Undergraduate Work

  • Benin Queen Mother Bronze statue

     

    Student Journal: Power of the Queen Mother: The Benin Bronzes

    Molly Wight, 7 December 2017

    When my planning group was looking through the African Heritage Room archival documents for items to include in our exhibition, we stumbled across a booklet on the symbolism and thematic narratives in the room. Besides the overall desire of the Room Committee and the architects to convey Pan-African themes, there was a specific concept that they wanted to convey in the room. This was the concept of “Mother Africa”, which either mean thinking about the continent of Africa as the mother of the human race or the existence of a common ancestor of all African peoples. This theme is represented by the position of the Queen Mother of Benin in the center of the door of the African Heritage room.

    When we were looking through the online archives of the objects in the Nationality Room collection which were not on display, however, we discovered that there were two bronze replicas of symbols that represented the Queen Mother of Benin. Neither of these objects had been included on our list of pre-selected artifacts, but we felt that they were important to include in our narrative of the concept of identity in the Nationality Rooms. The two objects were the bronze head of the Queen Mother and the bronze rooster that symbolized the power that the Queen Mother held. I particularly felt that the sculptural head of the Queen Mother Idia, the first Queen Mother of Benin, had the potential to be a key object in our exhibition. 

    As we further developed the plan and layout for the exhibition, it became clear that the African Heritage Room identity section of the exhibition would revolve around the Queen Mother and the position’s representation of the theme of “Mother Africa.” In the end, three of the five objects in that section of the exhibition offer information about her importance and invite the visitor to think about the ways in which all of Africa is connected. As a room that tries to represent the many nations and ethnicities of the continent of Africa instead of a single country, the Queen Mother offers ways to think about African diaspora as part of a historical narrative.

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    Dr. Proctor in the Rotunda.

     

    Student journal: Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room

    Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room 

    Abby Brady, 6 December 2017
     

    Over the course of the semester, I have focused on objects and documents from the archives of the African Heritage Room. I chose a letter from art historian Rosalind Jeffries addressed to Professor Laurence Glasco of the University of Pittsburgh History Department. The letter outlines the broad goals of committee members to represent a boundless and collective African identity. What struck me most about this letter was the comprehensive research and conscious effort to showcase an archetypal African self—one that extends beyond borders of country and continent. Looming over me, however, was the understanding that there were many difficulties inherent in the formation of the only Room representing an entire continent, rather than an individual country. 

     

    Just before Thanksgiving, our class had a special meeting with Dr. Ralph Proctor, Professor of Ethnic and Diversity Studies at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). I was intrigued by this opportunity because I knew he was going to confront the blatant issues that developed in the planning of the African Heritage Room. Dr. Proctor began the discussion detailing personal stories from his time as a Pitt student and professor. Although today Pittsburgh is often thought of a progressive and diverse city, the University itself did not become truly inclusive of women and minorities until they were pushed to do so during sit-ins in the 1970s. The short glimpses into Pitt’s history helped introduce students to the environment in which talks of the creation of an African Heritage Room developed. Dr. Proctor was a member of the original committee, but could not bring himself to support a plan that aimed to represent the 52 distinct countries in Africa in a single space. In addition, he was worried that the concept would insult various ethnic groups that would not be able to relate to the space that was so ambitiously curated. 

     

    Through humor, Dr. Proctor expanded on concerns he had during his time as a committee member, and after the fact, when he was consulted for his expertise in the area of Africa and African art. Whether it was the lack of wood, the overly specific design, or the fact that the space did not represent the African American community of Pittsburgh, Dr. Proctor lamented problems that could have been avoided if there were highly qualified historians and scholars involved during the planning process, or if the African Heritage Room were divided into spaces dedicated to individual countries. However, his explanation of the problematic use of the words ‘art’ and ‘artifact’ in relation to African objects stuck out to me the most. Through a Western lens, ignorance and misunderstanding often take over when dealing with African objects. While Dr. Proctor offered funny stories about having to explain to experts in the field of African studies that their artwork was hanging upside down, I think it is valuable to reflect on how this blurry lens impacted the resulting African Heritage Room. 

