Undergraduate Work

  •  

    Timing and tracking at the Carnegie Museum of Art

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Fall 2017

    Think about your favorite museum. What immediately catches your attention? Which attractions—whether an artwork, a specific exhibit, an interactive activity—do you always make sure to see? Are there ones that don’t interest you, ones you tend to skip over?  

    This fall, I was given the amazing opportunity to conduct a tracking-and-timing study as an intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art. During this time, I observed visitor behavior in the Created, Collected, Conserved: The Life Stories of Paintings exhibit in the museum’s Scaife Galleries. Tracking and timing is an observational method that gives museums an idea of how their spaces are being utilized—what museum components attract the most attention, how long visitors are spending in museum spaces, and more. It’s a great tool for museums to understand which elements of their exhibits work—and which ones do not—in order to better construct exhibits that truly engage their visitors.

    Before I began this internship, I was an employee of the Visitor Services department at the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History; I have worked there since October 2016, and working directly with visitors proves to be an eye-opening experience every day. However, verbal or written visitor feedback is often lacking or impractical—it would be nearly impossible for a visitor to recount their opinion of every work in a given exhibit, and surveys are relatively infrequent, and thus less reliable. In this case, timing and tracking, a way to anonymously ‘survey’ visitors, can signal the good and bad in a museum solely based on the behavior and movements of a visitor in a gallery or exhibit.

    The most important thing I learned from this internship is how much our understanding of visitor opinion changes when we view museum-goers in a more natural, relaxed state. As a Visitor Services representative, my job is to directly engage with our guests and ask them blatantly, ‘How did you like our museum?’ My tasks included taking surveys directly from the visitor, seemingly looming over them while they choose from formulated answers to closed-ended questions. I’ve come to realize how intrusive formal surveys can feel to a visitor. But my task as an intern was to take a hands-off approach with visitors, to watch them from afar, to let their actions answer the questions we have about our galleries. These behaviors are incredibly informative; by studying patterns of our guests’ movements and coding the pertinent behaviors, I was able to glean which artworks were the most eye-catching and which ones tended to be ignored, and study. Based on their engagement with each art object, visitors wordlessly showed me what they liked and what they didn’t find interesting. It was amazing to see how some of the most valuable visitor feedback lay in the unconscious behaviors of museum-goers.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Free-Text Tags: 

    Working on the Graphotype dog tag machine.

     

    Connecting the Past and Present at Soldiers and Sailors

    Museum Studies Intern at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Fall 2017

    At Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum almost everything is connected, which giving tours showed. Many days for me would start on the World War II Era Graphotype dog machine creating dog tags for different occasions like those tours or to honor veterans. The tours are the key piece that connects everything together with each one beginning with giving the students their custom dog tag that I made along with a certain role such as Squad Commander or Scout. After they have their roles and supplies they go out and have to find specific displays and describe them to get a feel for the museum right before they are taken on their tour. The tours also give us the opportunity to help the students connect with the stories of the past and hopefully gain more interest from them.

    The tour is broken down into three different sections and the part I gave was in the hallway that contains mostly World War II displays with the end being display cases for the Korean and Vietnam Conflicts. I focused on World War II since that was the subject the students were learning. After going through the hallway, I ended the tour in the museum’s Hall of Valor that honors veterans from Pennsylvania who received the highest honors possible like the Medal of Honor. I treated the tour as more of a conversation with the students and asked questions rather than just lecturing them hoping they would ask me questions as well. Some kids did ask questions which some connected with the topic, but not about the displays themselves that allowed me to connect the tour to other inventory that is not on display and the work I did with PastPerfect.

    The PastPerfect software allows the institution to keep inventory of all the different artifacts and pictures they have and much of my time was spent with it. When new objects come in they are put in a storage box and then more closely examined. I would then write descriptions for something like a Japanese grenade from World War II, and take its picture and add it into the system. This allows us to search for certain objects, like a decorated soldiers jacket, to have it ready to go on display or a traveling display like the one just put on during a Penguins game at PPG Paints Arena. The descriptions made me do research for some objects which gave me the ability to answer some questions from students during the tours.

