Undergraduate Work

  • Dorothy Riggle and friends at WASP training in the 1940s.

     

    Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall: The Path to My Future from the Past

    Museum Studies Intern at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum - Spring 2018

    History has a way of being a very impersonal subject, concerned with dates and key figures. However, once I started interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I began to understand how personal history can be, as I uncovered people’s stories and the lives they lived.

    Working at this museum, I was able to work on a variety of tasks. I helped prepare the museum for events, collected artifacts from donors, and catalogued artifacts into an updated system. The task that struck me the most was being able to analyze the artifacts that came in. Besides cataloguing them, I learned more importantly about the owner’s life and their experiences.

    One of the most interesting people I researched was a woman named Dorothy Riggle. She joined the military during WWII and decided to pursue a career in this sector. Unfortunately she suffered a nervous breakdown, due to stress and overwork, and was discharged. She spent the rest of her life trying to gain recognition for her struggles while highlighting the harassment she suffered while in the military. Reading over her countless letters to senators, congressmen, and even the U.S. Vice President, I was able to gain so much information about her life and her struggles. She kept such a vigorous record of her life, from her days at the university and into her elderly years, allowing me to examine every element of her life. When I was finished reading and looking at the artifacts, it almost felt as if she was a friend.

    After analyzing all of her artifacts, I wrote a biography on her life for the museum which they hope to post online. Riggle is a relatively unknown figure, yet her story is just as rich as any significant person’s in history. By interning at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, I was able to uncover a life that is pertinent to today’s fight for marginalized individuals. Her challenges in the military around gender discrimination and mental illness during the 1940s and 1950s are topics often left undiscussed, and I am proud that her story will be told one day.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  • Artist William Accorsi exhibiting his toy sculptures at The Store.

     

    A Look into the Past: Research on Craft Artists from the 70s in Pittsburgh

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft – Spring 2018

    When I first heard about an opportunity interning at Contemporary Craft, I was super excited because I had volunteered there in the past (and knew this would be a great line to add to my resume).

    Contemporary Craft is a nonprofit gallery in the Strip District of Pittsburgh. Part gallery, part store, they also have workshops in the basement where community members are welcome to take classes or even rent out a space and make art. Once I met my supervisor, Stephanie Sun, I was given a quick tour and introduced to the scrapbooks.

    My purpose was to research the gallery’s founder, Betty Raphael, and the artists who had held exhibitions at her former art gallery also known as The Store for Arts and Crafts and People-Made Things. The story of this pioneering gallery is conveyed through scrapbooks Raphael made for a period of 7 years. I was given access to tell the story of The Store through the scrapbooks’ many artifacts -- newspaper clippings, photographs, letters, advertisements, and event flyers.

    Betty Raphael was a trailblazer. She introduced the city of Pittsburgh to modern art in the 1940s, and then again in the 1970s and early 1980s. At first some rejected her. But hundreds of artists have passed through her gallery, both amateur, local, and internationally recognized. Reading through the names of the artists she supported, certain ones stood out—such as Alexander Calder, Paul Klee, and Wendell Castle.

    Before taking on this internship and starting my research I was unaware of this amazing woman and the work she did for the crafts movement. It’s been an enormous pleasure to read about all of her achievements and learning about all the artists who have passed through The Store. I’ve been able to learn about artists I had never heard of before but who have made a name for themselves in their particular field and continue to make art.

    Towards the end of my internship I compiled all of my research into a SCALAR storybook. The SCALAR storybook is an interactive online book that anyone can look through and where people can read more about the artists who came through The Store and contributed to this incredible movement. With my portion of the research done, I happily pass the torch to the next person who will continue sharing the story of Betty.

    Explore Emily’s SCALAR storybook project here

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Volunteers and community members collaborating to bring representation to Wikipedia

    Volunteers and community members collaborating to bring representation to Wikipedia

     

    Collaboration is Critical: Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon 2018

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Spring 2018

    For five years, Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon events have been held all over the world by groups of independent volunteers and activists. However, despite being the largest general reference source on the Internet, Wikipedia still lacks gender diversity in editors and articles. The goal of the Art+Feminism campaign is simple: fix this problem by having more people of diverse gender identities contribute their voices to Wikipedia and by training them to create and edit articles on women, gender, feminism, and the arts. 

    This spring, I had the privilege of doing an internship working under Hannah Turpin, Curatorial Assistant of Modern/Contemporary Art and Photography at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Part of my role was to help research and plan for Pittsburgh’s 2018 Edit-a-thon. On March 25, 2018, all of our hard work culminated in the event held in the Hall of Sculpture at the Carnegie Museum of Art. 

    Preparing thirty-four artist research folders for the event in the months leading up to it was intense. But this task was secondary to the energizing collaboration between local arts organizations, long-time Wikipedia editors, and, most importantly, the community. 

    In total, we had eighteen editors who collectively edited eighteen existing articles. In the process we added over 8,000 words, and created six entirely new Wikipedia articles. Some of this work involved fixing Deana Lawson’s article to save it from being deleted; expanding on articles for Betsy Damon, Machiko Hasegawa and Winifred Lutz; and creating entirely new entries for artists like Carol Ann Carter, Alisha Wormsley, and Jane Haskell. 

    These impressive numbers were as important as the individual stories and connections that were made along the way. Many of the editors became invested in the artists they wrote about and the articles they edited. Some editors came to the event with specific artists in mind that they wanted to work with, while others came to learn how to edit Wikipedia, in the process becoming experts on artists who they might never had heard of otherwise. One editor asked me for help in finding an artist that they might be able to connect with. I handed them one artist folder on a whim; and, coincidentally, the editor discovered a personal connection. Not only had the editor and the artist attended the same college at the same time, but they also had made similar artworks depicting the same exact spot from the North Side of Pittsburgh. 

    This coincidence proved to me that even if this event by itself made a relatively small addition to Wikipedia, putting any effort into sharing knowledge and creating spaces for underrepresented people can make a big impact on an individual level.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Amanda Bartko and Emma Vescio in Meg Webster’s new Solar Grow Room at the Mattress Factory

     

    The Sky's the Limit: Two Pitt Interns Discuss Art and Education at the Mattress Factory

    Authors: Emma Vescio and Amanda Bartko

    Museum Studies Interns at the Mattress Factory - Spring 2018

    Emma Vescio:

    During the Spring 2018 semester, I am interning at Mattress Factory in the Development Department. Along with preparing for the annual Urban Garden Party, and various day-to-day tasks helping the office move at a quicker pace, I will be working on attracting younger adults (18-25) to purchasing museum memberships. Many people within that age group attend an academic institution that provides free admission; however, the Development team is interested in how to increase memberships for those out of school or graduated.

    Another project that I am helping with is the building the James Turrell’s “Skyspace”. Turrell is a leading contemporary artist, and having another one of his pieces in Pittsburgh would set the city at a clear advantage and make Mattress Factory even more distinctive. My task will be gathering names collected in a petition earlier this year to make this installation happen, I hope I can help the Development Department with this process, and I am excited to see the progression of my time there.

    Amanda Bartko:

    This term, I am going to be working in the Education Department at the Mattress Factory to assist with "INSTALL: Afternoons @ The Factory" – a twelve-week program for children in grades 3 through 5. There are nine students enrolled, many of whom come from a local elementary school, Allegheny Traditional Academy. A teaching artist supervises sessions with them and gives distinct lessons each week that corresponds to themes of habitats and the natural environment. At the end of six weeks, another artist will takeover and lead the classroom for the remaining term.

    I am most eager to observe differences between the two teaching artists. Because of my interest in and background with Psychology, I suspect that the artists’ methodologies will have meaningful impacts on the students in the classroom.

