Carnegie Museum of Natural History

  • Dinosaurs in Their Time - The exhibit that I worked on during my first several days as conservation intern

     

    Conservation: Preserving the Past for Future Generations

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    For the last four months I have worked as a Conservation Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. During this time, I have been exposed to a wide range of practices common among natural history conservators that I can apply to my future career. While before the internship I maintained a keen interest in the field of conservation, working under head conservator Gretchen Anderson has given me a newfound appreciation of conservation work. I have learned that conservation encompasses a wide range of responsibilities and expects that the conservation team work closely with many other departments, including exhibits, collections, and curatorial.

    Over the course of the semester I had the opportunity to clean and preserve taxidermied specimens, package and send out loans, assist with scientific imaging, and create a housekeeping plan for the entirety of the museum of natural history. Interspersed between these hands-on activities were cross-departmental meetings, instructional readings, and even classes to further teach me about the science of conservation.

    The housekeeping plan was the most urgent and important task of the semester, requiring that I met with staff from each section of collections, maintenance, and facilities. All of these departments worked together to set a standard that would keep the museum clean and all collections safe. Without the dedicated work of a conservator, museum collections would not last nearly as long as is now allowed.

    I appreciate the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s willingness to teach and willingness to give true responsibility to their interns. I have learned more than I would have ever expected, and I am excited to one day establish myself in the conservation field.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Photograph of myself in front of a fossil diorama at the CMNH, a topic of discussion at a meeting.

     

    Ethics: How Museum Policies Are Made

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History—Fall 2018

    This semester I worked as the Ethics Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH). My experience opened my eyes to what goes into policy and decision making for a large institution. As an avid museum-goer my whole life, I never considered what goes into making exhibits and installations that the public gets to see. The work I completed over the course of this semester exposed me to the other side of museum work and gave me an appreciation for how museums function. 

    During my internship, I was responsible for researching Codes of Ethics from American Alliance of Museums accredited institutions and compiled all the information into recommendations for the CMNH’s Code of Ethics revision. This unique internship provided me with opportunities to grow as a researcher and allowed me to partake in meetings with various museum staff and faculty members. 

    During my internship, I had the opportunity to attend three meetings with senior museum staff. I met with the Director of the Museum, Director of Science and Research, and the Chairman of the Ethics committee, as well as two staff members who work in the collections department. My final meeting was with my mentor and the Chairman of the Ethics committee to present my findings. During these meetings, numerous museum issues and regulations were discussed, including whether or not fossils should be treated as minerals or human remains, and even how to display ivory in the animal dioramas. Through these conversations, I learned about the ethical considerations of curation and display in natural history museums. My internship experience gave me a new perspective as a museum-goer.  When I walk into museums now, I can no longer look at intricate animal dioramas or Native American artifacts passively. Now, I have an understanding of the ethical issues and procedures that go into displaying these objects.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Tim filming the Titanic... After Dark Promotional Video

     

    Titanic: Dinosaur Edition

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    During one of my days working as an intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I assisted Tim, the museum’s Videographer, with filming a promotional video for one of the event’s: Titanic… After Dark. Tim had cleverly storyboarded a video that would be similar to the actual Titanic trailer, as well as include iconic scenes from the movie but with Rose and Jack being played by dinosaur versions of themselves. We filmed at various locations in the museum, starting at one of the long benches in the Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians. We used this area to recreate the scene where Jack paints Rose, who is wearing the “Heart of the Ocean” necklace. We then moved to the museum’s grand staircase to recreate the scene where Jack goes to the first class club and sees Rose coming down the stairs. I helped to set up scenes, carry props, and assist the actors. I helped the actors by adjusting their dinosaur costumes, and attaching the proper wigs and accessories to them for the various scenes. It was extremely difficult to get our “Heart of the Ocean” necklace to stay attached to an inflatable dinosaur costume, so I helped figure out the best way to keep it in place. I was even able to make suggestions for the best locations to recreate scenes from the movie.

    The museum frequently hosts After Dark event nights that have various themes, and are for those 21 and up. After Dark events occur at night from 6-10pm and are a unique experience where adults can visit the museum, as well as purchase cocktails. These nights spark a lot of public interest since they are a fun excuse for the attendees to dress up, include live music, fun demonstrations, and are centered around the event’s unique theme. During my time working at the museum, I assisted in creating social media content for the Zombies After Dark event, which was held in October 2018, as well as creating social media content for the Titanic… After Dark event which will be held later in December of 2018.