    After finishing one of my tours, one student came to me to ask me more about the United Service Organization (USO) and soldiers downtime. I had previously organized pictures and different travel pamphlets from two different soldiers while looking at new inventory and entering it into the computer. With the knowledge I gained from those I was able to tell the student about other types of entertainment and activities soldiers did during their free time on top of what the USO provided.

    A final part of the students’ day at the museum is reading and writing letters like they are soldiers away at war. During this I had one of the younger students ask me how often soldiers would write letters. Since I also transcribed a journal from a WWI soldier I was able to answer his question based on the soldier’s writings. The tours I gave had focus on telling the stories of the different wars and conflicts through personal stories behind the objects on display. At Soldiers and Sailors just about everything I did connected to something else I did, just as their goal of telling stories keeps visitors connected to the past each time they walk the halls.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene

    This is the facade that greets visitors at the start of the newest exhibition at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene

     

    We ARE Nature

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

    Not to sound dramatic, but this semester I was a part of history being made here in Pittsburgh. The Carnegie Museum of Natural History was the host of the 2017 ICOM NATHIST Conference, facilitated by a partnership of the museum and the International Council of Museums and Collections of Natural History and focused on the newest addition to the winding exhibition halls.

    The exhibit is on the Anthropocene, a new geological age now being discussed in the scientific community, marking the impact humans (and human activity) have had on the earth. We Are Nature: Living in the Anthropocene is the first exhibit of its kind in all of North America. Described as “unflinching”, it is an incredible, in-depth reflection of how we have impacted the environment in a myriad of ways.

    While the museum bustled with regular programming and preparation for the conference, I was aiding the marketing department to keep the usual public engagement accounts running, like Instagram, Facebook and the Tumblr blog. Across accounts, it was my job to generate content that was, to borrow a word, symbiotic with the events and related programming to not only the conference, but the centerpiece itself, We Are Nature. From planting vertical gardens to beginning a backyard compost, the readers of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Blog are armed with information to retrace their steps back to nature and continue to make Pittsburgh a greener city.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • The Sick Child
    • Program for Death, Love and the Maiden
    The Sick Child

    1925 painting by Edvard Munch

     

    Death, Love, and the Maiden (and Me)

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery - Fall 2017

    I first read the title on an overcrowded spreadsheet, interesting, but no more so than Soup Tureens from the Campbell Museum, or America Underfoot: A History of Floor Coverings from Colonial Times to the Present. To me, it was just ‘EXH197502’, (no poster), one of 156 exhibits from 1969 till 2010. It only really caught my interest when I saw the program from an old file case in the Frick Fine Arts Reading Room. It was blue, crumpled, and featured a skeletal figure, cupid with a bow and arrow, and a sleeping woman. The program read, Death, Love and the Maiden with a conspicuous lack of an oxford comma. Grammar aside, it appealed to me.

    Most of my work this year, as an intern for the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery, has been useful if occasionally unglamorous. After I spent a month transferring the online exhibit Configuring Disciplines: Fragments of an Encyclopedia from the Constellations website to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website, I spent most of my time digitizing old posters and programs. It was a lot of unrolling posters, rerolling them into tubes, and balancing them on the shuttle on the way to the University of Pittsburgh Archives Service Center. Once there, I would unroll the posters, scan them one by one, and transfer the files onto a flash drive. Then I would reroll them into the tubes, balance them on the shuttle back to Hillman Library, where I would then crop and edit the files using Adobe Photoshop. After that I would crosscheck my spreadsheets, give them the proper file names, and upload them to the University of Pittsburgh Art Gallery website.

