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

  • Standing in the CMOA Library with copies of the printed catalogues of past Carnegie International exhibitions (1896-present)

     

    Women and the Carnegie International

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art – Fall 2019

    Women have historically been excluded from museums and positions of power in institutions. Even today, there are countless initiatives to exhibit more women artists in museums. However, looking specifically at the early history of the Carnegie International exhibitions, women were much more included than might be expected for the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My internship centered around digitizing catalogs of the paintings featured in past Carnegie International exhibitions. I was surprised to learn that several female artists’ paintings were accepted in the first Carnegie International in 1896The first few exhibitions featured a handful of women, but as the years went by more and more women had their paintings included in the Carnegie International.

    As a part of Pitt’s Fall 2018 class "Inside the Carnegie," my classmates and I had the opportunity to meet with some of the artists included in the 57th Carnegie International as well as the curator of the exhibition, Ingrid Schaffner. Having an inside look behind the making of the exhibition truly helped me to appreciate the amount of meticulous work that goes into curating an exhibition of that size. Not only was it insightful to meet with Schaffner, it was also so thrilling to see a woman curating an exhibition as prolific as the Carnegie International. Looking holistically from the first International to the most recent, there is a consistent pattern in female inclusion. The progression from a few women being showcased in 1896 to a woman curating the entire exhibition shows the growth of the Carnegie Museum and the promise for more women involved in the arts in Pittsburgh.

    My experience interning with Akemi May, Assistant Curator of Fine Arts and Decorative Arts, and Emily Mirales, Curatorial Assistant of Fine Arts, at the Carnegie Museum of Art, was eye-opening to say the least. I have gained many skills from my experience interning at the CMOA. I honed my communication skills by being able to effectively relay my progress in digitizing records. Additionally, I had to be independent as I was responsible for my own progress through the exhibition records. Interning in the Carnegie Museum of Art has taught me to understand the history and appreciate the efforts women have made in the art world.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Omolade and fellow classmate, Erica Hughes, at local artist, Njaimeh Njie’s studio tour.

     

    Community Focus in Art Engagement

    Museum Studies Intern at the Office of Public Art – Fall 2019

    I have always had an interest in how to connect people to art. After taking AP Art History in high school I wanted everyone to feel the things that art made me feel and I wondered how I could do that with different various barriers that make art inaccessible and daunting.

    In my first meeting with the Office of Public Art my supervisor, Rachel Klipa, encouraged me to explore what I wanted from this internship and how the Office of Public Art could assist in this. From there I brainstormed with Rachel on how my interests and the mission of the office overlapped. One of the goals of the office is, “to serve as a change agent to increase visibility, relevance, and support for the arts.” I realized how important collaboration is to the office’s work and how partnership fosters a variety of opportunities in the expansion and growth of the art and culture sector. I was drawn to the accessibility aspect of their work. Rachel and I began to imagine what it would look like to get black students in Pittsburgh more involved with art. Each meeting new ideas formed and our notebooks filled with possible ideas and collaborations that catered specifically to young black adults. We decided that it would be useful to collect data and I designed an exit survey to compile data on the impact of black art on black students that I eventually sent through email to students that attended local black art events.

    A student that attended a studio tour visit of local Pittsburgh artist, Njaimeh Njie, highlighted in her exit survey the impact black art has made not only in understanding black history and themes but also understanding and navigating her own personal identity and role as a black artist herself. The student reflected that Njie “spoke about wanting to talk to people living in the Hill district but making sure that process is filled with trust and a clarity of intentions. It sparked a question in my mind of what collaboration and solidarity looks like on a public art scale.”

    Through this internship I learned how community engagement and collaboration have effect one another. I was able to get first-hand experience in engaging with a specific community and learned how centering what they want and need is the biggest and most important part of community engagement. I was able to be a part of multiple conversations that pushed my thinking in how art connects people and how it also aids in self-discovery at the same time and overall why it is worth the continued effort to connect people to art.

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

    Simone in front of the introductory wall text at Pittsburgh Glass Center’s Cuando El Río Suena exhibition (photo: Dana Laskowski).