     

    After spending the semester investigating archival material and learning more about the formation of the African Heritage Room, I think the flaws that have been addressed and recognized are what make this Room an important place of contemplation and learning. I believe that other planning groups have faced similar difficulties in how to best represent the essence of a country, but because the African Heritage Room is intended to sufficiently exemplify an entire continent, as well as a difficult history of enslavement and trans-Atlantic diaspora, the issues are

    amplified and particularly prone to criticism. The invaluable opportunity to hear Dr. Proctor speak about his experience with the Nationality Rooms enhanced my knowledge of a space that I had previously only understood through documents and artifacts that I had encountered on my own. His playful banter and engaging storytelling abilities encouraged me to further contemplate the identities, culture, art, and history brought to life in the African Heritage Room. 

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  • Photograph of the map
     

    Student journal: Put a Pin in it

    Morgan Benner
     
    The gallery opening has come and gone and the exhibition has been open to the public for several weeks now. Everything went over very smoothly, which I’m sure was a relief for everyone. If there is one thing I have been keeping an eye on, however, it is the interactive map in the rotunda. The main concern I had was whether visitors would actually be willing to participate or not. Would we come back to it in a few weeks with only a few pins scattered here and there?

    The purpose of the map is to allow visitors to engage with the broader ideas of the exhibit by placing a few pins in the places they identify with. We decided to hang both a world map and US map, to allow for people to pinpoint their hometown in the US. The students involved in the exhibition were all given silver-headed pins and we placed them on the map a few hours before the opening. It was almost like the finishing touch to the exhibit. 

    During the gallery opening, I watched the map closely to see if anyone was using it. I was delighted to see guests gathering in small groups, discussing where they were putting their pin and why. The map became a real discussion point, which was wonderful to watch and be part of.

    I have checked in on the map a few times since the opening and the number of pins on it is more than I had even hoped for. There is a concentration around Pittsburgh, as I suspected would happen, but there are also pins spread around the world. There are many pins around China, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia that I did not expect. The map has been a great way to show our city’s diversity. It’s been a really exciting thing to watch, and I’m overjoyed that visitors seem just as excited about it as I am.

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    Figure 2: Wooden beam being brought to the English Room, view from outside the Cathedral of Learning

     

    Student Journal: Mistaken Idenity of a Photograph

    Darcy Foster, 14 November 2017

    The Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Identity and Immigration in Pittsburgh exhibit is the result of the careful work of about thirty students throughout two months. However, no matter how carefully plans are laid, they often go awry anyway. Working as a member of the visual knowledge team, which was responsible for curating in the front gallery, I picked a photograph of six men carrying a beam through the window of the English Room (Fig. 1). I found the photograph interesting because it shows the progress the room made. This is especially evident because it is juxtaposed with the Wratten & Godfrey architectural drawings for the English Room, which are in a display case underneath the photograph. The drawings show the original vision for the room, which evolved greatly by the time it was made. When I submitted a loan request to include a scan of the photograph in the exhibition, there were multiple photographs that fit the description on the request. A similar photograph to the one I requested (Fig. 2) showed up at the exhibition, but it was not the correct one. It did not show the inside of the English Room, but the scan (Fig. 2) instead was shot from the outside of the Cathedral of Learning, so Heinz Memorial Chapel is visible in the background. Heinz Chapel was dedicated in 1938, and the English Room was dedicated in 1952 after construction was postponed during the World War II. Heinz Chapel is such a staple on campus today that it is interesting to look at it in this perspective. The English Room was at the start of construction, and so in the picture, Heinz Chapel is at most about a decade old. It would have been considered a very new building.

    Originally, I chose the photograph of the inside of the classroom (Fig.1) because it showed the interior of the English Room before it was transformed into the way the room looks
    today. The brick interior in the photograph is also a surprising contrast to the inside of the Cathedral of Learning. The brick of the English Room would eventually be covered by paneling that was one of the gifts from the British government to the English Room committee after the House of Commons in London was bombed in 1941. A theme of conflict was eminent in the visual knowledge group’s front gallery because many of the Nationality Rooms were created in response to conflict.

    The University Library System, who provided the scans, was able to send the original photograph (Fig. 1) that I chose, so we decided to keep the extra scan (Fig. 2), which featured the same beam being passed through the English Room window. I adjusted my label to incorporate both scans, but it was actually a blessing that the wrong scan had been sent to us.  Due to the fact that the photographs are exhibited in the front gallery, there is a direct tie to another part of the space: a timeline (Fig. 3). The timeline is broken into three different lines, and each one shows events that have occurred since the founding of the university. The lines from top to bottom represent events in the histories of the university, the Nationality Rooms, and the world in general. The visual knowledge group included events that affected each other to see how the Rooms have developed and been shaped over time. The addition of my second and accidental photograph allowed me to show the many different projects going on at the time and the quick expansion of the university’s properties. Previously, I had only connected the original photograph with world conflict (World War II), but this accident helped me to relate the photographs even more to our exhibit and to the growth of the university.