    The work could become robotic, systematic, which was relaxing in some ways. It was an easy pattern I could fall into. The actual weight of what I was doing came in waves; I was holding something that might have been unseen for 40 years. These posters and programs are not just objects to be mindlessly catalogued. They are paper and cardboard objects yes, but they are also  primary sources, works of art unto themselves, and they are sometimes the last remaining artefacts of an exhibition.

    That wave of recognition came to me as I held the program for Death, Love and the Maiden in my hands. Outside of the usual research I did for my internship, I decided to investigate this particular show further. In my search, I came across a Pittsburgh Post Gazette article about the exhibition from May 21, 1975, entitled “Pitt Art Exhibit Views Women.”  The article describes the exhibition as “a modest multimedia exhibit” that is “not only inherently interesting, but does what scholarship should do: present information that deepens awareness of life and art.” The article identifies the Sick Child, a 1925 painting by Edvard Munch, as the centerpiece of the exhibit. It was the only painting exhibited and was lent to the University along with two prints of the same subject by the Munch Museum of Oslo.

    A little more research let me to an image of the painting itself. The painting is haunting; its use of bright colors stands in direct juxtaposition to its dark subject matter; an older woman sobbing next to a child’s sickbed. Clearly the image haunted Munch himself, who painted six different versions of the painting over the course of 40 years. Critics speculate that the girl in the paintings is Munch’s sister Sophie, who died of tuberculosis at 15.

    Confronted with this image, I am reminded of the closing words of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s article about Death, Love and the Maiden; “the exhibit will not be forgotten by those who study it carefully.” Forty-two years later, the statement still rings true. While working with historic objects, it is easy to become desensitized, to see them only as objects devoid of history. But every once in awhile, I come across something with a story, something that sticks to my bones, and I think of all the other people the object is still stuck with, the memories it helped create, and the effort that went into making it. Then I find myself in awe of the passage of time and the persistence of memory.

    See Madeline's work at the UAG here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Assorted jugs and juglets from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary sites being cataloged and organized for the use of visiting scholars.

     

    Small Museum, No Small Feat

    Museum Studies Intern at The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology - Fall 2017

    The Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology is nestled in a corner of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s basement, boasting treasures from the Herodian palace in Jericho, remnants of the long dead cities of Bab-Ed-Drah and Tel Beit Mirsim, and countless everyday relics of lives once lived in what is presently considered Jordan. The Kelso is kept open and alive by curator emeritus Dr. Nancy Lapp, part-time head curator Jennifer Hipple, and a handful of diligent but tirelessly busy work-study students and volunteers. I never expected an easy internship, but the challenges a small, understaffed, underfunded museum grapples with on a regular basis left me at a loss, particularly after my hands-off experience interning with the Smithsonian last summer.

    My mission this semester has been to aid the new curator in two tasks: updating any and all texts in the museum, and rethinking the way visitors interact with the museum. Some seven drafts and three months later, the final wordings of the item labels are still facing final revisions, a testament both to the complexity of properly portraying the museum’s intended voice as well as to the detriment a lack of full-time staff imposes. Originally printed (and still displayed) on computer paper held in place by hat pins, almost 300 labels need reprinting and reformatting on a durable but thin material called polystyrene in order to better impress the archeological and scholarly authority of the museum upon the public. Though Jennifer is given only a couple thousand dollars a year to update and upkeep the Kelso, a significant portion of this year's budget has been allocated to professionalizing the wall texts and labels. Because such a variety of printing materials and inks are considered acidic and ‘gassing’ (or emitting gasses that can harm or alter artifacts), the large part of the budget is necessary to ensure the safety of the ancient and oftentimes priceless artifacts of which we are stewards. Smaller museums like the Kelso constantly find themselves forced into this type of compromise, unable to update educational materials for the sake of preservation, and sometimes even vice versa.

