Undergraduate Work

  •  

    Special Collections Trip for Introduction to Medieval Art

    Author: Sarah Reiff Conell

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture

    Taking an introductory class of 100 students with no recitation sections to Special Collections seemed, at first, a daunting task. My recent experience, however, radically shifted my perception of how feasible and rewarding this undertaking is. Professor Shirin Fozi coordinated with the professionals in Special Collections to organize small-group time slots for which students could register. The Special Collections team was exceptionally generous in their willingness to coordinate visits for students who were unable to make one of the scheduled windows of time.

    While it is often logistically necessary to use projected images to present objects covered in courses, these conditions can obscure the physicality of an object. Special Collections provides a space for different modes of contact. As a graduate student, it was instructive to witness how Dr. Fozi clearly described these works and their structure in a way that engaged the students. As the groups rotated through, I was able to hone my object descriptions through close observation of a masterful teacher and my own iterative practice. 

    Pitt’s fabulous facsimile collection supports meaningful interactions with objects, allowing students to turn manuscript pages, explore their contents, and discuss in small groups about the use of objects. It gives them real-world experience that informs their understandings and allows them to make better-informed inferences. For example, it was exciting to see students quickly drawing on their knowledge of purple codices from lecture when they encountered the Rossano Gospels. They were able to proficiently discuss the assertions of Pope Gregory the Great (that pictures are books of the illiterate) by toggling between the narrative illustrations in this manuscript and its purple-stained pages that betray a more elite audience. They then seamlessly moved onto the mixture of pagan and Christian imagery on the enigmatic Franks Casket, drawing on their exposure to other examples of composite objects from lecture. 

    Students engaged with a mixture of facsimiles, including three objects we had covered in class, three unfamiliar works that were comparable to things previously seen, and one artwork that we were going to discuss in the following class. Within this set, it was productive to have a variety of surrogates with which to engage. The diversely scaled manuscripts were paired with replicas from Dr. Fozi’s personal collection, the Franks Casket and a paper foldout of the Bayeux Tapestry. This collection provided punctuated moments for students to consider the role of form in beholding and use of medieval art. 

    Making the wonderful holdings of the University’s Special Collections visible to undergraduates early in their educational careers empowers students to engage with objects and enriches their time at Pitt. A brief introduction to the space and holdings of Special Collections is informative in and of itself, but it is clear that interacting with this rich corpus of facsimiles yields great rewards. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Mapping Mobility in the UAG

    Author: Ellen Larson

    PhD Student in History of Art and Architecture and University Art Gallery graduate fellow

    As University Art Gallery (UAG) graduate fellow, I am collaborating with HAA Professor Michelle McCoy, along with five undergraduate students on a pop-up exhibition to take place in the UAG mid-March. This exhibition supplements Professor McCoy’s HAA 1010: Approaches to Art History undergraduate course, focusing on Chinese art objects within the UAG collection. Students selected Chinese work, as a means of initiating in-depth original research on themes and ideas related to the art objects themselves or broadly connected to socio-cultural contexts from which these materials emerge. 

    In my role as a curator and mentor to undergraduate students, I am working with the class to conceive a short-term exhibition that presents these objects as portable agents of culture, whose value lies not only within the realm of connoisseurship and museum collecting, but also as transient catalysts of new knowledge activated through their physical positions within an exhibition-setting. Rather than uncovering specific temporal histories, the exhibition seeks to extend spatial and thematic connections between works centered upon mobility and exchange. 

    Selected artworks include ink paintings by Chinese master painter, modern nomad, and notorious forger Zhang Daqian (1899-1983). Following the Communist takeover and subsequent establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the Mainland in 1949, Zhang Daqian traveled to Macau, Argentina, Brazil, and Carmel, California, before settling in Taipei in 1978. Other featured works include rubbings depicting seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang, whose travels led him to regions throughout central Asia including parts of modern India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Xuanzang’s writings inspired the sixteenth-century Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Additional objects include a selection of Chinese snuff bottles, whose aesthetic utilitarianism is juxtaposed with the non-utilitarianism of a ritual ceramic vessel displaying the abstracted character , meaning “good fortune.” This object references a common practice of pasting the upside-down character  in one’s doorway, allowing good fortune to descend upon the dwelling, as the words for “upside-down” and “to arrive” are homophonous. This is further suggested by the same Chinese term, which indicates the performative action of pouring liquid from a vessel. While the selection of snuff bottles and  ritual vessel are commodity objects, the latter serves as a striking example of totality found within the context of written language, material objects, and ritual practice. 