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  •  

    Student Journal: Hard Work Pays Off

    Geoff Mansfield, 21 November 2017
     
    Looking back through the previous two months from the start of the planning, into the late installation phases of the exhibition, I started to visualize things slowly coming together from the design stage transitioning into a physical sense.  From the start of the project, everyone was designated with a specific role to contribute in the show. These were implemented through three planning groups, each responsible for a separate room of the exhibition, and four working groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of making the exhibition.  Everyone in the class was assigned to one planning group and one working group, although some took on greater roles intermixing to help accomplish the project. In total throughout the semester there were seven groups, and we all worked together as a team to get everything done to meet the deadlines. This required participation in each part of the learning experience throughout the process from the conception of ideas, the selection of objects, themes, titles, installation, and most rewarding, the opening on the evening of November 9th. My personal favorite learning experience of the exhibit was learning how to measure foot candles, or light intensity. This was critical in displaying the Andrey Avinoff Nationality Room Watercolors as they have to be kept under no more than a measure of five foot candles to limit damage from the lighting. 

    The greatest challenge was keeping the flow between the rooms while still differentiating between the major themes of “visual knowledge”, “identity”, and “sacred space.” Some intermingling between objects selected for different themes had to take place in order to fit everything within the spatial restrictions of the University Art Gallery. The idea was to communicate how these objects represent not only the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, but also the bigger themes of immigration, and identity in the history of Pittsburgh. In the final days, it was rewarding to see the concluding elements bring this representation of Pittsburgh diversity together in a definitive form. I was exceptionally pleased with the way the exhibit merged together and the high turnout of the opening. It has been an honor be part of this project where the class came together as a team in order to create something that was truly special, giving the chance for others to appreciate the exhibit and not only to represent the University of Pittsburgh, but to help bring Pittsburgh together as a whole collectively.

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    Fig 1: The world map with pins in the exhibition.
     

    Student Journal: What My Pin Means To Me

    Emily Marturano

    During the planning of this exhibit, an idea was formed that we should include some sort of interactive aspect to engage with the guests. This was finalized in the form of two maps – one of the United States, one of the world. Our intention with the maps was to have our visitors place pins in maps from where they were from or also in location with which they identified with. We hoped that through these maps, we could convey the same message that was so vital in the creation of the Nationality Room, which was the importance of immigration and national identity within communities in Pittsburgh. I thought this was a great idea, but I was not sure how great of an effect it would actually have on the exhibit.  

    On the morning before the opening, the class stood in front of the two empty maps, mounted on corkboard. We had been given special long white pins that were just for the members of the class to use, colorful pins for visitors that would soon take up residence on the map. I had the honor of putting in the first pin. I joked before pinning about what an honor it was to go first. I stuck one pin in my small hometown in western New Jersey and another in the town in Sicily where my father was born, and I moved on with my day without thinking much more about it.

    Later that evening, during the opening, I found myself back in the rotunda watching as almost every visitor stuck a pin in the map. It was then that I realized the impact the map could have on the exhibit. In an exhibit based around immigration and identity, the map allowed me to take into consideration how my national identity helps me view the world. I hope that other visitors to the museum have this same realization. I believe that the maps can create a new viewpoint through which to experience the exhibit. Looking at these maps forces visitors to recognize that each one of us has a unique cultural background and different family histories, and because of this, we are able to come together to create a new, diverse community here in Pittsburgh. This idea is what propelled the Nationality Rooms into existence almost 80 years ago, and is still an important aspect to recognize today.

