Academic Interns

    Shopping for furniture at Construction Junction for the Human Diorama in the new exhibition: We are Nature

     

    A Whale of a Tale: Archiving and Exhibition Design at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History

    Author: Eliza Wick

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    I came into my fellowship at The Carnegie Museum of Natural History with certain preconceptions. Namely, I had a preference and more experience with museums that may be more traditional, such as the Carnegie Museum of Art. But I was eager to see how a natural history museum differed from what I was used to. I also expected that I would be making decisions each day that would be effecting changes in the museum in a more direct way as well as contributing to the formation of future exhibits, however I quickly learned that that was a bit of a naïve and idealistic view of how a museum works. My work as an intern, while important, was more of an archival project in backtracking, documentation and organization of historical material and how that information related to current halls and future exhibitions.

    One thing that I quickly became aware of is how almost every museum has to operate from a perspective that is often overlooked: the museum as a financial entity. Despite being a non-profit, a museum still has to make enough money to do things like upkeep of permanent halls, creation of temporary exhibits, borrowing of traveling exhibits, paying employees, graphic design projects, and much more. Due to the fact that revenue is only generated really from grants, admission, and generous donations, creation and innovation must be brought down to reality and altered to fit the limited funds that most non-profits must face.

    With this in mind, many ideas have to be struck down to fit the reality of budget and time more so than I had naively expected. I thought that ideas could be implemented quickly and without limits; however I learned that museums by nature take time to implement new projects, ideas, halls, etc. Work must be reviewed by many people and departments because museum work stresses the collaborative and group effort.

    I remember someone describing the design and implementation of exhibitions as being for the long haul. Essentially you are hoping your ideas and efforts will come later in five years or so, resonating with a museum-goer deeply concerned for our natural world. Through particular implementation and design that you curated hopefully helps visitors become more interested in science or better understand a concept.

    Additionally, something I had not considered all the way through is how much a natural history museum differs from a more traditional art museum. A natural history museum requires much more preparation and planning of exhibitions in most cases than an art museum. There are factors like specimen acquisition, preservation, and preparation as well as thought mapping of how you want to educate the scientific topic in space.

    Natural history museums also make the majority of their own props, stands, cases, and anything else that will be going into the physical space. All of these considerations as well as protection of specimens and of the visitors means that much more time and energy must be put into the final product than an art museum where the pieces stand alone. In a way, the exhibition department in a natural history museum is like an artist and educator because they get to design and create the majority of the pieces in the exhibit. 

    There is also the fact that many exhibitions require that permanent changes are made to the physical building and like new walls made, old walls taken down, blocked exits, new walking patterns, etc. that become more costly and laborious.

    Understanding the museum budget, raising money, and how finances and time affect production allowed me to better understand the history of the institution and made my archiving process much more informed and tailored to a museum as opposed to another entity.

    I treasured my fellowship, most of all, because it satisfied my personal fascination and admiration for archival research. I also cherished the fact that I personally got to make choices that affected the organization and logic of their exhibition department archival system.

    While archival research and organization may not seem like a pressing issue, this information is actually essential for knowledge about past exhibitions and renovations, current halls, and for the production and planning of future exhibitions. For example, there was a traveling exhibition in the mid-2000s about a whale. The exhibition required that a life-size whale be installed from the ceiling. This required some significant changes to the rooms walls, ceilings, and general layout.

    It may not seem like a major issue in the moment, but it means that any blueprint of the area that was dated prior to this alteration would be significantly off in its measurements. And, because it is a traveling show, the whale was only temporary, but the alterations were permanent. Therefore, an updated blueprint needed to be made to avoid confusion in the future. This became especially significant after the dissolution of the exhibitions department and the later revival of it because there were many old blueprints that had dimensions that did not match the current features of the space. Being off by even an inch in one’s measurement of a room can be tragic for the installation of a future show because items might not fit. Hopefully this serves as a very tangible reason as to why archival upkeep, intelligence, and research is so important.

    What can be done to help archival get more attention and communicate its importance?