    I was drawn to this internship because it is inherently interdisciplinary. I will be able to learn by shadowing gallery tours, or when interacting with staff from various departments; but I am looking forward to the possibility of making connections across disciplines of art, education and Psychology.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Student Journal: Teamwork

    Cyd Johnson, 18 December 2017

    After leaving the archives for the first time at the very beginning of the semester, I remember thinking to myself that working in a group with twenty-five other people with a time limit of just a few months to pull off an exhibition was going to be a nightmare. And honestly, for most of the early planning stages—it was, at least for me. Groupwork in an academic setting has never been my forte, and doing research without any sense of direction irks me to no end because I never feel like I’m being productive.

    But now that it’s all over, I realize that those two concerns ended up canceling each other out, rather than adding together as I had expected. While I felt frustrated and unproductive in the planning stages, other people were excited about scouring the boxes of archival documents to search for photographs, letters, or news clippings that could help shed light on some of the objects from our list. The more concrete tasks like writing and editing labels and wall texts appealed more to me, and less to others, and so it goes. I have never worked with so many other people to create anything, and despite all odds, it was the best experience I have had functioning in a group setting.

    It’s only now that the semester is coming to a close, and the gallery has been stripped of the Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, that I realize how well we operated as a team, each contributing different areas of knowledge and distinctive interests that helped create an amazing final product, and maintain a supportive work environment.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
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    Student Journal: Art History through Exhibition Making: Planning and Installing Narratives of the Nationality Rooms

    Katie Loney, 18 December 2017

    As a first-year graduate student in History of Art and Architecture, I didn’t know quite what to expect from an exhibition seminar with such a large number of undergraduate students. Before coming to Pitt, I had worked in museums and art galleries installing exhibitions, researching artifacts, giving historic house tours, and working in a museum registrar’s office. The opportunity to contribute to a single exhibition through the planning, installation, and programming stages, however, was an experience missing from my curatorial training. It was this aspect of the course that first drew me to the seminar. The exhibition’s focus on the Nationality Rooms made it too interesting to pass up, as the topic parallels my research in American decorative arts, collecting practices, and the reception of objects across different cultures and time periods. The show’s emphasis on immigration revealed itself to be a fruitful lens for examining the Nationality Rooms. As a class, we aimed to produce a show that highlighted the Nationality Rooms’ desire to link immigrant communities together across six decades.

    Reflecting on the course, it has been both challenging and rewarding. Planning, installing, promoting, programming, writing a catalogue, and de-installing a show in the University Art Gallery (UAG) over the course of three months is no easy feat. Fortunately, Professor Shirin Fozi, UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, and UAG curatorial assistant Ellen Larson were brilliant guides who did a great deal of organizing before and during the semester. They structured the course in such a way that allowed for students to play a vital role and have an active voice in the planning and installation of the show, while ensuring that it was thoughtful, issue driven, and accessible.

    Working in the Agency group, which was responsible for curating the displays in the UAG hallway vitrines, gave me a powerful platform to think about selecting and arranging objects on the theme of ritual and sacred space in the Nationality Rooms. The Syria-Lebanon Room came to be a significant feature of our displays. The room dates to the eighteenth century and used to be a private library in Damascus. The Syria-Lebanon Room committee purchased the room as a gift to the University of Pittsburgh, where it was repurposed as a classroom. For preservation reasons, it no longer functions as a classroom, but still plays an important role in the Nationality Rooms where it has become part of a system that aims to represent Pittsburgh’s identity. It sits in the Cathedral of Learning next to the Chinese Room, the Indian Room, the English Room, and the African Heritage Room, just to name a few. For my group, the inaccessibility of the Syria-Lebanon Room as a classroom acted as a useful foil for the other Nationality Rooms and their artifacts as we considered issues of agency, sacredness, and ritual.

    While the Agency group gave me an opportunity to select and arrange objects for an exhibition, my involvement in the publications group provided a crash-course in designing promotional materials and editing wall texts. Providing these opportunities is precisely what the course is designed for, and why it is such an asset to undergraduate and graduate students alike. For me, as someone who has been studying art history and working towards a curatorial career for several years, the class also offered something more. Working with Professor Fozi and some fantastic undergraduates over the course of the semester gave me the opportunity to consider innovative ways to engage the public in collections. How might I open an art collection to high school, college, or graduate students? In what ways can I create programs that allow the public to take ownership in museum exhibitions? How can the museum be a place that facilitates conversations about social issues? The exhibition seminar allowed me to explore these questions in concrete ways. Working collaboratively with faculty, curators, and undergraduate students, we created an exhibition that engaged the public in discussions of agency, identity, and visual knowledge through historical artifacts.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Bombed Mihrab

     

    Student Journal: Behind the Photograph

    Ryan Lewis, 14 December 2017

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab created a mystery that took multiple people to solve, and it took several weeks before we arrived at what we believe to be the most logical answer to the riddles it posed. The mystery began with the hand-written label on the photograph itself. The label claims the picture was taken in the “Hamidra Quarter” that was destroyed by a French bombardment in 1924. Immediately after finding the photograph I tried to figure out where the site was located within the country of Syria, but no research I did was able to even identify “Hamidra” as a place.

    After some failed research I reached out to a friend from Syria to see if she knew anything about it. I asked if she had heard of the place, or had any idea where it would be located and luckily, the name was familiar to her. She told me that it was in Damascus, but it was only a place that she had heard about; she had never been there. I asked why it was only a place people hear about but do not visit, and she suggested that this might be because it was a place associated with elite or very wealthy individuals. She said it seems to have been a secret chambers place that only people with relatively high power could access, and that maybe this was why my research could not find anything on it. She compared it to Area 51 in the United States, suggesting that this was something that people know about, though it is still considered secret or sensitive.

    I thought that this information had finally helped to solve the mystery, though it still seemed odd that there was nothing online about a “Hamidra Quarter.” Professor Fozi also found it odd that none of the research had led to any information. She was able to discuss the topic with a few colleagues who specialize in studying the Ottoman Empire and they had also not heard of it, which was unfortunate and very strange to hear. She then did more research on the Great

    Syrian Revolt and soon discovered that there was a Hamidiyya neighborhood that had been bombed by the French in 1925. The neighborhood is also spelled Hamidiyah, and sometimes referred to as al-Hamidiyah Souq. It seems like the original handwritten label had most likely misinterpreted this name, and mistakenly recorded the photograph with a misspelling and the wrong year for the bombardment. Since this neighborhood was in the Old City of Damascus, it makes sense that my friend would have associated it with the elites of the city, and given the great tragedy of the bombing that led to so much destruction in the 1920s, it is also understandable that she would think of it as a kind of a secret: it was probably a topic that older members of the Syrian community would have avoided out of a sense of loss.

    After going through multiple attempts at research and speaking to those close to the subject, it appears we have come to the best solution in solving the mystery. The challenge of properly identifying what the label on the photograph meant helped shine, even more, light onto how cultures and histories can easily be forgotten through a simple mistranslation. That is why the archives of the Nationality Rooms are an essential part of the University and why research opportunities like this exhibition are important: preserving and exhibiting information becomes a way to ensure cultures and histories do not get lost.

    The photograph of the bombed mihrab was originally picked to be a part of the “Culture, Conflict, and Cohesion” section of the exhibition because it fit the theme of conflict and the need to preserve culture. It was eventually installed together with the materials from the “Sacred Space for the Spiritual and the Scholarly” section, however, because it also fit in well with those materials. This also had the added benefit of presenting the bombed mihrab with other objects from the Syria-Lebanon Room, which helped to create a more powerful message.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
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    Student Journal: A History Behind the Rooms

    Jaime Viens, 11 December 2017

    While our exhibition, Narratives of the Nationality Rooms, has primarily focused on the social and cultural significance of the Nationality Rooms, I find it just as important to understand their history and how it has affected, and continues to change, the Rooms’ meanings. The Nationality Rooms are a series of 30 classrooms within the Cathedral of Learning at Pitt.  Each pertains to a specific cultural or ethnic community that contributes to Pittsburgh’s population. Each room is designed and funded by individuals within that community who form a Nationality Room Committee, and the University only becomes responsible for the Room’s maintenance in perpetuity after its completion.