    The secondary task of improving visitor experience continues to come to fruition in simpler ways like making exhibits more visually accessible and cohesive, improving general accessibility for those with increased needs, or making explicit what visitors may and may not touch through (yet unprinted) signage. It was in these smaller, more obvious tasks that it became apparent how much more there was to learn in a small museum. Unlike a larger and better funded institution, the Kelso inadvertently offered me the opportunity to get my hands dirty in every type of job, mostly just because someone needed to do it but there are never enough hands nor enough time in the day to do half the things that need doing, particularly while still giving both public tours and private, more specialized talks.

    Though I’ll be sorry to say goodbye to the Kelso and the family that comes with it come December, I’ll be sure to take my sweet time panting and wiping my brow between now and my next attempt at being a museum-variety jack of all trades.

    Learn more about the free-admission Kelso Museum of Near Eastern Archaeology in East Liberty here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Waiting for people to come and take the survey.

     

    Egypt on the Nile: The New Life of The Carnegie Boat

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

    Finally, working in Walton Hall in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, my childhood dream has come true! I would be administering audience evaluations during my curatorial internship.  As I asked people to participate in my survey about the funerary boat I heard many interesting stories. Explaining the new ideas being proposed to show the boat in a different light really excited the people I was talking with, which in turn excited me even more about the exhibit. Talking about the boat’s 'lives' for the new exhibit is already bringing a new life into this forgotten treasure. 

    Walton Hall is on the third floor of the museum. Across the hall is the Alcoa Hall of American Indians. Walton Hall is a hidden gem, hiding on the 3rd floor. When you walk in you are immersed into the ancient world. Immediately to your right is the Carnegie Boat. Making your way through the exhibit you see objects from the reign of Senwosret III to the mysterious reign of Akhenaten, and further on. Of course, we have examples one of the most popular type of objects of any Egyptian exhibit, mummies! There are cat mummies, mummies that were sold under false pretenses, an actual ancient burial and of course some beautiful sarcophagi finish out the mummy area. A number of people told me about how much they loved the diorama of the temple craftsmen. I have to admit, I love them too. It is great to see a recreation of life in action.

    Dr. Erin Peters and her team are planning a digital interpretation of the boat that will showcase its various lives. The lives of the boat would start from the cedars of Lebanon spanning until present times. The idea is to show the importance of the boat and what it meant to the ancient Egyptians that were building it and the use for it in their afterlife. The first five of these lives are proposed to be a more visual aspect of the boat, the last five are proposed to be auditory. Showing the lumber being cut and shipped, the building process, the idea of the use for it the real world, the use in the spiritual world and finally the rediscovery of the boat. I asked visitors how they would enjoy seeing these lives in a visual way, what lives they liked the best out of those five and which if any they felt like might not need to be there. I also asked participants which ways they learned the best (by watching, listening, or physically interacting.) Watching and interacting have been the top responses. Overall my goal was to see how people would react to the idea of a new exhibit that includes digital technology and hands-on interaction. I am pleased to say that people have found this concept very pleasing. They are excited to see the exhibit updated, they are excited to learn more about Ancient Egypt as a topic as whole, and they are excited to be able to get a better grasp of the boat even if it is still behind the glass.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Charles Dickens book

     

    Repairing, rehousing and rebuilding archives

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

    This semester I was able to intern at the University of Pittsburgh Archive Service Center on Thomas Blvd. I worked in the preservations department at the center. The main job for the interns in the preservations department is to repair and rehouse books and documents that are sent to us from the different libraries and collections that are housed in Pitt facilities. One of the first jobs I and other interns learned was how to disbound books. To disbound a book means to remove the pages from the bound volume, we would then clean the pages and remove leftover glue and string and recut the pages so they can be rebound at a later date.     