    I believe that keeping the relationship open between our History of Art and Architecture Department at the University of Pittsburgh and the exhibitions department of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History would be the best way to help further develop and explore these archives as well as be mutually beneficial to both institutions. It would be valuable work if a future intern would use my archives and/or guides to conduct research on the institution or exhibits, further develop the archives, or document the current halls and exhibits on display now as a proactive project for the future of the archives. I would love to stay in touch with any future students that might encounter these archives or the wonderful group of staff that make up the exhibitions department.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Cyd and Kendall standing outside of the original storefront of the 'The Store', which is now occupied by 'Otto’s Shoe Store'

     

    The Untold Stories of 'The Store,' Verona, PA

    Author: Kendall Dunn

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Through my fall internship at Contemporary Craft, I have been conducting research on the life of Betty Raphael, the woman who brought modern art and craft to Pittsburgh. Before Betty Raphael’s work led to the creation of what is now Contemporary Craft, located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh, she opened the city’s first modern art gallery called 'Outlines Gallery.' She collected and displayed artworks by renowned modern artists Alexander Calder and Paul Klee, among others. After this stage in her life, she found a crafts store in Verona, PA, titled 'The Store for Arts, Crafts, and People-Made Things,' and reopened it under her management.

    To learn more about the physical landmark of the Store and Raphael’s legacy in the Verona community, a group of student interns and staff from the History of Art department ventured to Verona, PA, about thirty minutes from Pittsburgh. We drove up on the main street, Allegheny River Blvd, where the small town began. Our purpose was to find the original location of the ‘The Store’ and investigate its history as art historians. With the town being so incredibly small, we were able to track down the original location of 737 Allegheny River Boulevard in 1971, which is now occupied by the shoe store, 'Otto’s Shoes.' (In 1973, the Store would relocate to a bigger space, a few blocks down the street, at 719 Allegheny River Boulevard, now occupied by the fitness center 'No limits. Sport performance').

    As we scanned the outside of the building we saw the store owner looking at us curiously from inside.  We met the owner, Larry, and learned from him that he knew little about Betty Raphael, taking over this store front around ten years ago. Before he moved into the building, his friend, Gloria, housed her store there, and before that, the whole entire building was used as a theatre. Larry also disclosed information regarding his father’s involvement in the art world when he was younger. His father owned Geisler Brothers Art Dealer on 5627 Penn Avenue in East Liberty. His father was mainly in charge of making safety and instructional posters for the steel factories in Western Pennsylvania. Later on, he offered Larry the family business but Larry decided to pursue shoe sales.

    As another possible lead for information about Betty Raphael, Larry then directed us to Gloria, the owner of 'Gloria’s Fixations.' Gloria, too, did not know much history of the store front and did not have any knowledge regarding Betty Raphael. But, she did direct us to our next destination: The Verona Municipal Building which houses a special history room of Verona.

    The History Room contained information about the railroads, the community, various pictures, objects, newspapers, and other documents. We learned that the Social Women’s Club was a huge part of Verona’s community. Additionally, there were many scrapbooks that recorded the crafts and arts that occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s.

    While we did not discover any specific mentions of Betty Raphael, we did enjoy learning more about the history of Verona. Now, when I resume my work at Contemporary Craft, looking through the personal scrapbooks of Betty Raphael, the visit has made me curious even more curious about the owner of 'The Store.'

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Robert Sterns, “Verona Has a ‘Handy’ Approach to Art: The Sociable Workshop,” The Pittsburgh Press, March 4, 1973: 12. Betty Raphael’s Scrapbooks, Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

     

    Organizing the community through art and crafts

    Author: Cyd Johnson

    Museum Studies Intern at Contemporary Craft - Fall 2017

    Before starting my internship at Contemporary Craft I first watched a documentary, Tracing Outlines, and was immediately enchanted with its founder, Betty Raphael. How could I have lived in Pittsburgh my whole life and not have known about this awesome woman who started a modern art gallery downtown in the 1940s? After watching the documentary on Outlines gallery, I was excited to learn that at my internship I would be flipping through her large leather-bound scrapbooks and learn about other, somehow even more inspiring projects.

    After Outlines Gallery closed in 1947, Betty Raphael got involved with the Riverview Community Action Corporation, a volunteer community service organization for the boroughs of Oakmont and Verona which provided used clothes to people in need, either giving the clothes away or selling them at bargain price, but needed storage rooms for all the clothes they were receiving. Raphael reached out to a small craft store in Verona that was preparing to shut its doors, called “the Store for arts and crafts and people-made things.”  She agreed to continue selling the works of local craftsmen in the Store if they could also use the space as storage for the clothing.  