    The program was started by Ruth Crawford Mitchell in 1926, the same year the construction of the Cathedral of Learning began, at the request of Chancellor John Bowman. Chancellor Bowman wanted the campus’ surrounding community to have as much of a say in the development of the Cathedral as possible, while still providing a foundation rooted in creativity and education.  The Great Depression hit the U.S. just four years after the first of the Nationality Room Committees were formed, delivering a serious blow to their fundraising efforts. When World War II began, conflicts abroad further complicated fundraising efforts and the advancement of new Rooms.

    As the project continued, some rules were established as a baseline in the committees’ development of each Room. All of the Rooms should represent a nation accorded diplomatic recognition by the U.S. government; the content of each Room should be exclusively cultural with political reference only permitted in one position, carved in stone above the room’s entrance; no living person could be portrayed; and finally, the Room’s design must represent a period of time pre-dating Pitt’s official founding date of 1787. Committees for each Room were also formed abroad to serve as counterparts to the ones in Pittsburgh.  Their main tasks were to assist in consulting on design, recommending architects, and selecting materials and artists for space.  However, it eventually became clear that the requirement for “nations” to be recognized by the U.S. government denied many ethnic groups the opportunity to create their own Rooms and define their own identities. A less restrictive definition of “nationality” allowed for the creation of new Rooms that would display the cultural history of populations whose traditions don’t align with political or geographical borders such as the African Heritage Room or the Welsh Room.

    Various fundraising efforts eventually provided the amounts necessary to build nineteen Rooms by 1957. The first four to be dedicated were the Scottish, Russian, German and Swedish Rooms, which all opened in 1938. The most recently dedicated rooms are the Welsh (2008), Turkish (2012), Swiss (2012) and Korean (2015) Rooms. Plans for a future Filipino Room are in development, while Finnish and Iranian Rooms are both in fundraising stages. The history of the Nationality Rooms shows how World War II, the Great Depression, and other historical events, on both the national and international stage, have greatly influenced the creation, meaning and growth of the Nationality Rooms — and will continue to do so in the future.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
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    Student Journal: Weaving Stories into Woven Garments

    Raka Sarkar, 10 December 2017

    The garments that people choose to wear each day symbolize many things: personal taste, social attitudes of the day, or the wealth and prestige of the wearer. Because clothing can be so heavily loaded with cultural relevance, it comes as no surprise that many garments worked their way into our exhibition. The fact that these objects have been donated to the Nationality Rooms shows a conscious awareness about how cultural identity is ingrained into the fibers of their cloth. The Yugoslav Child’s Jacket, the Slovenian Wedding Bonnet, and the Japanese kimono were all presented in our show as objects that carry historical significance. Their fine craftsmanship can give some hints as to how important clothing and costume was to the Slavic and Japanese people that owned them almost a century ago.

    When thinking of finery today, “fancy clothing” often carries associations of bespoke suits and red-carpet fashion. In an almost refreshing fashion, the Yugoslav Child’s Jacket gives an idea of what a child could have worn in the past. The intricate red embroidery shows a great deal of technical skill, and the adorable silver buttons add a nice, intimate touch. Though our class has speculated about whether the color and patterns bear any significance, the depth of research that would shed light on this question was beyond the scope of our exhibition – which had to be planned and installed within just eight weeks. One thing that remains certain, however, is that this garment suggests a sense of pride in traditional Slavic costumes.

    The Slovenian Wedding Bonnet is another magnificent example of fine clothing from twentieth-century Central Europe. Donated by the lady-in-waiting of the queen’s mother, its rich ornamentation reveals its noble origins. The delicate lace over the crown, the sequins and gold thread, the velvet brim, and the floral silk ribbon are all extremely opulent materials. This speaks to not only the aesthetic tastes of its culture of origin, but also the wealth of the commissioner who procured rich materials like velvet and silk, and the skill of the craftsperson who combined these objects to create the delicate floral embroidery of sequins and gold silk.