     

    Bringing an Exhibition to Life at the Pittsburgh Glass Center

    Museum Studies Intern at the Pittsburgh Glass Center – Fall 2019

    During my internship at Pittsburgh Glass Center (PGC), I was lucky to work on many different projects, from writing press releases to interviewing artists. However, my experience with the Cuando El Río Suena exhibition left the greatest impression on me. Cuando El Río Suena is an immersive show of glass sculptures created by artist Jaime Guerrero that seeks to make the experiences and feelings of immigrants—especially children—crossing the southern US border tangible. I was involved in all aspects of its production, from research and promotion to writing and installing wall text in the gallery. This provided practical experience with the actualities of running an exhibition beyond what can be learned in the classroom and reinforced my interest in curating.

    To me, the most significant part of my work on the exhibition was the text that I wrote for the walls. My supervisor, Marketing Director Paige Ilkhanipour, told me that this is something that would normally be handled by a curator, but trusted parts of it to me. In writing these texts, tried to combine statistical information about the harsh realities of separation, detainment, and even death near the border that I found through research with the broader emotional narrative Guerrero sought to present in his work. In addition to the wall and label text, quotes and statistics pulled from sources I found are also presented throughout the exhibition. Learning how to merge these facts with the more emotionally provocative elements on display and assisting in the installation of the show made clear to me how curators can create additional layers of depth in an exhibition through the arrangement of works and the textual explanations that surround them.

    Getting Cuando El Río Suena ready was hard work, but the payoff came on opening night when hundreds of visitors viewed the show. People were visibly engaged with the exhibition, taking photos of the sculptures, examining the wall of letters, and reading the wall labels. I felt honored to have been able to contribute to a show that addresses pressing political issues so powerfully. My time as an intern with PGC was invaluable and I am very thankful to everyone for the trust they placed in me and the extent to which they involved me in the show.

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

    Public Library section in the Holocaust Center where students are welcome to learn in a safe environment. This is where most of my research was done during my time at the center.

     

    Holocaust Center: Looking at Tragedy Through a Local Lens

    Museum Studies Intern at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh – Fall 2019

    My internship at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh offered me a chance to delve into the deep-rooted history of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community with the guidance of professionals working at the center. The Center gave me the opportunity to gain experience in a new field, along with teaching me the importance of educating the public about a sensitive subject such as the Holocaust. With the help of the Center’s Library and Education Associate Ryan Woodward, I was able to dig into the Center’s extensive archive and library system. My main job was to keep the collection up to date. I conducted research on not only the books and artifacts, but also their context. Much of this included looking through memoirs written about the Holocaust which also allowed me to get familiar with the library’s systems.

    One of the most rewarding jobs I had at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh was working on an upcoming exhibit. The exhibit will showcase personal perspectives on refugees who fled the Holocaust and settled in Pittsburgh. Using primary sources including biographies, interviews, and transcripts, I compiled a list of specific people or families in Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community and researched their lives before the Holocaust leading up to their process to come to Pittsburgh while also displaying the lives they set up for themselves in Pittsburgh. This research will be used in the Spring exhibit in cards given to visitors that take them on the step-by-stem journey of individual survivors using the data I collected. This research allowed me to put into perspective the lives of local survivors overcoming oppression to lead a new life in Pittsburgh. I found many instances of these survivors becoming a part of communities that worked to make the immigration process smoother when transitioning to their new life. By creating an engagement with the history of the Holocaust and viewing it through a local lens I was able to create a connection with injustices that are happening in our own backyard.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A picture of a person sitting at a table and smiling over three books. Two are exhibition catalogs with illustrations, one is an open leather binder.

    Jon with some items he will scan for the digital archive.

     

    Together: The Bonds within Text and Bronze at the Selma Burke Center

    During the Fall semester of 2019, I was a Museum Studies intern under Rebecca Giordano, the Mellon Fellow of Curation and Education here in Pitt’s Department of History of Art and Architecture. Rebecca is developing an exhibition examining the works and pedagogy of Selma Burke, a prominent Black artist and educator of the 20th century. My job was to aide Rebecca with preliminary research about Burke and the art school that she founded in Pittsburgh. We worked to describe the relationship between the school and the community it existed in, in the context of Black radical art traditions. For me, this research was done mainly through careful analysis of period newspapers and the creation of a digital archive.

