Embodying Empathy: Summer Internship at the Eric Carle Museum

Illustration in the exhibition Paddington Comes to America at the Eric Carle Museum


Embodying Empathy: Summer Internship at the Eric Carle Museum

Author: Annie Abernathy, intern at the Eric Carle Museum – Summer 2018

This summer I worked as an intern in the Collections department at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I worked closely with the Carle’s extensive collection of over 5,000 pieces of Eric Carle’s work and 6,000 works made by other notable illustrators. I grew up reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, so this experience was deeply meaningful as an opportunity to develop my career and to relive some of my most cherished childhood memories.

On my first day at the museum in early June, I accompanied two of the museum’s registrars to return some of Carle’s art work to his studio in nearby Northampton that had recently returned from a touring exhibition in Japan. Seeing his workspace and drawers of colorful tissue paper ignited a joy that lasted the rest of the summer working at the Carle.

As an intern in the Collections department, I worked closely with the registrars of the museum to organize and consolidate the museum’s vault, whether this meant rehousing illustrations or rearranging whole shelves of boxes. I wrapped a hand-painted chess set with care. I returned works to their proper storage from the recent Caldecott Award exhibition. I handled original illustrations from books I memorized as a child– Shrek by William Steig, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.

More important than any famed artwork were the people who make up the Eric Carle museum. Beyond learning best practices in art handling and collections stewardship, I learned how to embody the deep empathy and inclusion cultivated by children’s books as a museum professional. Treating every object and visitor with the utmost care and respect creates a welcoming environment. At the Carle children yell and play in the galleries, breaking down the idea of the museum as a place of restraint, decorum, and quiet contemplation in order to celelbrate illustration art,  a medium that has historically been treated as lesser than fine art. 

Making the museum a warmer and more welcoming space for all visitors is essential. Inclusivity and kindness are steps against centuries of institutional cultural appropriation, inequality, and elitism.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh