Undergraduate Work

    • Danse Macabre, Mabel Dwight
    • Photograph of the exhibition layout drafting process.
    Danse Macabre, Mabel Dwight

    Mabel Dwight, Danse Macabre, 1933, lithograph in black on woven paper.

     

    Learning the Curatorial Process through Alone Together

    Julia Lepre, Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art – Spring 2022  

    This semester, I worked with Professor Alex J. Taylor, alongside two other interns, Lee Silva-Walker, and Tiffany Sims. Professor Taylor specializes in modern art and visual culture, and works as an assistant professor and academic curator at the University of Pittsburgh’s History of Art and Architecture Department. He is the guest curator of the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism, being shown at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art from May 29, 2022, to September 25, 2022. An amalgamation of modern 20th century and contemporary realist art are displayed together in this show, drawing connections between the past and the present through mutual expressions of uneasiness, loneliness, and isolation in times of unrest.  

    Primarily, my fellow interns and I were responsible for researching the artists whose works are included in the show. At first, the work was overwhelming, and I found it difficult to organize the administrative processes required to manage this information. However, over time I was able to find a process that was more efficient and effective, and researching became more enjoyable. Checking in with Professor Taylor each week allowed me to reflect on the research I collected and determine which directions I should go in next. Eventually, I felt more confident in my own capabilities, and I gained a better understanding of the curatorial process. The more research I did on the different artists in the show, the more I found unexpected, but interesting, connections between the artists and their works that added new depth to the exhibition. It also showed me how frustrating the process can be; often your research can lead you to dead ends, and important questions can be left unanswered. This experience not only improved my own research skills but revealed to me how the process of curating a show is an ever-evolving one. Towards the end of the semester, we also got to help Professor Taylor design the exhibition space. Together, we looked through all the research we had compiled and used that to make logical, meaningful, and aesthetic decisions for the placement of the works in the gallery space. We discussed the different connections we found between artists and their works and if they made sense together; we discussed the flow of the room, and the experience of the viewer, as well as which pieces would work best in certain spots.  

    Although the collection was already formed by the time we began researching the artists, we had done no preliminary research at this point, so we were going in blind. One of the artists I was researching was O. Louis Guglielmi and I came across a book on Guglielmi and the different exhibitions he had participated in. As we worked through the research I had collected on Guglielmi, as well as that conducted by my fellow interns, Professor Taylor discovered that Arrest No. 2 by Henry Billings, and The American Dream by O. Louis Guglielmi, had an unexpected, shared history. In the 1937 exhibition of the American Artist’s Congress, both paintings appeared together; and almost 100 years later they were to be brought back together in the same show, all without prior knowledge of their past. These kinds of exciting discoveries are what you are hoping for through all the hours of skimming articles and books, and they make the experience worthwhile. I realized that while I was researching, I was learning more about the show itself, and finding new ways to interpret its meaning and the relationship between each piece. Overall, this experience made me more enthusiastic about the curatorial process, as I was given the opportunity to work hands-on with this project and gained valuable experience from the work I did.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Cultivating Community in the Greer Lankton Archive

    Author giving curatorial talk at the Mattress Factory’s 'Greer Lankton Birthday Bash.'

     

    Cultivating Community in the Greer Lankton Archive

    Celia Kaine, Museum Studies intern at the Mattress Factory Museum –  Spring 2022

    Preserving art as a form of personal history has never been a more essential process. Creation, as a reckoning with the self, brings the intangible realities of life lived to colored actualization. It’s an important aspect of the makeup of cultural history and contributes to a broader, more vibrant understanding of the world. These sentiments are gospel in archival work and have been powerfully reinforced throughout my three months working in the Greer Lankton Archive at the Mattress Factory Museum.

    Under the instruction of Archivist Sarah Hallet and the Project Digitization Archivist Sinead Bligh, I’ve gained firsthand experience in physical and digital object management as a part of a more extensive digitization project encompassing a massive collection of artist Greer Lankton’s work and personal objects. In April, the release of an online archival finding aid provided public access to the extensive digital collection for the first time. An intuitive system created with researchers and the general public in mind, the finding aid epitomizes why archivists do what they do and how their work maintains the integrity of history and art for years to come. This resource allows the community to interact with Greer’s art within the different contexts of her life as a Trans female artist at the forefront of the East Village art movement in the 1980s. It also encourages an introspective examination of identity through the lens of an artist who was so uncompromisingly herself. 

    During my spring at the Mattress Factory, I primarily focused on the scanning and digital processing of 2D art from Greer Lankton’s life between the years 1975 through 1996. I interacted with portraits, self-portraits, and notebooks that Greer created throughout her career, from ages 17 to 38. I also helped in overseeing final edits of scope and content descriptions for the archival database. At times, it was hard to fathom the purview of the archive, especially when I’d only worked on a small fraction of the thousands of objects, including Greer’s 3D artworks, her infamous dolls, photographs, correspondence, and even personal planners detailing her daily life. What I didn’t expect from my experience was how much the artwork and objects I encountered impacted me. It’s an extremely singular experience to flip through the pages of someone’s life and art, but it’s another thing entirely to be able to help tell their story and shine a light on their extraordinary practice. And that’s what archival work is, story-telling through objective preservation, which is made evident through the archive’s finding aid.

    At the end of my semester, I had the incredible opportunity to see the payoff of all the work done in the archive with an event celebrating the release of the online finding aid coinciding with what would’ve been Greer Lankton’s 64th birthday. Along with a few former interns and fellows who had also contributed to the digitization project over the past three years, I was tasked with curating a couple of selected objects from the collection. This allowed me to share how Greer’s artwork had impacted me personally and examine the themes of glamour, gender, sexuality, and self-actualization I find so compelling about her artwork. During this experience, I met members of Greer Lankton’s family who had traveled from Michigan for the event. Talking with them was incredibly moving and solidified for me the significance of taking care in preserving an artist’s story. I’m grateful to have been a part of such an impactful project and look forward to a future in additional artistic stewardship. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • The author mounting a plant specimen on a collection sheet. 
    • Botany specimen #535779, a Quercus rubra (Red Oak) branch and leaves.  
    The author mounting a plant specimen on a collection sheet. 

    The author mounting a plant specimen on a collection sheet. 

     

    The Anatomy of a Specimen Sheet

    The Botany Department at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) boasts a collection of over 548,000 plant specimens, with thousands more awaiting documentation. During my time with the department in the Spring 2022 semester, I received hands-on training in the collection process while assisting with a digitization project of plants from the Mid-Atlantic region. To fully appreciate the life and history of the collection, which is freely accessible on the museum’s website, one must know how to understand the wealth of information contained on a specimen sheet. 

    Beyond the physical plant, a specimen sheet includes an institution tag, collection number, information label, and occasionally a small packet for parts that have come loose in the collection process. Each of these aspects contribute to the greater story of the specimen both in its natural habitat and in the museum space. 

    Consider the included picture of a Red Oak specimen, located in the top righthand corner of the page is the institution tag. This label denotes the ownership of the given specimen, useful when a plant is on loan from another museum or herbarium for research or exhibition. Below this is the catalog number, a six-digit code corresponding to the order this specimen was entered into the Botany Department database. In other words, this Red Oak specimen is the 535,779th sheet processed in the collection, and there are well over 548,000 total plants currently housed at CMNH. In the digital catalog, this number is proceeded with the tag “CM” and allows department staff to search for and reference any cataloged specimen. 

    After the plant itself, the most important part of any sheet is the collection label, located in the bottom right corner. This label contains information on when, where, and by whom this plant was gathered, who identified the plant, and its scientific name. This information is used for research, geo-referencing the site of location, and storage within the department’s collection. In the example provided above, Red Oak, or Quercus rubra, belongs to the family Fagaceae. The handwritten number above the collection label, 62 in this case, corresponds to a cabinet or range of cabinets in the upper or lower herbarium at CMNH. Each plant family in the collection is given a number, and specimens are sorted accordingly into their matching cabinets, then further sorted alphabetically into files by genus and species. Within a cabinet, plants collected in Pennsylvania are kept in files separate from those collected in other states, countries, and continents, each color-coded for easy identification. 

    Location data, which is extremely detailed for the Oak specimen pictured here, varies widely throughout the collection as plants have been gathered for the herbarium since the 1800s. Recently acquired plants, such as this one, include the specific coordinates that tie the specimen to the environment in which it was found. Collection labels on the most recently gathered plants host QR codes linking to the iNaturalist page for the specific plant, a free app developed by the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic which allows anyone to post photos of wildlife they encounter and crowd source observation data. Location details are crucial for researching subjects such as the ecological range of a species and their stage of life at the time of collection. 

    This position has taught me about the complexities and inner workings of the museum and collections work. The herbarium is more than just plants awaiting exhibition, it is a living collection – a library of botanical specimens ready for researchers of all kinds. 

    Categories: 
    • Environment
    • Undergraduate Work
  •  

    Mobilizing Visitor Feedback at the University of Pittsburgh’s Nationality Rooms

    Ellie Downs, Museum Studies intern at the Nationality Rooms – Spring 2022 

    The return to in-person tours in February of 2022 marked the first time in nearly two years that the Nationality Rooms could welcome visitors into its physical spaces again. While they host groups varying from K-12 students, Boy and Girl Scout troops, Pitt students and their families, retirement community groups, and tourists to Pittsburgh, since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Nationality Rooms moved all their activity online. Until this February, they were limited to virtual tours over Zoom for visitors to learn about the Rooms through videos, photographs, and live narration. With the re-introduction of physical tours and events alongside their online offerings, the Nationality Rooms have taken advantage of this unique opportunity to hear from its new and returning visitors.  

    In this internship, I worked with Michael Walters, the Nationality Rooms tour coordinator, to create new tools to collect visitor feedback and evaluate visitor satisfaction. Our goal was to develop processes that would continue gathering data after the end of this semester. I crafted surveys intended for specific types of visitors, such as large groups or current Pitt students, to gauge visitors’ satisfaction with their tour experience, ways in which that experience could have been improved, and their broader familiarity with other offerings at the Nationality Rooms.  

    The goal of these surveys is partly to provide insight into how much visitors know about Nationality Rooms events and festivals so that they can optimize the promotion of those events on their recently launched website, Pitt and UCIS newsletters, and on social media. Another focus of this project is to gain a clearer picture of what draws visitors to the Nationality Rooms and what aspects of these rooms they find most intriguing. That feedback will ultimately factor into future decisions about styles of tours to offer, including new types of online content for virtual visitors. Ultimately, although in this Spring semester I established a few of the mechanisms the Nationality Rooms will be using to collect visitor insights and reactions, the results of this project still lie farther down the road as visitors start to return to in-person activities in the coming months.

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

    Tear Gas and Water Hoses by Edward Biberman

     

    Building Exhibitions Together at Westmoreland

    Museum Studies Intern at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art – Spring 2022 

    This semester I had the opportunity to work with Alex J. Taylor, the guest curator for the exhibition, Alone Together: Encounters in American Realism at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This exhibition’s collection brings together historical and contemporary works of Magic Realism, focusing on the shared experience of living and working in challenging times. My involvement in the show was to research the historical artists whose art is being displayed in the exhibition. I worked with two other interns doing research on the artists, which helped give more depth to the show and taught me how much thought and planning that goes into curating an exhibition.  

    A highlight for my research was on the work of Edward Biberman, whose painting Tear Gas and Water Hoses is the key image for the exhibition. He was the first artist I started doing research on this semester. In the process of exploring the subject of the painting, which depicts a union protest outside the Warner Brothers studio in Los Angeles, we discovered the newspaper photographs in the Los Angeles Times that were Biberman's source. Biberman transformed these news photos into a painting by compositing shapes from the references together and simplifying the scenes. Another subject that I was able to research was Biberman’s personal connections to political issues. Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director, is Edward’s brother who was one of the Hollywood Ten and then blacklisted by Hollywood Studios. The Hollywood Ten was a group of writers and directors who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).  

    I learned I had to focus on finding information that was relevant to the pieces in the show. I gained new research skills like identifying what is useful information among the results of the search. Since I drew upon materials from five database sources to search for books and articles about or by Biberman and other artists this method helped save a lot of time which allowed me to get through more search results. The importance of the research we did on the artists was revealed by Alex Taylor, who used it to write the artists’ labels and much more. The labels are essential as they give the viewers information that shapes how they experience the show. The other interns and I also helped with the layout of the show. This was my favorite part of the semester because it felt like solving a puzzle. We had to think about what people see first, what they see together, and how the pieces look in relation to each other. Taking all that into consideration, along with the sizes and aesthetics of the works, we were then able to perfect the arrangement of the exhibition. Bringing together our research in the context of the display gave depth to the show, and I had the opportunity to also help assemble the layout of the works, I felt like a real curator. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Inside AAP’s gallery space and their current exhibit
     

    Education Through Art at the AAP

    Isabel Meline, Museums studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh- Spring 2022 

    Associated Artists of Pittsburgh (AAP) is a local nonprofit which organizes shows in the Pittsburgh area for artists in the region. With the assistance of AAP staff, artist members design exhibits to display and sell their work. With a focus on accessibility and community, AAP works to promote diversity, inclusion and education within the art world. This semester, with guidance and assistance from executive director Madeline Gent, I have been responsible for designing additional educational programming for two of their upcoming exhibits in the summer and fall.  

    The first project I was involved in was a retrospective of the artist Mary Culberston-Stark, an AAP member of 30 years who has had a successful career as both a well-respected artist and educator. Since the show is a celebration of her career, we approached the design with the aim of giving an intimate experience with the artist and insight into her process. Madeline and I came up with two events: a modified and personalized version on the popular ‘Paint and Sip’ activity and a tour of the exhibit with the artist herself. Before we could pitch our ideas to Mary, I had to create a project proposal which included a potential budget and supply list. It was the first time I had undertaken such a task , and it helped me ensure that I was thinking of all the necessary details and possibilities involved in each program.  Our meeting with Mary went very well, and we are in the process of nailing down dates for each event while her exhibition is open over the summer.  

    The second show I worked on was a project developed by AAP member, Brent Nokomoto. The show was designed to highlight the work of Asian American artists in the Pittsburgh area and features eight artists who utilize a variety of styles and mediums. A major goal of the show was not to simply focus on the variety of Asian American identities and culture in the Pittsburgh, but also to help shift the stereotypical face of the art world away from that of exclusive whiteness. For the programming I decided to focus on workshops targeting younger audiences. Again, I had to create project proposals. This exhibit was much more difficult to design programming for since it involved so many different artists and I wanted to be able to design something that was properly representative of their diverse practices. 

    It was exciting to be able to collaborate with artists in the design process. Taking these programs from the online research phase to speaking to them in person showed me how important collaboration is. Because Madeline gave me so much freedom, trust, and responsibility working on these projects I was able to really get out of my comfort zone and learn by doing. I look forward to continuing to develop the programming and to seeing it executed once the exhibits open. It was challenging to have so much responsibility with very limited professional experience, but Madeline was a great advisor and was able to balance giving me freedom and specific instruction.  

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Image of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister in the Frick Fine Arts Building.

     

    Facing the Past of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister

    Lydia Bailey- Museum Studies Intern at the University of Art Gallery – Spring 2022 

    Every week, hundreds of students filter in and out of the Henry Clay Frick Fine Arts Building. Rushing to and from class, most students probably do not think about the story this building tells about its donor or what it means to the University of Pittsburgh. As an intern at the University Art Gallery in Spring 2022, I spent a significant amount of time in this space and quickly learned that its history is worth sharing with the public. 

    As a UAG intern, I was encouraged to identify a signature project topic that related to my interests in the field of museum studies. Working with Isaiah Bertagnolli, graduate assistant of the University Art Gallery, I devised a plan to research the development of the Nicholas Lochoff Cloister and the provenance of the Italian renaissance copy paintings which fill its walls. This research was to be completed in conjunction with intern Anika Agarwal’s whose signature project focused on the architectural history of the building.  

    At the early stages of this project, some foundational information regarding the Lochoff Cloister became clear. The building was donated to the University of Pittsburgh by Helen Clay Frick in honor of her father, a wealthy industrial tycoon in Pittsburgh in 1965. She wanted this space to embody fine art - to Frick, this meant Florentine architecture complemented by Renaissance artworks. In order to achieve this, she purchased a series of frescoes by Russian artist Nicholas Lochoff, who was known for his copies of Italian masterpieces. What is more important is that when Frick made her donation, University administrators agreed, with some hesitation, that she could have control over employment offers in what was then the Department of Fine Arts, and that the building would not be a space for contemporary art. This contract was ultimately broken, but the ongoing tension between the institution and its donor still impacts students who enter the cloister and see Italian artwork as the sole expression of the category of “fine art”.  

    Completing this signature project required close attention to detail on research of primary and secondary sources, ranging from Lochoff Cloister descriptions and exhibition catalogs to searches in more recent, student-written news articles. In conclusion, I have realized that critical conversations surrounding the artwork in the cloister cease to exist within a few years of Frick Fine Arts’s establishment; these conversations are necessary to have as the physical surroundings of an academic space are formative to the knowledge produced by students. By delving into a topic which suited my interests, I was able to think critically about this space which I have spent significant time in, and synthesize a project which challenges one’s preconceived notions of what constitutes fine art. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • science center building

    A photo of the Carnegie Science Center 

     

    The Door to More Opportunities

    Gabby Lynch, STEM Education Curriculum Assistant -Spring 2022 

    A first internship can be daunting – a new environment with new people and different expectations. The Carnegie Science Center was my first internship within the museum field, and though there were elements that were new to me, this was a great opportunity to get my foot in the door.    

    The Carnegie Science Center is not a typical museum experience, as there is more reliance on interactive exhibits to further the education of children and less emphasis on the historical aspects one would see at a traditional museum. Due to the nature of the science center, the work I completed was focused on the STEM education lesson plans that are used at educational camps over the summer.    

    My position was mostly remote with bi-weekly constructive meetings with my supervisor Julie Bowman, manager of camps and public experiences, to discuss these lesson plans. With each lesson plan, I would review current and past curriculum to verify content and usability based on criteria provided. This granted me the opportunity to display my attention to detail, as arguably one of my most important duties was to make sure the data and information being taught to the students was updated, correct, and appropriate. For example, when discussing people living on mars, the lesson was titled, “colonization” - which, despite being technically correct in the context of colonizing the planet Mars, it is also a word with other meanings. Since many of their lesson plans have more fun titles like, “Makey Makey Projects”, I proposed that it would be best to change this title. Along with this, coming from a STEM background, trying to make sure that all scientific information was up to date with modern research on climate change, coding, the brain, etc. was one of my more important duties, as it would be taught to kids.  

    Along with content review, I was able to sort and label files based on usability and other specifications as identified. This helped to create, design, and organize a categorical library of educational curriculum. This not only helped me in enhancing my organizational skills, but also in getting to better understand the kind of detail and effort that goes into educational content within the museum field. This element of the internship allowed me to use and grow my communication skills, to better prepare me for future work environments.  

    Though the Carnegie Science Center is not a traditional museum experience, it shares many similarities with other institutions in the way it values the importance of the educational experience of its visitors. It is this kind of effort in educational content that allows many museums to complete their goals of educating the public and allow for more opportunities in the STEM field. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
  • A look at Collectrium, the database software I worked with this semester.

     

    Researching Female Printmakers of the 20th Century

    Carson Sanov, Museum Studies Intern at O’Brien Art House – Spring 2022 

    This semester I worked with independent curator Hannah Turpin to help digitize Marty O'Brien's private art collection. My main goal for the semester was to research the exhibition and publication history of the prints in his collection, and to enter that information for each piece into the Collectrium, the digital management system that Marty is using to keep track of his collection.  

    The driving force behind Marty’s collection is his passion for art, especially art that went unappreciated in its own time. The focus of his showcase is twentieth-century artists who were well regarded and influential in their time period, but for whatever reason failed to become as well-known as some of their contemporaries – think “the best artists you’ve never heard of.” In keeping with that idea, I decided to focus my research on the female printmakers represented in the collection. The sexism that permeates every industry and trade did not make many exceptions, but the progress of the last few decades has encouraged many to appreciate previously uncelebrated contributions to the art world. 

    At the start of this internship, I struggled a bit balancing thorough and comprehensive research with making my deadlines and deliverables. Of course, my goal is to provide as complete a picture as possible of the display history of each piece, but it is unreasonable to spend an entire day researching a single work of art. Fortunately, as I became more familiar with the resources I was using to find information (Google, Google Scholar, PittCat, other libraries and databases, etc.) and as I became more comfortable working with Collectrium, I was able to speed up my workflow without having to compromise the thoroughness of my research. 

    As I come to the end of this internship, I’m very proud of the work that I was able to get done and pleased with the experience that I gained. I have an increased understanding of how a collection is maintained and how information regarding a collection is gathered and updated, both of which were things I wanted to know more about at the start of the semester. Additionally, I have a much better understanding of Collectrium, and although different institutions certainly make use of other databases, my experience with it has been very informative and will be useful when the time comes for me to make use of another database. I found it very fulfilling to be able to help complete the story of these pieces and also these artists. Although extensive research and summarizing isn’t the most glamorous work, it is essential to make sure that these artists’ accomplishments are remembered. 

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Entrance of the University Art Gallery with a poster of the new 2022 Studio Arts Exhibition, open April 1-30

     

    From Square One: Redeveloping the UAG Website

    Anika Agarwal, Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery – Spring 2022 

    My time as an intern at the University Art Gallery allowed me to learn about and contribute to the critical work that goes into providing a positive museum experience for visitors. Working under the guidance and supervision of Isaiah Bertagnolli, graduate assistant of the University Art Gallery, intern Lydia Bailey and I were able to aid in the redevelopment of the UAG website. Additionally, we were each expected to devise our signature projects by the end of the semester.

    I am here to tell you all that redeveloping a website for a university gallery that has hosted a multitude of exhibitions since the dawn of the 1960s was no easy task. Contrastingly, the amount of insight that I gained surrounding the production of an exhibition, be it from transcripts of conversations between curators and artists to the invitation lists for the premieres, helped me further understand the myriad of thinking behind the culmination of an exhibition. A massive takeaway from my journey at the University Art Gallery was a broad understanding and diversified perspective on all the elements that go into developing and executing an exhibit from start to finish.  

    As a student intern, my work entailed cross-referencing online exhibitions displayed on the website with their physical counterparts. When trying to compile information for online exhibitions physical catalogs came in handy as they helped form the base for descriptions that were then projected onto the website. Although it was easier to do this for later exhibitions, I started to face many hurdles when it came to exhibitions from decades ago. Older exhibitions featured on the website would lack descriptions or physical catalogs and pivotal information was lost. This is where I faced most of my challenges.  

    Conducting research from the bottom up with minimal to no information on the dates, names, or descriptions of exhibitions felt like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Additionally using search engines like Google Scholar, the University Library System, and other resources was often misleading and lead me back to square one. It wasn't until a little while later that I was introduced to a browser that referenced newspaper articles, with which I hit the jackpot. Looking back at my time at the gallery, the adversities that I faced, and the challenges that I overcame, I was was left with a sense of pride and accomplishment unlike any other. The knowledge I gained as an intern at the University Art Gallery will permanently expand my experience and interactions with museum settings, and I hope to have added some value to a gallery as enriched as the UAG. 

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

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