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  •  

    Student Journal: First thoughts on The Narratives of the Nationality Rooms

    Kendall Dunn, 13 November 2017
     
    After many weeks of editing floorplans, dictating objects to each group, and writing labels ten times over again, the show is finally open! All of these tasks could not have been completed without the help of every person in this class. We all contributed small things, that resulted in a beautiful and well-thought-out exhibition. This past week, the whole experience really came to life on Thursday night. We hosted our opening reception, showing all of the work that has built up for months now. During these two hours, we were able to observe visitors walking through the gallery and admiring our objects. I found myself looking at the eyes and facial expressions of viewers. Everyone seemed super excited when a visitor approached their object. It’s almost as if we were on view ourselves, through the objects we had chosen. Our intended flow of the exhibition seemed to be accomplished. Visitors walked through the front gallery, transitioned to the hallway, and finished in the back gallery with all of the watercolors. I think people were most surprised when seeing the watercolor towards the end of the exhibit. The show’s opening attendance reached over 150 on Thursday, which we are all so pleased about. After talking with professors and other Pitt staff members, it seemed like there was nothing but positive thoughts regarding the organization and the differences between each of the objects in the show. Yet despite the diversity among the different, people still understood that they all collaborated in telling a story.

    Now that we are past the opening of the exhibition, the next step is to speak about the gallery talks that will be given over the next couple of weeks. I believe that the most important aspects of these gallery talks will be explain the whole process of making the show. Because not all of the Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning are represented in the show, we all want to communicate the fact that there weren’t objects and documents available from every Room. We want to make sure we are representing the Nationality Rooms as a whole. Therefore, we should not individualize them, or suggest that one Room is better or more important than another. Our goal is to explain why the Nationality Rooms were designed and constructed in the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. I am excited to see even more visitors view this exhibition, and to talk more with individuals regarding all of the decisions that were made to get to where we are now.

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    Promotional Poster from the opening of "The River Ran Red".

     

    Experiencing Domike

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Library System (University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center) - Fall 2017

    Coming into the university archives, I knew two things about Steffi Domike. I knew that she was a filmmaker and I knew that she was a women’s labor activist. But that’s barely scratching the surface when it comes to the career of Steffi Domike. My first real exposure to the material came from reading the entire finding guide. As I went through the finding guide, I made a list of boxes and folders with titles that intrigued me. That list guided me through the actual collection for the first time. Each box or folder revealed a new aspect of Domike’s career.  Her collection is housed in two sections, the first portion being in the labor section of the archive stacks. The materials I read were pretty much what I expected; pamphlets, buttons, flyers for various events, photographs, and newspaper articles. What surprised me about Domike’s interest in labor activities in the 19th century. However, I had only gone through a small portion of the collection so I put my curiosity aside. I moved on to the other section of her collection and read syllabi for her classes, personal art projects, and various proposals and summaries for her films. The materials from Life Without Father really caught my interest and I read everything from that particular film project. By the end of that first week, my understanding of Steffi Domike had changed dramatically. She was no longer simply a labor activist and filmmaker; she was a professor, creator, and researcher. She is this renaissance woman who kept her overall goal of advancing labor and women’s rights at the front of her work.

    The second week of the internship a box of new materials appeared on my desk and I was tasked with housing its contents within the permanent collection. I wanted to do the collection justice and find the best home for each of the new materials. I began by reading every piece of material completely. Once I had finished reading and making notes on everything in the box, I began making connections between the new material and the themes and elements of the collection. Events and themes began to come to the forefront: the Battle of Homestead, the Patriot Act, the decline of the steel industry, and non-profit finances. While reading the materials about the Battle of Homestead, which is the subject of Domike’s River Ran Red, I realized how old and embedded the labor movement was in the fabric of Pittsburgh steel. Until this point, almost of the materials I had read were from the 1970s and 1980s, which is what I had been expecting. I gained a completely new perspective on her work while working with anything dealing with River Ran Red or the Battle of Homestead Centennial materials. I became almost obsessed with the event and took on a small rehousing project for her binders of images from the film. In my mind the scope of Domike’s career had drastically changed. I had been under the impression that Steffi Domike became a creator because she desired justice for her own career within the steel industry, but in reality Domike desired justice for all those who had been wronged by the steel industry.

    As this experience comes to an end and I spend my final hours working with Domike, I have a deep sense of accomplishment for each of the materials that I’ve been able to place into the collection. I believe that I’ve done the everything within my ability to put these materials in effective places within the collection. But in truth, I’ve learned much more than practical archival skills this semester. I’ve learned to always approach a new experience with an open mind rather than letting my expectation cloud the experience. Domike and her career taught me that at times expectations can potentially be the downfall of a great learning experience. Academically, I’ve chosen to focus on history that is much older and broad in scope than Domike. I concentrated on Ancient Civilizations in my history studies and so Domike’s career is much too modern for my liking, but by no means does that diminish that value of Domike to me personally. Quite frankly, I’ve become quite fond of Domike over the past last few months and I’ll miss her presence in my daily life.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

     

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  • Chambers, Nicholas. Adman: Warhol before Pop. Sydney: New South Wales, 2017.