    The Selma Burke Art Center operated at 6118 Penn Circle South in East Liberty from 1971 to 1981. During this time, it provided cheap and accessible arts education – only $1 per class! – to the residents of the city, especially to the Black children of the neighborhood. Hundreds of students came through the Center and even more people visited its extensive galleries and public programs. As we can see in papers like The New Pittsburgh Courier, across its tragically short lifespan, the Center became a key organ of its community. These days, the building it once occupied has evaporated, replaced by the concrete edifice of studio apartments. I have walked through that lot many dozens of times across my college life, unaware of the vital things that happened there.

    What I loved about this research that reading the Courier provided a look into that moment, with all its potential still intact. A newspaper contains more than just dates for events and names of exhibits, but the language and texture of the community the paper exists for. In these archived pages, I learned about how people saw and felt about the Art Center – what shows they got excited for, what they saw in its paintings and prints, and what values they thought art and education had. Research like this exposes the discourse around a subject. The thoughts, motivations, and organizing that grew around the Selma Burke Art Center tell a deep and rich history we can learn much from.

    What I liked best is looking at the paper’s pictures and seeing the proud face of a neighbor. Walking the streets now, I feel like I am retracing their steps, and I don’t walk alone.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Fletcher Martin, Contract Miner, 1947

     

    Who are the Workers?

    Author: Joshua McDermott

    PhD student in Sociology and Work Forces workshop participant

    There’s a long and stubborn tendency among scholars and activist to narrowly define workers and the participants of labor movements as only those workers formally employed by a firm. In recent years, concepts such as “precarious workers,” “the precariat,” and others have been employed to claim to give theoretical salience to a supposedly new type of worker in the developed world whose work is defined by intermittent and unprotected employment. 

    In reality, there has never been a neat dividing line between workers and precarious workers, except, perhaps in the exclusionary strategies employed by some forms of trade unionism. From a historical perspective, what today we might identify as precarious workers, informal workers, household workers and the like have always been important, if not central, to labor struggles. In other words, radical worker’s movements have always been comprised of individuals who many scholars, to this day, fail to recognize as workers, due to their lack of formal employment, or the degree(s) of separation of their labor processes from direct commodity production. 

    This view is not only empirically and historically inaccurate, but also exclusionary. Through my field work in the cities of the Mano River Region of West Africa, it’s clear that informality has always been a feature of the labor movement in West Africa, where upwards of 90% of workers are either casually employed or self-employed as petty traders. Despite their lack of formal employment (i.e. employment regulated by the state, ensuring a semblance of worker protections), these workers are essential to the functioning of not only their national economies, but the global capitalist economy. 

    Pittsburgh’s labor history is no exception. My week-long immersion into the visual and archival history of Pittsburgh’s labor history during the Work Forces workshop only reaffirmed this fact. It was often in the most maligned and excluded portions of the working class that I found the most radical and coherent programs for social change. Indeed, it is on the margins of the working contract where the workers are usually the most vulnerable to mistreatment, but also the most consciousness of the injustices of the prevailing order.

    Painter Fletcher Martin’s Contract Miner, stands out as a piece within the University’s art collection that calls for direct acknowledgement of marginal workers, depicting a lone, faceless coal miner, explicitly lacking union protection. The archive’s collection of pamphlets and flyers from black workers’ and communist groups, and from feminist and women’s rights organizations, further attests to the priceless insights and holistic considerations that marginalized workers gave to the history of labor struggles in Pittsburgh. It is through the struggles and actions of the most overlooked and exploited workers that labor activism has often drawn its most profound and powerful lessons, strategies, and victories. 

    Labor historians and labor activists in Pittsburgh, and around the world, would do well to remember that. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Andrey Avinoff, Early American Room, 1938-1937

     

    From Massachusetts to Manila: George Clapp and the Nationality Rooms

    Author: Ellen Downs

    HAA 1020 Exhibition Development student - Fall 2019

    The Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning have long been a staple of Pitt’s campus and have evolved alongside the city since their inception in the 1920s. The newest of the rooms, the Filipino Room, opened this year in June 2019. Meant to evoke abahay na bato –stone style of house from the 18th century– this room was built to be recognizably Filipino to anyone who enters it. The room is also filled with a collection of artifacts from the Philippines, including ceramics, religious statuary and sea shells. Although not based on any specific building, the room, according to fundraising chair Tina Purpura, “reminds [her] of [her] grandparent’s home.”