    Shortly thereafter, a project grew out of the Store called the “Sociable Workshop.” The Store’s original director, Beth Cameron Walter, described it as a place “where professional artists and designers work with students, hobbyists, retirees and handicapped people in a non-profit program for the hand arts." They paid unemployed people to come to the workshop and take classes with professional designers and craftspeople. The objects made in the Sociable Workshop were sold in the Store, and two-thirds of the profits were given to their makers, while the other third went towards other community projects such as a bus that ran between the boroughs and helped transport people to/from the Workshop. (A bus system which, by the way, is still in place today).  

    The Sociable Workshop grew into a master-apprentice program, attracting nationally known craftspeople to come in and create easily reproducible designs for people with some technical skills, but who lacked creative ingenuity. The objects produced in the workshop began being noticed by retailers, first with a line of Santa Clauses sold in several New York department stores (including a window display at Cartier), and handmade objects being sold at Gimbels, a local department store. After seeing the displays, Park Smith called Betty Raphael and asked her to produce 800-1500 pillows/month for his stores. This led to the expansion of the Sociable Workshop into a new space, and the employment of nine weavers, four finishers, a manager and two assistants. Despite Betty Raphael pouring her own money into it, the Sociable Workshop was always in debt. While they received some federal funding as an anti-poverty program, it was never enough. Raphael, with the help of the Riverview Community Action Corporation, decided that they had enough support within the community to fund-raise this and other community outreach projects. They hosted a Bootstraps Twin-Boroughs party to fundraise. Objects from the Store were sold at the fundraiser, and all the volunteer groups put their best foot forward in attempts to raise the money the government refused to give them. In the words of Betty Raphael herself, "Who can say how far a community or city neighborhood could go today toward 'taking care of its own' if the government would help rather than hinder their efforts?" 

    In scouring these news articles and advertisements beautifully arranged in her aging and delicate scrapbooks, a single quote from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette art critic, Donald Miller, properly summarized my findings: "No one has ever worked harder or more cleverly to promote crafts in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania than Betty Raphael. She deserves more success."  This got me thinking -if Betty Raphael couldn’t sustain this project, can anyone? And, are there any arts organizations, today, that are actively thinking about community outreach in such a powerful way? I figured talking with my co-workers at Contemporary Craft would be a good place to start, since it is Betty Raphael’s remaining legacy.

    The outreach coordinator informed me of programs they do a few times a year, as well as many connections they have in education with schools and museums. Contemporary Craft maintains their status as a non-profit, offering a free gallery space and  programs that work in schools and with the women’s shelter in Pittsburgh. I understand that Betty Raphael struggled to secure funding in the 1970s, and I can’t imagine that getting government funding for a project of the magnitude of the Sociable Workshop would be any easier in 2017…

    Is it still possible? I am now determined to find out. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    The front of Benjamin Franklin House. It is a Georgian period exterior (from the 1730s). The house is Grade I listed, the same as Buckingham Palace, meaning that nothing can be changed on the interior or exterior of it.

     

    Digging Up Bones and Revolutionary History at the Benjamin Franklin House

    Author: Darcy Foster

    Summer Study Abroad scholarship 2017 - Women’s International Club Scholarship (London, England)

    Few people know that Benjamin Franklin lived in London for nearly 20 years before the American Revolution. My good fortune was to intern for six weeks at the lodger house in central London where he lived. The Benjamin Franklin House is the world's only remaining Franklin residence and was converted into a museum, in 2006, on the 300th anniversary of his birth.

    Being a relatively small museum with only four staff members including the director, I was given a wider range of work experiences than is possible at a larger site. The house itself was the artifact; the staff created an actress-led tour to help visitors imagine how the rooms were used. This tour consisted of interactive projections with the actress tour guide and audio recordings that included excerpts from some of Franklin’s letters. 

    My role was selling tickets and introducing the tour to visitors by discussing the history of the house and Benjamin Franklin’s role as a lobbyist in London in the 1750s-1770s. I also helped with education days for nearby schools and researched school outreach programs. In conducting research for these programs, I was able to illuminate Ben Franklin’s role in the politics at the time of the revolution, noting his activities with Boston Tea Party by searching through an online archive of his letters, managed by Yale University.

    The House’s social media presence is already pretty strong, but they needed help programming tweets for the future. So, thinking of ways that their social media could reach a wider audience, I started using the hashtag #MuseumMondays. Now some of their tweets are linked to other museums, giving the House the opportunity for more exposure.

    This internship culminated in an article I wrote for the newsletter discussing a discovery around the anatomist Thomas Hewson, who lived in the house with Franklin (Hewson had married the landlady’s daughter). Museum staff discovered that Hewson ran an anatomy school out of the house, when they were digging a hole to check the foundation and found hundreds of human and animal bones buried in what would have been the garden at that time. The bones were excavated and dated back to the late 1700s when Franklin lived at the house. Staff believe that Hewson had buried the bones in the garden to avoid raising suspicion as he was probably illegally obtaining his cadavers from grave robbers. In the article I wrote about the anatomy school itself and how it changed hands throughout the years. The anatomists running the facility would often catch diseases from the cadavers, and pass away. 

    This internship abroad was a phenomenal experience. Working with native Londoners was a rich cultural experience, and working in a small museum exposed me to the full spectrum of museum services.  As a result, I hope to pursue a career as a curator, and seeing how a small museum like the Benjamin Franklin House operates will be extremely beneficial in the future. 

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  •  

    Summer Internship at the Kluge-Rhue

    Author: Imani Williford

    Summer Curatorial Research Project in Indigenous Arts at the University of Virginia

    As a part of The Leadership Alliance’s Undergraduate Summer Research program, I had the opportunity to participate in the Mellon Indigenous Arts Initiative Internship Program for eight weeks in order to study Indigenous art and increase my curatorial experience. Under the tutelage of Dr. Henry Skerritt, curator of the Kluge-Rhue Aboriginal Art Collection and Dr. Adriana Greci Green, Curator of the Indigenous Arts of the Americas at the Fralin Museum of Art at University of Virginia, me and four other students curated a full scale exhibition of Aboriginal Art at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia.

    I worked with four out of the 26 pieces that the Kluge-Ruhe had recently acquired as a gift from Stephen and Agatha Luczo. Despite having no experience with Aboriginal Art, my prior knowledge from HAA courses and undergraduate research, made me well aware of the history of how museums and the disciple of History of Art treat’s Art by marginalized groups. The three main questions guiding my curatorial process were: What is Aboriginal Art? How do I approach it? And what did I want my audience to learn? The answers to my questions came after six weeks of research.

    I determined that Aboriginal Art is a presence of each artist’s respective homeland and their active engagement with memories of sites they left behind. While my approach was to rooted in the idea that despite displacement, colonization and the western hierarchy of art, Aboriginal Art should be approached as being active in time, by understanding and paying attention to the artistic technique and subject matter of the artists and Art. After grasping my understanding and approach to Aboriginal Art, I wanted my audience to learn that Aboriginal art is not a record of the past but a living expression that constantly participates with time by upholding and utilizing the power of experience from of time.

    Over the course of the program I was able to answer these questions through: conducting independent research, collaborating with my fellow undergraduate colleagues to create panels, labels, and titles and mock exhibitions, conducting field work by taking field trips to Virginia area museums, giving tours and talks to visitors and contributing an essay based on the artists and works that I studied over the course of the program which was included in a published exhibition catalog. Additionally, before the opening of the exhibit, some of my colleagues and I were interviewed by Australian Broadcasting Company’s Brooke Wylie, to talk about the works in the exhibit and our experience as curators. After six and a half weeks of preparation the exhibition, Song’s Of A Secret Country, opened at the Kluge-Ruhe.

    The program fully concluded about a week after our exhibition with The Leadership Alliance’s annual summer undergraduate research conference in Harford, Connecticut, at the Connecticut Convention Center. At the conference my colleagues and I individually presented our findings and curatorial process to fellow undergraduate researchers, professors, mentors, Leadership Alliance alumni, and faculty of participating Leadership Alliance schools. Overall the experience of curating an exhibition and presenting at a conference provided a deeply rewarding experience that has broadened and bolstered my future plans for continuing my studies in the History of Art.

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    An ancient camel’s nametag and a small knife, both forged from meteorites. (National Museum of Natural History)

     

    Summer at the Smithsonian: Adventure Behind (Almost) Every Door

    Author: Natalie Gomez

    Intern and Docent Programs Intern at the National Portrait Gallery

    They told me I was the Intern and Docent Programs intern, so I cracked my knuckles with a sigh on my first day as I sat at the computer, ready to answer emails nonstop for the next eight weeks.  It would soon dawn on me that it was those very emails that would allow me to taste any and every part of life at the Smithsonian I desired.

    I published my own blog post and helped kick start an interview series on the National Portrait Gallery website, met with world-renowned geologists and rare book librarians to learn about (and even touch!) their work, received personal tours from nationally revered curators at the National Portrait Gallery, crept through the secret and dusty back hallways of the National Museum of Natural History, and all because I asked. The Smithsonian is a place of wonder, of curiosity, and of great (if not infinite) knowledge, all shrouded by a visitor-imposed sense of mystery and foreboding. My time with the Smithsonian led me to realize that the promise and mission upon which we were founded, “the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” makes our vast collections and almost inconceivable collective knowledge accessible to those who have the courage to seek it.

    Though I was given permission to create projects with any of our staff at the National Portrait Gallery (an extremely historic building that itself merits a blog post), I was assigned two main tasks for the summer. My first task was to edit and reinvent the Docent Manual. It acts as a guide for each incoming volunteer tour giver (a surprisingly prestigious and competitive position, filled with everyone from art teachers to engineers to former covert government agents). My second and perhaps most important task was to create a sense of community between interns and plan programs for us to attend. This ranged from deciding on (or organizing) lectures by professionals across the Smithsonian to planning sightseeing tours in the Capitol or lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian’s award-winning cafeteria. Almost every day of each week held plans for exciting, Smithsonian-unique experiences, all no more than a metro stop or a fifteen-minute walk away.

    Though the “fieldtrips” were frequent and extensive, the Smithsonian encouraged staff to remember who we were: young adults itching to be invited into any and every locked laboratory and Staff Only entrance to see that which we once thought unseeable. And the invitations were there, some hidden a bit more obscurely than others. Whether it took researching museum calendars or twenty minutes of deep breathing before writing an email to a complete stranger for permission to shadow them, the Smithsonian left no question unanswered and no query within reason unfulfilled. Though some of the world’s brightest, wisest, and most published have offices behind our locked doors, those doors will open with enthusiasm and graciousness for inquisitive minds who have a bit of courage, a bunch of persistence, and a big interest in increasing (and diffusing) knowledge of their own.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    The Andy Warhol Museum: The Legacy of an Icon

    Author: Leslie Rose

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    Recently, I have heard one of the truest statements that I will probably ever come to understand: “Once you’ve got The Warhol bug, you’ve got it for life.” This “bug” is much more than just an admiration for the iconic artist. It’s appreciation for all that he and his legacy, The Andy Warhol Museum, represents.

    Until my fellowship with The Warhol, I didn’t fully comprehend the importance of such an institution. I respected and enjoyed Warhol’s work as much as any other artist, but this museum is far more than a single artist museum. As the University of Pittsburgh’s Fine Foundation Fellow for the summer, I had the opportunity to work with the Warhol’s chief curator, Jose Diaz, and Milton Fine curator, Jessica Beck. My experiences in this internship opened my eyes to the necessity of The Andy Warhol Museum and institutions like it. In almost every possible way, from its programs and publications to its exhibitions and staff, The Warhol provides an inclusive environment and enriching content that generates a dialogue amongst the people of the Pittsburgh community and thousands of visitors from around the world. The museum brings together people from all walks of life, something that I believe people need in today’s divisive social and political atmosphere. It is not just me taking notice.

    One way The Andy Warhol Museum promotes inclusivity is through their staff. The Warhol received recognition by Ithaka S+R as one of eight institutions in the country striving to make the museum world more open to marginalized groups. I participated in Ithaka S+R’s research interviews and when learning of the other museum in that list, Brooklyn Museum, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, Detroit Institute of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Spelman College Museum (Atlanta), and the Studio Museum in Harlem, I was elated that the Warhol ranked among them. It thrilled me that I was a part of an institution that made diversity a priority. As faces and voices of the institution, a diverse staff means numerous perspectives are being explored and welcomed.

