better look.

    The entire experience of planning and installing my own exhibit was one I truly enjoyed. Even the challenges were interesting and taught me a great deal. Now when I walk through the door every week I get to see my own work and a reminder of the fun I had doing it.

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    • Photo: Nicole Scalissi
    • Photo: Nicole Scalissi

    Covered in Rust, Paint, and History: The Carrie Furnace Graffiti Project

    Once a heat-swollen, record-setting producer of iron for US Steel, Pittsburgh’s Carrie Furnaces is now a bony relic of the American steel industry, a salvaged monument to the sweat that built the region, and – amazingly – an expansive collection of graffiti.

    Starting in 1978, the furnaces were turned off, cooled down, and dismantled – piece-by-massive-piece – for sale, scrap, or theft. When the access roads to the time-clocks were shuttered and no one was looking, Carrie would accumulate not just dust and oxidation, but aerosol paint, Sharpie, and oil stick – the colorful images, throw-ups, initials, and characters composed by daring graffiti writers who slipped through the gates and trees to paint the remaining structures, the behemoth and bizarre architecture of industry. Rustic and discreet, the site became a popular site for local and national graffiti artists looking for open, challenging spaces for their work. Their early window-breaking, quiet-sneaking, and furnace-scaling efforts resulted in a “collection” of spray-can art that would never have survived the publicly accessible walls and doors of any city.

    With the Monongahela along one side, and raised train tracks up the other, the once-industrious furnaces were cut off from Pittsburgh. Preserved by this geographic obscurity, the accumulated paint tells not just the story of Pittsburgh’s graff culture, but of an artistic community that ducked (necessarily) quietly under the official radar across the United States. No public audience, they wrote for themselves – to each other, to themselves, for the sake of doing. No “buffing” squad regularly visited the site to remove tags from the forgotten site, and with relatively low police supervision, pieces could take longer to paint and remained on the wall for longer. With expansive surfaces uniquely shaped for producing molten metal, little supervision once inside, and the security that once your work was up the only threat it faced was the tag of another writer: what would be possible?

    Not just a set of blank walls, or a “gallery” of and for graffiti, Carrie was a lab, a space of experimentation for local and traveling artists. The paint on Carrie, then, is not just a history of the furnaces, or Pittsburgh’s industrial heartbreak, but a story about how the graff community developed as a larger, integrated phenomenon. Carrie is the setting; the coast-to-coast network and the artistic developments they initiated here are the story.

    To tell the narrative of Pittsburgh’s oasis for spray-can experimentation and production, and to reveal how the city was part of a larger network of graffiti artists, researchers in the History of Art and Architecture department at the University of Pittsburgh are dusting off old photographs, tracking down graff artists, and talking to former steelworkers. This small team of undergraduate and graduate students are collecting oral histories and researching this extraordinary history in partnership with Rivers of Steel, the artists, and the workers who made the site what it was in the first place.

    Now about one-third of her original hulk and sprawl, Carrie rests in the shade of the trees lining the bank of the Monongahela. The access roads have been reopened to visitors who come to see the 92-foot blast furnaces on tours led by former steelworkers. The overgrowth has been pushed back, the collapsed structures secured. Some of the graffiti she accumulated over the 80s and 90s remains, but writers no longer tumble over the train tracks to paint without permission. Rivers of Steel, the preservation and community history organization that has operated the site as a protected National landmark since 2006, continues to embrace this layer of Carrie’s history by preserving some of the historical graffiti and by inviting international contemporary artists to paint legally in designated spaces. The wall on Carrie’s riverside is less a barrier and more of a gallery, a growing sample of diverse work of artists from around the world.

    As we conduct this research and develop an online exhibition over the coming months, keep up with our progress here on Pitt’s Constellations Blog.


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