    This latest addition is a world away from the first rooms built in the Cathedral. The Early American Room, constructed in 1938, was commissioned and funded by George Hubbard Clapp. Clapp’s collecting habits are subject to fresh investigation in the current exhibition at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Art Gallery (UAG), “The Curious Drawings of Doctor Clapp,” which is on show until 6 December.

    In addition to commissioning the Early American Room, Clapp also contributed to the design of the room. The room is reputed to be inspired by the ancestral home of Clapp’s first American forebear who immigrated to Massachusetts in 1630. Clapp’s own copy of the Memoirs of Roger Clap is now held in the University Library System collection, and is featured in the exhibition. Clapp also gifted many of the artifacts decorating the Early American Room, such as a needlework sampler and a set of his Colonial American coins to contribute to the room’s collection. Many similar items from Clapp’s collections are also display in the exhibition at the UAG, including his own specimens of shells collected from the Philippines and given to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Given Clapp’s own passion for conchology, it is a curious twist that the newest Nationality Room should also include shells among its collections. Nationality Room committees may have a somewhat different agenda to that of Clapp and his peers in 1938, but at the same time, their goal of assembling the most evocative spaces and objects to represent their respective cultures remains very much the same.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    What is your aluminum story?

    Author: Sylvia Rhor Samaniego

    Director, University Art Gallery

    “What is your aluminum story?” That was the question we posed to visitors on Saturday, November 2 when the University Art Gallery (UAG) teamed up with Rivers of Steel (RoS) Arts to host a Hot Metal Happening in front of the Frick Fine Arts Building in Oakland. 

    The answers ranged from the school-spirited – dozens of Pitt students inscribed “H2P” into the mold – to the whimsical – children depicted cartoon elephants and stick figure family portraits. There were names etched in Arabic as an ode to a participant’s heritage and the symbol of the Alzheimer’s Association, as an homage to the those who work towards finding a cure for the disease. There were elaborate caricatures and elegant fleur-de-lis. 

    Whatever the subject, the finished aluminum tiles reflected the experiences and insights of the many people who visit the UAG on a daily basis. 

    That was the point. The event signaled a new phase for the UAG, which is opening its doors to community events that will allow the people of Pittsburgh to tell their own stories.

    Conceived as part of the programming for the Metal from Clay: Pittsburgh’s Aluminum Stories, currently on view in the gallery, the event is one of the many workshops offered by RoS that are inspired by the history of ironmaking on the Carrie Furnaces site. Visitors – novices and return guests, alike – are offered a chance to get hands-on and experience the metal-making process first-hand.

    More than 200 people dropped in for our workshop. Each visitor was given a scratch mold of sand to design, with the help of RoS staff. They then watched as the workers from RoS, suited in heated scrap aluminum to over 1200 degrees and poured the liquid metal into the molds. 

    The dramatic process at the foot of the Schenley Fountain, with the Cathedral of Learning rising in the background, made for an impressive site. Like the participants who added fragments of their own stories to the tiles, the event itself also told the Pittsburgh story. It spoke to the ways that aluminum is embedded into the everyday life of the city just as much as steel. 

    A selection of the finished aluminum tiles will be on view during the UAG’s second annual Maker Event on Thursday, December 5, from 5-7pm.

    Categories: 
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Collective Book Launch for Jennifer Josten, Caitlin Bruce, Harris Feinsod

    Author: Rebecca Giordano 

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    On October 25th, Pitt’s Humanities Center hosted a collective book launch for three scholars whose work draws out transnational networks of creative practice. Bridging three disciplines, multiple media, and several different decades, the authors each spoke about their book projects with nods to each other’s work followed by a generous and lively Q&A. HAA associate professor Jennifer Josten presented her book Mathias Goeritz: Modernist Art and Architecture in Cold War Mexico alongside Pitt Department of Communication assistant professor Caitlin Bruce who shared her book Painting Publics: Transnational Legal Graffiti Scenes as Spaces for Encounter. Chronicling different decades and locations, each presented Mexican artistic production as sites within hemispheric and transnational networks from distinct methodologies and disciplinary vantages. Harris Feinsod, now an associate professor of English at Northwestern, discussed The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures, a supranational history of poetry and politics he worked on while an Early Career Specialist at the Humanities Center (2015-2016). 