     

    Discovering Adman

    Museum Studies Intern at The Andy Warhol Museum - Fall 2017

    When I began my undergraduate career at the University of Pittsburgh, hours from home and eager to explore my new city, one of my first stops was The Andy Warhol Museum. I was immediately fascinated by the concept of a museum dedicated to a single artist and equally interested in the museum’s mission to ‘contribute research and scholarship about contemporary art and Andy Warhol.’ (1) Before my first visit, I was somewhat familiar with Warhol’s most popular work, including his portraits of celebrities and Campbell’s Soup Cans, but was naïve to the breadth and longevity of the Pittsburgh native’s career. On countless return trips to the museum, I was always intrigued by both the work of curators who continuously reimagined the collection and of Warhol’s ability to produce art that remains relevant decades after its inception.

    This past semester I had the opportunity to intern with Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck. My work for the term centered around researching two upcoming shows, Adman: Warhol Before Pop and Cry Baby: Devan Shimoyama. One of the most rewarding aspects of my time at The Andy Warhol Museum has been the opportunity to gain insight on the inner workings of the curatorial process. Compiling bibliographies on Warhol’s Boy Book drawings and photography has not only increased my personal knowledge of previous scholarship on Warhol, but also allowed me to provide valuable sources of reference to the curatorial team. During this process, I utilized Pitt’s University Library System. Having access to databases and sources helped me do my job efficiently and continue to learn more about Warhol as I researched.  

    Serving as a curatorial assistant at The Andy Warhol Museum has been extremely gratifying. As an Art History and Museum Studies student who is interested in contemporary art and passionate about the city of Pittsburgh, this position has allowed me to explore future career possibilities and learn about the innovative, complex, and immortal work of Andy Warhol.  

    (1) ‘Museum.’ The Andy Warhol Museum, www.warhol.org/museum/

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Image of the Carnegie Funerary Boat within the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt

     

    To Survey or not To Survey: Conducting Audience Evaluations

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History - Fall 2017

    A survey is just a piece of paper or an online questionnaire that takes a couple minutes of your time; a completely insignificant portion of a lifetime. Who knew that the small piece of paper, or the few seemingly simple questions could hold so much weight in the world of museum curation.

    This semester I had the privilege of interning with Dr. Erin Peters, the Assistant Curator of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, in the development stages of the new Egyptian exhibit Egypt on the Nile. I was tasked with creating and carrying out formative audience evaluations; gathering feedback from the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt visitors on the plans and ideas for the future exhibit. Before my time on the museum floor, I began by reading articles and past evaluations to gain an understanding of the methodologies and importance of the audience evaluation. Although the curators and the museum staff have the final word in an exhibition, audience feedback will feed into the creation of the exhibit; after all, the exhibit is for the visitors.

    As they were in the later stages of the evaluations, the survey I created had to be more specific to the designs of the new exhibit. I was focused digital display for the Carnegie Funerary Boat, specifically its auditory segment. This resulted in a multi-style question survey about the possible interactive ideas for the boats installment. In addition to the survey, I used visual aids to give the visitors a clue as to how the exhibit will come together, and to illustrate the new themes and digital additions to the current objects on display. This resulted in approximately one-hundred and five total responses. I will be concluding my internship by compiling all the responses and analysis into a final report that will be used in to next stages of exhibit development.

    Due to the large number of responses in a short amount of time, the significance of visitor feedback becomes more apparent. While compiling the results you begin to realize how a collective audience feels about a museum experience; what kinds of displays attract the most people, how lines affect a museum experience, whether visitors are willing to stop and read labels, and what they are hoping to learn when they enter a museum space. This survey will help dictate the use of hand-sets versus overhead projection of sound, how the boat segments are displayed, whether or not they utilize both auditory and visual displays, and even what themes and concepts are focused on within the exhibit as a whole. As a past visitor I never really get a chance to see the impact I made on the exhibit just by visiting, but working behind the scenes I got the chance to experience first hand not only how important the visitors are, but how stopping to fill out a few quick questions can shape future museum experiences.

    Overall, this internship provided me with a greater appreciation and understanding for the work and effort needed to create an accessible and effective exhibit, as well as the skills and the drive to continue working on curatorial projects in the future.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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