    Through my fellowship, I was able to assist the curatorial team on their upcoming exhibitions. With each project, I learned more of what it truly means to carry on Warhol’s legacy. This legacy means more than finding artists who similarly practiced art, but it is Warhol’s mindset—critiquing and questioning today’s culture head on. The 2017 Spring show, Firelei Baez: Bloodlines featured the works of contemporary Dominican artist Firelei Baez, who’s work tackled past and present understandings of race, power and beauty. In the fall of this year, The Warhol will open Farhad Moshiri: Go West, which will showcase the works of Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri. Throughout my internship, my primary focus was Go West and I helped to create an exhibition catalogue and didactic wall labels. Moshiri’s work explores Iranian traditions, the appeal and influence of Western culture, and how people have come to define their own cultural identities. In the wake of recent, caustic, political rhetoric, aimed to make people’s differences seem like dangers, the museum finds that Moshiri’s work highlights the commonalities between the East and West. Addressing complex current issues of identity, race, power, The Warhol aims to bridge gaps, acknowledge, and celebrate people’s differences through exhibitions and events such as these.

    My time at The Andy Warhol Museum has taught me more than I can imagine— Andy Warhol’s life and work, working with contemporary artists, planning an exhibition, and how a museum of this size operates on a day to day basis. It was the museum’s mission, continuing Warhol’s legacy and making it accessible to all people, that has made the greatest impact on me and is something that I will carry with me.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Visitor experience map of floor 1

     

    Interpreting Visitor Experiences at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Author: Caroline Fazzini

    Interpretation Intern - Museum Studies Internship Program at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    While working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as an interpretation intern, I was challenged to think holistically about museum experiences while experience-mapping their permanent collection galleries. Working closely with staff from across the institution, I mapped the entire museum in terms of the visitor experience preferences met within each space. The product, two massive 7’ x 5’ color-coded floor plans, exposed the current unbalanced distribution of interpretive content. These maps will be used over the course of the next several years as the Museum reinstalls these spaces. Through my involvement with this project I gained a practical understanding of how to think about and plan balanced museum experiences. This shift in mindset caused me to think of interpretation in a far more comprehensive way. Specifically in terms of designing experiences that speak to diverse audiences as well as satisfy individual preferences.

    At the PMA, I also took part in conducting audience research for a digital interactive designed to make a Chinese temple ceiling from the 1400s more visible through the use of virtual reality. During testing, I assumed multiple roles including observational note taker and interviewer. From this, I gained experience not only developing research methodology and protocols, analyzing data, and communicating findings, but also dealing with real people as they actively engaged with an interpretive device in a museum context. Our results from testing will be used to improve the prototype’s functionality.

    Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh here

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    A memorandum of agreement between MGM and the Pittsburgh Pirates, found in the Branch Rickey Papers at the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. The letter discusses the use of Pirates gear and facilities in the film Angels in the Outfield.

     

    Celebrating Pittsburgh as the Hollywood of the East: A Fellowship at the Heinz History Center

    Author: Monica Marchese

    Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellowship, Summer 2017

    What word comes to mind when you think of Pittsburgh? Is it steel? Sports? Pierogies? Yinzers? This summer I had the unique opportunity to explore one of Pittsburgh’s lesser known exports – movies. In recent years, the city has become one of the biggest movie hubs in the east without even realizing it. Thanks to the government-sponsored Film Production Tax Credit Program in Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh’s unique personality, production companies have been flocking to the city in the past couple of years to film their next big hit. Our varied landscapes – from scenic rivers and bustling downtown streets to cozy neighborhoods with local flavor – make our city ideal for all types of projects. Not to mention the five-star casting companies, film crews, and more-than-willing extras available at directors’ disposal.

    As the University of Pittsburgh’s Milton Fine Fellow this summer at the Heinz History Center, I had the opportunity to work with curators Leslie Przybylek and Lauren Uhl on a project documenting the history of Pittsburgh’s film industry from the 1900s to the present. I jumped into this project in its very early stages. As a collecting initiative and eventual exhibition, this project required a two-pronged approach. My goals for the summer were to conduct preliminary research on which movies and individuals would best tell this story, and to locate artifacts and materials for the museum to either acquire or borrow in the future. I chose to focus my research film by film, creating thematic connections and logical arguments between each. In some cases, the intense study of a film proved very fruitful. In others, I found only dead-ends.