    One of the most important tasks I learned to do was build corrugated clamshells for books. A clamshell is a housing device built from cardboard like paper to be used as a shelter for books that have become fragile and need extra care. This task is something every intern learns and uses very often. In the preservations department, there is a whole wall filled with books that need rehousing and can be found at all levels of damage. The process of building a clamshell is the same for every book, the only unique part is the dimension needed for the clamshell. This can be tricky at times but once you do a few dozen of them, it becomes second nature. We house many different types of books in the preservation department, but one of the amazing parts of this internship is the chance to see something rare and unique. During the past month, I have been housing some very special books that are equally as beautiful in appearance as in words. The preservations department got a cart full of Charles Dickens novels. These books are from the 1840’s and in some cases are believed to be first editions! The outside covers of these books are gorgeous and ornate as well as having equally beautiful illustrations inside the books. Having the chance to see such unique books at the archives is a real treat and being able to work with people that have the same mindset as me when it comes to unique finds like this made this internship so much fun.     

    Lastly, the final project that I am working on at the archives has to do with something a little louder and cumbersome. In my final month working in the department, I was assigned solely to work on housing for musical instruments that need to be preserved. In the deep recesses of the department, there is a shelf that has three different instruments on it, a guitar, a drum and a horn. Each instrument with its own unique shape must have its own custom case made by hand. Each instrument will be encased in a foam box then that foam case will be put into a custom fit corrugated clamshell that will be used for extra protection. Each foam case has to be cut out from a large foam sheet, which is no easy task. What makes this task even more interesting is that these instruments are from a famous local jazz band from Pittsburgh’s history! 

    Working at the Archives has been an amazing experience for me. Having the opportunity to work so closely with artifacts and books have helped me further decide on my future profession which will most certainly have to do with curating and similar work.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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

    Political Interests of the Former Steel Industry

    Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area - Fall 2017

    My experience working with the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area (RoS) has shown me new ways in which an organization focused on exhibitions and preservation connects with the history of the area it represents. Having been born and raised in Pittsburgh, I’ve enjoyed seeing its history up close and presented in unique ways.

    The project that I have been working on and will likely finish even after this semester is the creation of a new exhibition for the travelling ‘Steel Case’. The ‘Steel Case’ is currently exhibited at the ‘Indiana University of Pennsylvania’ and focuses on how the steel industry was presented in popular culture. My task was to design a new theme, pick a location for it to be presented, and create promotional material.

    The first portion of my time there, which ended up being a majority of my time, was going through the archives and learning what objects and exhibition materials RoS had with the goal of developing a focus for the ‘Steel Case’. This was definitely the hardest portion of the internship, but also the most fun. I went in with a rough theme already in mind, which was to look at some of the science that influenced the industry and how this was presented to industry heads and workers. Yet, as I spent more and more time within the archives I kept straying away from this idea while going off into tangents about labor strikes, propaganda, and many other parts of the 20th century steel industry. I eventually decided on a focus that highlighted the development of political ideals during the steel industry, specifically the rise of socialism and the associated propaganda that sought to weaken either capitalism or socialism. Some items included are articles about labor strikes, socialist newspapers and publications, memos to managers warning of the dangers of socialism to the labor environment, photos of leaders, awards from companies to its employees, illustrations of figureheads, and many more.

    Currently I am in the process of pulling these objects from the RoS archives and filling out the proper paperwork while creating some promotional material for the exhibition. I will likely continue the work into next year even after my graduation, as the process has taken much longer than expected and I would like to see the project come to completion. The subject matter is very unique and interesting, and I hope that the way in which I present the information to the public is succinct and eye-pleasing, yet capable of teaching the public about the 20th century politics that influenced the steel industry and America as a whole.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • We do have visual evidence that this tree existed! To the right the sapling is pictured at the dedication ceremony carried by Iva Abraham.