    Echoing the words of Susan Stewart, this particular presentation of objects replaces the notion of origin with classification, presenting “temporality as a spatial and material phenomenon.” [1] In addition to displacing one’s understanding of time, the collection’s relational organization highlights the exhibition’s function as a three-dimensional map into which gallery visitors are invited to physically enter. These objects represent points of exchange and connection; concealed and revealed only through their spatial relationships to each other. Thus, new knowledge is produced through space, and is further activated through the creation of multiple networks that traverse and transition from Pittsburgh to China, and beyond. 

    [1] Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1984), 153. 

     

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Mobility/Exchange
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Graduate Work
    • UAG
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • 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
  • 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.

               

     

  • 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
     

    Studying a Vietnam War Veteran at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall

    Museums Studies Intern at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum — Fall 2018

    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum is an institution that commemorates our veterans and fallen heroes that have participated in the many conflicts that the United States has participated in. The staff of the museum is dedicated to the preservation of the personal artifacts of many veterans, and they endeavor to teach children, seniors, and adults alike about the hardships and struggles of our military personnel. The museum itself is a small institution, but they work hard to cover the various wars and conflicts the United States has engaged in from the American Civil War up to the present day.

    My main project during my internship was analyzing the photographs and letters sent home by a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, Sgt. John R. Elm. John Elm spent a year in Vietnam, serving his country dutifully. He was born on January 19th, 1948, and died on September 14th, 2003. He lived in Pittsburgh, and frequently sent letters and photographs that he took home to his family. He was sent to Vietnam in June 1968 and went home in July 1969. He would write home in his free time in order to calm his nerves after experiencing stressful combat situations. However, he would leave out gory details when addressing his family at large, preferring to save those details for letters home to his sister, Maxine Elm. Elm bought a camera while in Vietnam, and sent many pictures home with the letters, which allowed me to connect many of the photographs to what Elm wrote about in his letters home.

    One of the most touching aspects of letters and photos that John sent home from the battlefield was the story of his battery’s adoption of a stray dog as their “mascot.” This dog’s name was Pro-Jo, short for “projectile,” perhaps due to her climbing into a mortar canon. It was thought that they lost her in Dong Tam when they took her to get shots, but she showed back up later on. By the end of John’s time in Vietnam, he heard that the men that were going to take their leave in Hawaii were planning on bringing Pro-Jo along and finding her a family. It’s rather heartwarming that John Elm’s story in Vietnam ended with him going back home to Pittsburgh and a stray dog finding a home. 

    I worked with Lisa Petita (Collections Manager), Tim Neff (Vice President/Director of Museum & Education), and Michael Kraus(Curator). Outside of my main project, my day to day tasks included aiding in the accession of received military artifacts, helping with setting up for events such as the Canon Ball Fundraiser and school visitations, as well as occasionally aiding with the instruction of visiting school groups.

    My experiences at Soldiers and Sailors were extremely valuable and I am glad that I have had a chance to intern here. I have gained a greater appreciation for the common man in the military, and the struggles that they have gone through. I also appreciate the great work that the people who work there go through in order to sustain a museum collection, no matter how small. 

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Taylor and her fellow interns construct Trisha Holt’s 16 piece, 4'x4' rug.

     

    Curating an Exhibition: From the Ground Up

    Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography - Fall 2018

     

    At the start of my internship at Silver Eye Center for Photography, I was selected to collaboratively curate an exhibition with senior staff members and my fellow interns from Point Park University. Our first goal was to find 100 regional photographers for the exhibition. We individually researched artists based on location, then documented our favorites through Pinterest. We have collected seventy-seven photographers altogether, and are now working to narrow the group down to 10-15 photographers, selecting a variety of creative visions and locations. The exhibition will be shown at Silver Eye during the Spring of 2019.

    As part of our training, Silver Eye’s Communications Coordinator Kate Kelley devoted a generous amount of her time and energy into teaching us basic design strategies for email and social media, archiving prints decades old into digital media, and installing artwork. My fellow interns and I also learned about printing photographs, framing images, and properly handling and packaging framed items for shipping in the Lab at Silver Eye from Sean Stewart. Over the past few weeks, I have also had the opportunity to observe and assist in installing two exhibitions: Door into the Dark and The In-Between. During install week for The In-Between, the other interns and I constructed Trisha Holt’s sixteen piece rug, as seen in the attached image. Holt’s “rug” is not made of textile, but rather paper with an enlarged image of a rug that has been expanded into sixteen pieces, creating a four by four work that appears like a rug from a distance. Because the work is intended to be walked upon, we felt that it was essential to curate the piece in such a way that felt inviting for people to interact with.

    These learning experiences will be applied to two upcoming Spring shows at Silver Eye,

    Come April 2019, I will have been a part of four group exhibitions at this location. Working with this organization has  looking forward to continue working with this team next semester, completing the regional photography exhibition, and sharing the images of photographers we have worked so hard to discover.

     

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  •  

    Interactive Art: A gateway to the Abstract

    Museum Studies intern at Carnegie Museum of Art.

     

                  This fall I’ve had the privilege of working under Marilyn Russell, the Curator of Education at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and Sally Cao, the Curatorial and Education Program Manager, during the Carnegie International 2018. I was tasked with analyzing and attempting to quantify Gallery ambassador surveys from the exhibits and helping to build a picture of how the ambassadors can assist the guests and enhance the visitor experience. While there are many examples of how they do this, what caught me the most was the passing comments of the visitors which were recorded by the ambassadors.

                  What stood out to me is just how much people from all ages had to say about the pieces. The art Labor piece focuses on consumerism and the effects it has on other countries. It uses Vietnamese coffee as an example, as the coffee industry has largely changed the agricultural landscape in that country for the purpose of the product being sold in other countries. The comments from the art labor exhibit range everywhere from “Where can I get coffee like this?” to “It’s like eco-gentrification” and everything in between. Although some of these comments miss the point, but perhaps that’s not the point. In analyzing art or anything else, one has to risk the chance of being wrong. Of course, this isn’t a definitive comment, but when I compare the volume of comments on the surveys along with the comments I’ve observed while wondering the exhibits myself, I’ve found that the amount of comments directed at interactive exhibits greatly surpass those at non-interactive exhibits. This might vary base on the demographic of the visitors. In any event, what follows those statements from what I’ve observed is engagement with the ambassador. This turns the idle comments into a deeper form of understanding including more abstract ideas. It’s my belief that the increase of comfort levels with art using this kind of interaction is the bridge to having the confidence to speak on the feelings one gets from interacting with art that is less physical.

                  Ultimately, I feel very privileged to have been able to work under people like Ms. Russell and Ms. Cao and work with their insight and experience to better understand how the guests interact with the museum and seeing how the museum also effects the guest and corresponding community as it opens their minds in various ways and to various topics which they otherwise might not be interacting with. I of course include myself apart of that latter category and attribute my better understanding of the museum’s important place in the community to this internship position and to the insights of the ambassadors and guests with whom I’ve spent time

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Exploring the book, Building Stories, while sitting in the Special Collections Department reading room.

     

    Building Stories

    Museum Studies Intern at Special Collections Department, Hillman Library – Fall 2018

    During my internship at the Special Collections Department of Hillman Library, I worked with a recent acquisition called Building Stories that helped me rediscover my love of books. Building Stories is not a typical book—packaged in a board game-style box and bound in various forms such as comic strips, a Little Golden Book, and full-page illustrations. The plot of the book does not have a singular storyline, instead, it depends on the way the reader begins each section, meaning that everyone reads the book differently and has a unique experience. Not only does the reader build a story, but the story itself is about a building and its tenants: the landlady on the ground floor, the main character on the first floor, a couple on the second floor, and an anthropomorphized bee. 

    Interning at the Special Collections Department of Hillman Library aided in my discovery of the incredible materials they have. On most days, I shelved and pulled books, conducted research for several projects, and compiled lists of the materials visiting classes used so both the Department and the students can refer to them again. 

    These tasks allowed me to interact with intriguing texts and learn about new literary genres.. For example, when a class focusing on science fiction came for a browsing session, I composed a list of all the books and pulp magazines they used. Before their visit I had heard of pulp magazines but had never directly interacted with them. Working with this collection, I learned how imaginative and interesting pulp magazines covers and stories are. Interning reminded me of the joys of discovery libraries offer. When I was in high school, I used to love libraries and books. I finished a novel every other day and was constantly looking for new reading material. Once I began college, I no longer felt like I had the time to read books for pleasure. Working with the materials in the Special Collections Department, reminded me of the vibrant creativity that goes into developing books, magazines, and other forms of literature. I am grateful I had the opportunity to intern there because exploring their extraordinary resources renewed my appreciation for books and libraries. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Digitizing Nan Goldin's memoir of Greer Lankton, A Rebel Whose Dolls Embodied Her Dreams

     

    Experiencing the Different Levels of the Greer Lankton Archive

    Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory – Fall 2018

    In 1996, just weeks before her passing, transgender artist Greer Lankton presented a monumental exhibition of her work at the Mattress Factory (MF) in the Northside. The centerpiece of the show was Lankton’s first large-scale installation piece, It’s all about ME, Not You. While looking through the Greer Lankton Archive this semester, I came across the original correspondences between the curator of the 1996 show, the director of the MF, and Lankton, organizing a trip for Lankton to come to Pittsburgh to see the museum and plan out the installation. 

    This fall, I was tasked with processing Lankton’s archival material, starting with organizing numerous boxes of magazine and newspaper clippings, personal letters, contracts, photographs, and exhibition materials. I quickly noticed that Lankton kept anything mentioning her or her work, whether it was a short sentence in a magazine promoting a group show, or a full-page advertisement for a solo exhibition. In a sense, Lankton archived her own life and work by saving such a vast range of materials. Looking through her papers, I witnessed Lankton’s professional successes as well as the personal struggles she faced. Her work portrays these challenges, but reading striking first-hand accounts written by Lankton and those closest to her was even more powerful.

    One of the most notable things I read was a binder of daily journal entries written by Lankton’s father, Bill. The entries were written while Lankton’s parents were spending more time with her to offer support during her recovery. Bill Lankton writes about mundane activities, like accompanying Greer to McDonald’s, where they seemed to go at least twice a week, to more exciting activities, such as their trip to Pittsburgh to visit the MF. The journal concludes with entries from the days after Greer’s passing, when her parents and family friends collected her things from her apartment in Chicago, forming the basis of the MF’s archive. In the same way Greer compiled her personal archive, her parents picked up where she left off. Bill Lankton describes rifling through boxes of exhibition pamphlets and promotional materials, just as I did this semester.

    Along with supporting the permanent installation of It’s all about ME, Not You, one of the goals of the Greer Lankton Archive, is to make the material more readily available to researchers and scholars through digitization. Once I organized a portion of the archive, I scanned everything and uploaded the files into Collective Access, the MF’s collections database. My time at the MF taught me the value of committing to a process, even though I was not sure what the outcome would be. Through this project, I also gained a new sense of respect for Greer Lankton, her parents, and her art. Seeing all of Lankton’s life—from school reports from when she was still known as “Greg,” to the aftermath of her death through Bill Lankton’s journal entries—allowed me the opportunity to consider her legacy and what it means to document someone’s life.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

Pages