    As a Museum Studies intern in the Marketing Department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, it was my job to help promote special events and exhibitions that the museum hosts, as well as respond to inquiries on social media about them. My work was overseen by those in the Marketing Department; Kathleen Sallada, Erin Southerland, and Tim Evans. 

    Throughout my time at the museum, I was assigned a variety of tasks in order to assist the department in any way possible. My favorite of these tasks was when I assisted Tim with filming this promotional Titanic… After Dark video. It was a really great experience for me, because I have never worked with filming promotional advertisements before this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an awesome learning experience to see all that goes into the creation of scripted videos. When the final video was released on Facebook, it received a lot of positive attention from the public. I enjoyed being a part of creating such a great social media advertisement and seeing all that goes into video production. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh by William Wall featured at the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Studying the Anthropocene from Pittsburgh Landscapes.

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    I discovered the history behind Pittsburgh’s great landscapes, most notably View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh by William Wall featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Scanning through various documents of the website Historic Pittsburgh, I found one from the Pittsburgh Fire Department from the Great Fire of Pittsburgh in 1845. This fire destroyed a third of the city, but ended up propelling the city to what it is today. The document included the events leading up to the cause of the fire and the properties involved. Each building had a story behind it from the saving of the First Presbyterian Church to the saving of the city documents in the city’s bank vault as the rest of the building was demolished.

    During my time as a research assistant for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) had myself dive deep into Pittsburgh’s environmental history. Albert Kollar, Collection Manager of Invertebrate Paleontology, originally wanted to extract information about Pittsburgh’s landscapes by using the paintings in the Carnegie Museum of Art. His original article made earlier this year is featured here. As he analyzed the painting’s visual content, he wanted someone to look into the historical evidence behind these paintings. This had myself sift through archives from the University of Pittsburgh and Historic Pittsburgh. 

    Finding the exact point of the fire and where it spread to, we confirmed that William Wall’s painting was fairly accurate in its depiction, even though it was done a year later. The weather in the painting was not accurate, but this was the time period where American paintings were to depict the United States’s beauty. We confirmed the weather by utilizing a list from the National Weather Service of how much monthly snowfall Pittsburgh gets from 1900 to now. This was originally to help with looking at issues regarding flood control, but it helped with the Great Fire as well.

    My experience as a research assistant for this project did help me with what I would like to do in the future. I found out that I am not a researcher, but rather someone who wants to use their creativity in order to provide a service to those around me. I am grateful for this experience to try new things before being pulled in one direction or another. Now, to the future!

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • Dawn Kriss displays the operation of multi-band imaging equipment to student Jon Kobert (pc: Alec Story)
     

    The Intersection of Science and Art: Multi-band Imaging and the Carnegie Boat

    Author: Alec Story, Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    At the CMNH, not all is as it appears. Conservators are working with new methods of scientific imaging in order to recover pigments lost from objects within their ancient Egypt collection. 

    New scientific methods and technologies can lead to discoveries that completely challenge our assumptions and perceptions of historical artifacts and museum collections, including photographic processing method called multi-band imaging. 

    The setup for multi-band imaging is quite simple: all that is required is an object, a camera, filters, lighting, and a reflectance and color standard. Therefore, multi-band imaging is a technique that can be performed with relative ease, and theoretically, in any location. 

    Through both a presentation given by conservator Dawn Kriss and hands-on work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, we learned about the diversity of wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum and their varied uses in artifact imaging and analysis. Of particular interest to Dawn Kriss was visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL), which displays a black-and-white image of an object. The clear contrast of black-and-white VIL images were - ironically enough - useful for discovering a very colorful pigment: Egyptian Blue. 

    Egyptian Blue, as well as other pigments, tend to fade with time or become completely invisible to the human eye, but luckily even trace amounts of pigment can be detected with multi-band imaging. In the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dawn gave a demonstration of how VIL photographs would be taken of one of the museum’s own artifacts, the Egyptian funerary boat, also known more commonly as the Carnegie Boat. 