     

    Student Journal: Stories Forgotten: A Gift Lost in Time…

    Kenneth Wahrenberger, 14 November 2017

    It has now been several days since our class has opened the Narratives of the Nationality Rooms exhibition in the UAG. Personally, hindsight of the project has been a medley of joyous pride at the work that has been accomplished and a critical analysis of things that could have been better. Standing in the back of the UAG “hallway” during the opening night of the exhibition, I tried to put my feet in the shoes of a visitor who just so happened to stumble into the gallery and had no prior education on the nature of the Nationality Rooms. Thinking retrospectively, the four archival documents marching down the wall pertaining to the Syria-Lebanon dedication ceremony stick out to me as opening a narrative that ought to be explored further. The documents show two newspaper articles, two instructional cards, and the speech script from the 1941 Syria-Lebanon Room dedication ceremony. All of the documents share the commonality of referring to the Syria-Lebanon committee’s gift of a cedar sapling to the University of Pittsburgh. Tree was gifted with the condition that it be planted on Pitt’s campus as an enduring landmark of the Syria-Lebanon cultural effort in Pittburgh. The cedar sapling is significant because of its rarity (being transplanted from a sacred grove of ancient cedar trees in Mount Lebanon), and its symbolic meaning for the unity of the Lebanese people. However, the story of the cedar sapling gift is complicated. Despite Pitt’s promise to plant the tree, there is no documented evidence that the tree was, in fact, planted. As a result of this ambiguity, I have jumped back into the archival material to try to uncover the full story of the mysterious cedar sapling. Here is what I have found:

    The cedar sapling was presented to Chancellor John Bowman during the dedication ceremony on 28 June 1941. Salloum Antoun Mokarzel (1881–1952), an influential Lebanese-American intellectual and publisher who lived in New York City, was responsible for gifting the tree to the University of Pittsburgh on behalf of the Syrian and Lebanese communities of America. Upon his arrival to the US, Salloum Mokarzel aided his older brother Na’oum Anthony Mokarzel in the publication of Al-Hoda (English: The Guidance), which was a daily Arabic language newspaper produced in the “Little Syria” neighborhood of New York City. The Mokarzel brothers were Maronite Catholics who immigrated to the US from the town of Freike on the slopes of Mount Lebanon, which at the time was still part of the Ottoman Empire. Na’oum founded Al-Hoda and produced the first issue in 1898. The purpose of the paper was to promote Lebanese nationalism and the political views of Maronitism, which advocated Christian dominance over the Muslim opposition in Lebanon. When Na’oum Mokarzel died in 1932, Salloum Mokarzel assumed the editorial leadership of Al-Hoda and held it until his own death in 1952. In addition, Salloum Mokarzel founded The Syrian World magazine and The Syrian-American Press in 1926, which was devoted to the celebration and cultural promotion of Syria. At the time of these publications, Syria was a term used for the entire French “Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon” and consisted of the modern-day states and territories of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine. The Syrian World magazine was the first English language magazine in the United States that was established by a Syrian immigrant. The magazine was created to educate the first generation of Syrian-Americans of their unique and ancient cultural heritage, and to strengthen their identity with their culture of origin. Unfortunately, during the Great Depression, financial issues caused Salloum Mokarzel to discontinue his publication.

    With this information, the context of the gift of the cedar sapling to the University of Pittsburgh can be pieced together. Salloum Mokarzel most likely saw the Syria-Lebanon Classroom in the Cathedral of Learning in the same spirit as The Syrian World magazine that he founded. Furthermore, the gift of the cedar sapling and its acquisition from the sacred cedar groves of Mount Lebanon makes sense when considering the hometown of the Mokarzel brothers in Lebanon and their connections with prominent Syrian and Lebanese figures as well-known media producers in the Arab diaspora. The father of the Mokarzel brothers was also a Maronite Catholic priest, and the brothers may have had familial ties to the keepers of the sacred cedar groves in Mount Lebanon. However, considering the fact that Salloum Mokarzel and his brother were prolific spokespersons for the anti-Muslim political Maronitism movement, I feel that the dominating presence of Maronite Catholics in the Islamic space of the Syrian Lebanon Room is intensified by the gift of a cedar sapling.