    My research led me to interviews and objects from films like Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012), filmed all around Pittsburgh, and the animated feature film Big Hero 6 (2014), which used soft robotics technology from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute as the inspiration for the character Baymax. In fact, I had the opportunity to meet with Chris Atkeson, creator of the inflatable soft robotic arm and renowned professor at the Robotics Institute, in his laboratory. He showed us the original arm technology (pictured above) and encouraged us to “get into character” to understand the advantages and challenges of using inflatable robots. As I quickly found out, walking, gesturing, and holding objects proved exponentially more difficult when wearing an inflated Baymax suit (see above).

    Two of the most rewarding discoveries were related to the films Angels in the Outfield (1951) and Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012). These two films could not be any more different. Angels, a film about a fictitious general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates who encounters angels (you guessed it) in the outfield, allowed me to explore the more secluded, archival side of research. I found original letters, scripts, and legal agreements from film production. This film was also important to my research because it immortalizes Forbes Field in a very unique way. In an official letter (pictured above) between Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and the then Pittsburgh Pirates Manager Bill Meyer, it was agreed upon that MGM would have full use of the Forbes Field facilities, Pirates uniforms and equipment, and park staff while filming. So while the characters – and the World Series win at the end of the film – are imaginary, a large majority of the film is authentic and serves as an accurate portrayal of baseball life at Forbes Field.

    Perks, a coming-of-age film about a high school boy and his group of friends, allowed me to explore a different aspect of curation. I was able to get in contact with the novelist/screenplay writer/director/producer of the book and film, Stephen Chbosky. Chbosky, a native Pittsburgher who now lives in California, wrote Perks based on his own high school experiences growing up in Upper St. Clair. He was more than willing to speak with me on the phone about all things Perks and Pittsburgh, and even offered to help the museum acquire costumes, props, and scripts from the film.

    Working on this project has allowed me to meld my love of film, history, and Pittsburgh. I’ve had the chance to dig through archives and special collections, make important contacts within the film community, locate key artifacts, and develop thematic connections between films, people, and objects. I am honored to have had this unique opportunity at the Heinz History Center.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  •  

    Architecture, Archives, and More: An Internship

    This spring I worked as an Intern for the Heinz Architectural Center on projects relating to the Hall of Architecture. As an intern, I undertook three major projects. The first project was the main reason the internship was offered, and paired well with my Intro to Visitor Evaluation class. In 2011, a design studio class at CMU had done a major project on the Hall of Architecture; gathering visitor preferences and responses to the Hall to design a better signage system. I took the data they collected that they had recorded and their design ideas and analyzed that data to make graphs to show the results. I also put together a report containing those results that could be used for future reference instead of having to go back through the project booklets and it presented to the Education Department. There is something inexplicably satisfying about recording data and compiling it into graphs. Or maybe it’s just me.

    For the second project that I undertook, I worked with the Carnegie Museum Database. I researched the casts in the Hall of Architecture and recorded the dates, names, locations, and architect/sculptures of the original buildings or objects that they were cast of or from. Some of the buildings that the Carnegie has fragments or capitals from are more interesting than the main monuments that are currently displayed, such as the Tower of the Winds, which is only represented with a capital fragment, but the building is so much more interesting. It was the first weather station ever built and the original is still considered so important that it was recently restored to its original condition at great expense.

    The third project that I undertook was the most time consuming and the hardest simply because of the volume of material that I had to sift through. The archival records relating to the acquisition of casts for the Hall of Architecture and Sculpture Hall had been recently digitized and were sorted in boxes based on subject, such as the sender or recipient. My job was to sort the records by cast. I also recorded any interesting stories that I came across, such as the drama between the Director and a women working at the Met over a miscommunication over her notes on the history of the casts, which she thought were going to be made a catalogue, but he didn’t want to give her credit for all of it, so she demanded her notes back. My favorite however, was the series of communications over the Lysicrates Monument. Andrew Carnegie wanted the monument to have one side restored, and one side as the monument currently was, but the cast makers said it was impossible, so he settled for the addition of a tripod, which the cast makers had to make only from references in historical documents.

    I also did additional research into some of the archival stories, such as the Allegheny Courthouse Controversy, for which I requested the National Register Nominations from the National Park Service.

    This internship was a wonderful opportunity that honed my research skills and taught me data analysis related skills. I am proud of what I accomplished.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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