    As art history students, it was absolutely fascinating to experience the way in which human understanding of artifacts improves as new technologies are introduced to archaeological and museum practice. We look forward to hearing about the results of the analytical imaging at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and what it can tell us about the Carnegie Boat and ancient Egyptian civilization.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    Photography: Bryan Conley, Carnegie Museum of Art
     

    Finding Detail in Dimension

    Author: Erin Patrick, Inside the Carnegie International 57th edition, 2018 Student - Fall 2018

    Artist Rachel Rose challenged students to explore the theme of “Depth and Durability” at a recent Tam O’Shanter Drawing Session hosted by the Carnegie Museum of Art, asking everyone to participate in an interval drawing exercise. We began with Rose sharing her struggles as a young artist attending Yale University, and the influence of professor Robert Reed, who inspired the session’s theme. Rose put forward the idea that art can be done in any time frame and with layers of depth. Her idea was a session based off an exercise routine with varying time constraints and focuses.

    After Rose’s introduction, the group moved to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Minerals where we were each given the opportunity to select a gem and draw it repeatedly for different intervals of time. Rose started with short intervals, increasing to ten minutes, and then back down to thirty seconds.  The process required a great deal of focus yet let us expand and express our relationship with the objects. Although slightly anxiety provoking, the task proved to be a great exercise in mental endurance and flexibility. How can you complete a drawing of a three-dimensional object in thirty seconds?   How does your interpretation of an object change between thirty seconds versus ten minutes?  Rachel’s process made us think through the dimensions of the object, which was reflected in the evolution of our drawings. Students’ works varied in texture, shape, size, and value throughout the process. 

    After the session, Rose allowed time for debriefing. We were encouraged to share our art and discuss how the time intervals affected our expression. The Tam O’Shanter session was a challenge in the best way possible:  we were allowed to let our creative process free, just as Rose has in her upcoming work in the Carnegie International, 57th Edition, 2018.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • One of the focus group sessions at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Nile in Focus: Assessing Community Expectations for CMNH’s "Egypt on the Nile" Exhibition

    Author: Alec Story, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Summer 2018

    When preparing for the installation of a new permanent exhibition, museums often assess the needs and assumptions of the communities they serve. For its upcoming gallery rework entitled Egypt on the Nile, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been doing just that. Egypt on the Nile unites human and natural histories, a unique approach that differs from traditional Egypt-oriented galleries. The novelty of this concept necessitates properly gauging audience reactions to and receptions of the exhibition and its themes. Over the course of my summer fellowship I assisted curator Dr. Erin Peters in, among other things, the planning and execution of these community focus groups.

    Paramount to this process was recruiting participants from a wide variety of backgrounds: museum members, college students, K-12 educators, and senior citizens. Diverse groups were chosen in order to accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of those who visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Prior to the focus group meetings, we created prompts and questions that participants could respond to, and a session schedule to ensure we used our time effectively. Questions were designed to be open-ended, promote discussion, and to tease out valuable information on the proposed exhibition themes. During the focus group sessions we used an array of strategies including surveys, sticky notes, and open discussion to gather relevant information. The focus group environment allowed anyone, regardless of education or experience with Egypt, to come in and share their thoughts on one of the most famous cultures of all time.

    After the focus groups I was tasked with recording and synthesizing the data accumulated during each focus group. With this information the Egypt on the Nile team can even more successfully create an exhibit that both depicts all desired themes and does so in a way that is easily communicable to the public.

    This experience has allowed me to see how museums plan exhibits, how exhibits are constantly undergoing change and adjustment, and how cultural institutions interact with the community.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Launching Botany Hall

    On Thursday, March 29th, Colleen O'Reilly and I launched our collaborative project Botany Hall: Dioramas on Context in the Hall of Botany at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The event marked the launch of our online exhibition at www.botanyhall.com and provided an ideal opportunity for facilitating a cross-institutional, interdisciplinary discussion about art and science. This latter component was always an essential part of our project vision. Indeed, in our initial mock grant proposal (drafted in Spring 2016), we posited that our project would contribute to academic discussion on the politics of display, representation as a pathway to knowledge, and the lives and agencies of objects. 

    We were delighted to assemble a panel of individuals who contributed to our research process between 2016 and 2018. Lugene Bruno, Curator of Art & Senior Research Scholar at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, provided expert knowledge on the history of botanical illustration and helpfully contrasted 2D and 3D representations of scientific phenomena. Bonnie Isaac, meanwhile, is an in-house expert on the space we have been studying for two years. As Collection Manager of Botany at CMNH, Isaac manages the herbarium and has witnessed the evolution of the museum since 1989. Erin Peters, joint lecturer of curatorial studies in the Department of History of Art and Architecture and Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the CMNH, straddles the line between art history and historical, scientific display, so has provided invaluable advice on this project since its inception. These individuals helped to generate a lively discussion about dioramas, display techniques, and collaborative work. 