    In Japan, the word kimono is an amalgamation of two words, ki, from kiru, “to wear,” and mono, “thing.” In short, the kimono is “that which is worn,” or “clothing.” Kimono was the standard dress of the Japanese people until the Meiji government proposed a rapid Westernization of the country and Western clothing came into fashion. This splendid green and black kimono, dating to either the late Taishō or early Shōwa era, in the 1920s, with its geometric spots offset with wave motifs, is an example of how artistic trends can influence textile design. Art Nouveau and Art Deco came into vogue at this time, and the juxtaposition of swirling waves, geometric cutaways, and interposed dots seems indicative of these movements. At the time, the importation of Western fashion worldwide led to the rise of modern girls, like American flappers, who chose skirts and trousers over traditional wear. However, despite the fears of the past that the art of the kimono would disappear, and despite the fact that it is seldom worn today, quintessential “Japanese-ness” is still heavily associated with the kimono. The inclusion of it in our show displays that it was consciously donated to the Rooms by the Japanese Room Committee, and we are glad that we can appreciate it as a piece of both history and culture today.

    These objects showcase the technical skill and aesthetic tastes of the societies that produced them, but looking at them, it is also clear to see how much pride cultures have taken in clothing over the years. The fact that we can examine these today and understand them to be emblematic of traditions stretching back into the past provides an amazing perspective to us, viewing them now, as they are garments still worn today, in such beautiful condition that they almost beckon viewers to don them properly.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Czechoslovakia handkerchief

     

    Student Journal: Czechoslovakia: Past and Present

    Heather Alvarado, 5 December 2017

    Working with an exhibition for the first time I witnessed some of the joys and some of the pains of the experience, though these were mostly joys. We were given a list of about seventy-five objects at the start of the semester, and told that we could choose items from this list for the show. I went through the list a few times trying to find something that spoke to me, and found a Czechoslovakian book of lace samples. I researched bobbin lace, and it was interesting, but it just was not what I was looking for. We were also given the option of looking into the online database of Nationality Room artifacts (http://www.nationalityrooms.pitt.edu/tours/objects) to see if we found anything in there that we wanted to exhibit. It was also made clear, however, that nothing was a guarantee if we tried to request the use of something from the Nationality Rooms that wasn’t already on the pre-approved list.

    I decided to test my luck. I scoured the database for all the Rooms of interest to me, or Rooms that were not greatly represented already, and then I found it! It was small Czechoslovakian kerchief. I knew that was the object I should choose. Even though I knew this was “my” object, I still did not attach any strong feelings to it. At that point, I thought it would be good to use but I did not think we’d be missing anything if the loan request fell through. Writing a loan request for an item I believed would add to the show, but I did not even feel strongly about it, changed the moment I hit the send button to turn in the written request. Waiting for the acceptance or denial was hard. It was always in the back of my mind. The change from finding it to asking for it was dramatic. I knew that this would fit perfectly with Visual Knowledge’s idea of conflict changing the world. I knew after asking for it, the kerchief was something that needed to be in the exhibition. I did receive my requested object, and a small silk kerchief from the former nation of Czechoslovakia was ours to display!

    The excitement of the receiving the object for the show continued once I saw the actual article. It somehow was not the same as the photo in the database that I looked at fifty times before. The colors were more intense even on the faded fabric. The silk threads make it almost shimmer under the light. Seeing the blue, red and white that both the Czech Republic and Slovakia still use on their flags and seeing cities I know to be from the separate countries combined together into one country made me feel slightly awkward. I wasn’t sure if I should feel good about how the nation has become two independent countries, or feel bad that were broken apart. I never felt like that before even though I know a good deal of Czech history. I am so glad I found it in the database and took the risk of writing a loan request even when I wasn’t sure the request would be granted. My hope was that this object would make others think about identity and nationality and what conflict can do to these concepts. The message inscribed on kerchief reminds me that even in the worst times, we have to have hope, and have faith that things will get better in time.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

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