    Throughout the talk, the authors referenced the conversations they shared while developing their projects at Pitt. From the discipline-specific approaches to translation to the art historical methodologies designed to give principle weight to the art object, each voiced what they borrowed and what they shared. Hearing how such cross-disciplinary conversations advanced their projects shed light on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and the spaces which host it. During her presentation, Josten gave a close reading of all three book covers which each have artworks made in Mexico, noting that Feinsod’s book featured a work by Mathais Goertiz, the subject of her book. Feinsod and Josten both focus on the movement of ideas and people within geopolitical realities that defined Cold War cultural production. Bruce’s work brings these concerns into the present while capturing the personal and living nature of such networks through observation and interviews. 

    During the Q&A, Feinsod recounted to the audience that revered Mexican writer Octavio Paz had once graced the Cathedral of Learning for a year in 1969 during his exile in protest of the Mexican government’s actions in the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre. Feinsod read from a letter Paz wrote during his time in Pittsburgh, which Feinsod translated into English. Paz’s witty and sharp letter is filled with funny barbs about the Cathedral’s “purest Gothic brick and cement” and quips about industrialist Andrew Mellon and poet Robert Bly. A pitch-perfect capstone to the event, the letter illustrated Pitt’s long history as a hub of hemispheric thinking, marked by intelligent criticism, a commitment to broad inquiry, and scholarly humor. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Faculty Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Arushi Sahai introducing the director Avijit Mukul Kishore

     

    Nostalgia for the Future

    Author: Arushi Sahai

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Homes are machines that we live in. 

    Last month, the Department of History of Art and Architecture co-sponsored a screening and discussion with director Avijit Mukul Kishore about his documentary, Nostalgia for the Future. The film tells the story of Indian modernity through the lens of domestic architecture, exploring the bonds and ideals of the ambitious postcolonial nation and its citizens. Using four examples, the film shows how the newly-independent nation would weave a new narrative of progress and development using the idealized concept of the home.

    The film opens in 1890 focusing on the architectural language of the time by looking at Lukhshmi Vilas Palace in Baroda, the largest domestic architecture in India and a leading example of modernity in its time. The European statues and fountains which adorned the interiors of the house evoked progress and status for educated class of colonial India. The definition changed in the 1950s, where the film opens its second act. The first decade of postcolonial India reflects the vision of a new nation-state as was projected by its leader, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru believed in a country liberated from history: to be modern was to be new. This ideology manifested in the conception of Chandigarh – the first ‘planned’ city in India designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Nehru ardently believed that by living in modern architecture the citizens of India would become modern. The modern had to be made of steel, concrete and sans history. The third chapter explores public housing in Delhi which was designed by the Indian government with the intention of housing refugees from Pakistan as well as bureaucrats. Designed to promote the nuclear family, the houses had a set floor plan of a living room, bedroom, kitchen and toilet: a set mechanical production of domestic space for new India. The film concludes with the present-day Gurugram where high towering domestic apartments juxtapose makeshift slums which together make the city’s landscape. Through these four places and times, Kishore weaves parallels of architectural history within broader cultural histories to elaborate on India’s aspirations for modernity and its projection on to its people. 

    An invigorating Q&A session followed the film screening where students from various departments joined the director to reflect on the film. The questions addressed a range of medium concerns including Kishore’s mixing of poetic black-white film and digital video with found footage from state propaganda films and mainstream features. Others addressed his use of unadulterated Hindi (rather than the more colloquial Hindustani) for narration. The Q&A session proved to be enlightening by highlighting the use of filmmaking as a medium to reflect on architecture. Through Kishore’s confluence of mediums including those originally used as propaganda, the film shows how architecture has been embedded in a various media and social worlds. 

    Categories: 
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Pages