    We were also pleasantly suprised by the number of attendees. Participants arrived from a range of institutions and disciplines: ranging from faculty and students from the School of Education and the Department of Art and Architecture at Pitt as well as staff from the Carnegie Museum of Art, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Andy Warhol Museum, Hunt Institute, City of Asylum, and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania. 

    Having launched the website and hosted an opening event, we are taking some time away from Botany Hall. We may do more with this project, but are allowing ourselves some time to write our own dissertations and reflect on the work we've done thus far. Feel free to send us feedback after perusing the website! 

    Categories: 
    • Dioramas in Context
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Surveys ready for distribution in the We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene exhibit

     

     

     

    A Brief Survey of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    Thousands of visitors of different ages visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History every year. As the Museum Studies intern in their Marketing Department, it was my job to ask these visitors about their experience in the museum. My work was overseen by Kate Sallada, Marketing Researcher, and Kathleen Bodenlos, Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

    The best days to collect surveys are weekends because a much greater portion of the population is represented. Families are common on Saturdays and Sundays, especially in the Natural History museum where kids can engage with many of the exhibits.

    I collected surveys for the recently installed exhibit, We Are Nature: Living in the Athropocene, throughout my internship. The day that I was able to collect the highest volume of surveys was a very cold Sunday in February. I surveyed over 50 visitors over the course of 4 hours.

    When crafting a survey for the general public, it must be accessible to as many people as possible. Those visiting from other countries or unable to speak English fluently were able to understand the simple survey instructions, and could ask me questions about any sections that needed further verbal explanation.

    In addition to the surveys, the exhibit had several interactive stations where guests could leave their thoughts. One station asked visitors to make associations with a certain emotion, such as “Empowered’ or “Angry,” and visitors could write down their opinions about the exercise on a corresponding Sticky-Note.

    The exhibit also featured many dry-erase surfaces where visitors were prompted to write down words or phrases based on a question. These responses were often documented by a photographer before they were erased to make room for new feedback.

    After surveying general opinions about the exhibit, we also sought feedback on the marketing campaign we were developing. Many of those leaving the exhibit reported that they felt “empowered,” which was a feeling we wanted to reinforce in our marketing strategy. One plan was to change the main photograph on our signage from one of crushed cardboard boxes to a sunny image of a small child holding a sapling. This image was more representative of the visitor experience than that of our previous campaign, according to the reactions from the surveys.

    This experience has given me vital information about how to interact properly with the public in an art institution, and how to develop content that takes visitor preferences into account.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    A typical day of research at my desk in The Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

     

    Making Egyptian History Accessible to the Public

    Museum Studies Intern at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2018

    A much-anticipated facelift is coming to the Walton Hall in The Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    As an anthropology undergraduate student interested in archaeology, I was excited to have the opportunity to be a part of the redesign of this popular exhibit for my spring 2018 internship. The Carnegie Boat, one of four ancient Eygptian boats remaining in the world, will be the centerpiece of the redesign. Much of my time at the internship was spent scouring scholarly journals for information and research relating to the use of the boat in the funerary procession of Senwosret III, a pharaoh of Egypt.  

    Coming from the anthropological discipline which involves dense research full of niche terminology, I wanted it to be a focus of my work to make this information more accessible to a wider audience.

    My supervisor, Dr. Erin Peters, the Assistant Curator of Science and Research at the Museum, invited me to sit in on weekly meetings with other faculty on the Egypt on the Nile exhibition team. In these meetings I worked with Dr. Peters, Becca Shreckengast, the Director of Exhibition Experience, and Caroline Record, a Creative Technologist at the Innovation Studio, and we discussed ways of creating a more concise, accessible exhibition plan. These weekly meetings opened my eyes to the amount of work that goes into planning a new exhibit. I also saw how my research on the Carnegie Boat will be reaching a wider audience. Through these meetings, and based on audience evaluation surveys collected by last semester’s interns, it is clear that some sort of digital component will be incorporated into the new exhibit.

    Although it is still in the early stages of the planning of the exhibition, it has been very rewarding to see how my rough-cut, and research-dense information on the Boat will be transformed into a neatly packed, and engaging experience for visitors.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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