    As a side note, I also wanted to mention the other two Cedar of Lebanon trees that are significant to Pittsburgh’s history. According to the Mt. Lebanon Township Historical Society, Rev. Joseph Clokey (who served as Mt. Lebanon United Presbyterian Church’s minister from 1848 until 1855) brought back two Cedar of Lebanon trees from a trip he made to the Holy Lands. Rev. Clokey planted the trees in his yard near what is now Bower Hill Road/Clokey Avenue in 1850. When a post office opened adjacent to the cedar trees in 1855 on the corner of Washington and Bower Hill Road, the name “Mt. Lebanon” was given to the postal region. Unfortunately, both cedar trees were cut down in the 1940s around the time that the Syria-Lebanon Room was dedicated. To this day, “Mt. Lebanon” is still the name of the township and a school district surrounding the area where the two cedar trees originally took root.

    Lastly, I want to comment on the current state of the tree. Despite rigorous archival research, I have not been able to find the location of the cedar tree on Pitt’s campus. Again, as far as I can tell, there was no recorded evidence of the literal planting of the tree or the area on campus that it was planted. If you know the location of the cedar tree that was gifted at the dedication ceremony of the Syria-Lebanon Room, then please notify me immediately (my email is kennethtwahrenberger@gmail.com) because I am extremely curious. My current speculation is that the sapling died as a result of the unsuitable Pittsburgh weather and soil or the copious amounts of steel industry pollution during the 1940s that blocked the sun during the day and poisoned the air. Perhaps it was a combination of both of these factors. Suffice to say, the cedar sapling and the intentions of its donor is still somewhat a mystery to us. This project has taught me that information is sometimes lost with time.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
    • Bronze rooster base with bending
    Bronze rooster base with bending

    Figure 1: Bronze rooster base with bending

     

    Student Journal: Conservation and Condition Reports

    Patricia Smith. November 7,  2017

    Conservation is often an essential part of museum and gallery work that is often overlooked by the casual visitor. As an intern with Gretchen Anderson, head of the Section of Conservation at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, I developed a range of skills in conservation that have been relevant for the preparation of Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Immigration and Identity in Pittsburgh. Our Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar had its own conservation tasks to complete, which included creating condition reports for the items generously loaned by the Nationality Rooms Office and University Library System (ULS) archives. Condition reports can take many forms, depending on the type of object and the goal of the report. For our purposes, these reports serve as an intake record to document any damages that may occur in the various stages of transport and exhibition. The Documentation team was in charge of completing these reports. The following images detail some aspects of the objects that a conservator in a museum or a gallery might be asked to address.

    One of our key loans is a bronze rooster. This sculpture exhibits some physical damage, particularly around the base (Fig. 1). Notice the warping and bending. The physical damage does not necessarily devalue the object; damage and markings are part of its history and can reveal information such as provenance and production.

    In addition to physical damage in this case, there is also chemical damage. The green patina on this bronze sculpture of a Benin Queen Mother is a classic example of a chemical process called oxidation (Fig. 2). Bronze is an alloy that is primarily made of copper, and copper is a metal that is highly susceptible to oxidization. This means it reacts with oxygen molecules in the environment to form various copper oxides, which are usually harmless to the object and sometimes even desired because of the color. These oxides then continue to react to combine with elements such as sulfur and carbon. The Statue of Liberty, for example, is actually covered in an oxidized copper patina. It was once a warm brown. However, if the copper begins to combine with chlorides present in the environment, it will form copper chlorides, which can lead to a dangerous form of deterioration called “bronze disease.” At some point after our exhibition concludes, the Benin Bronze Queen Mother should be checked to ensure that the oxidation process at work here is not causing damage to the sculpture itself.

    Besides three-dimensional objects, conservators also work with paper objects like books and archival documents. The Archives & Special Collections Center of Hillman Library loaned several fragile documents for our exhibition, including an architectural design for the English Room (Fig. 3). Like the Benin Bronze discussed above, many of these documents display signs of physical damage. In the case of the English Room drawings, we took photographs to show that the creasing and tearing evident here is old damage, and did not occur during the course of our exhibition.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG

Pages