Academic Interns

  • View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh by William Wall featured at the Carnegie Museum of Art

     

    Studying the Anthropocene from Pittsburgh Landscapes.

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    I discovered the history behind Pittsburgh’s great landscapes, most notably View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh by William Wall featured in the Carnegie Museum of Art. Scanning through various documents of the website Historic Pittsburgh, I found one from the Pittsburgh Fire Department from the Great Fire of Pittsburgh in 1845. This fire destroyed a third of the city, but ended up propelling the city to what it is today. The document included the events leading up to the cause of the fire and the properties involved. Each building had a story behind it from the saving of the First Presbyterian Church to the saving of the city documents in the city’s bank vault as the rest of the building was demolished.

    During my time as a research assistant for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (CMNH) had myself dive deep into Pittsburgh’s environmental history. Albert Kollar, Collection Manager of Invertebrate Paleontology, originally wanted to extract information about Pittsburgh’s landscapes by using the paintings in the Carnegie Museum of Art. His original article made earlier this year is featured here. As he analyzed the painting’s visual content, he wanted someone to look into the historical evidence behind these paintings. This had myself sift through archives from the University of Pittsburgh and Historic Pittsburgh. 

    Finding the exact point of the fire and where it spread to, we confirmed that William Wall’s painting was fairly accurate in its depiction, even though it was done a year later. The weather in the painting was not accurate, but this was the time period where American paintings were to depict the United States’s beauty. We confirmed the weather by utilizing a list from the National Weather Service of how much monthly snowfall Pittsburgh gets from 1900 to now. This was originally to help with looking at issues regarding flood control, but it helped with the Great Fire as well.

    My experience as a research assistant for this project did help me with what I would like to do in the future. I found out that I am not a researcher, but rather someone who wants to use their creativity in order to provide a service to those around me. I am grateful for this experience to try new things before being pulled in one direction or another. Now, to the future!

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

  •  

    The Creation of "Intimate Moments"

    Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Fall 2018

    For the past two months, I have been lucky enough to work alongside the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s REcollection Studio to curate and develop an exhibition using photographs from the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (PPL).

    This collection was gathered from a photography program initiated by the Allegheny Conference on Community Development in the early 1950s, in an attempt to document the daily life of the American people. Lead by photographer Roy Stryker, the project consisted of a group of photographers given the task to shoot Pittsburgh as it was. This venture was one of the largest photographic documentation ventures ever undertaken in America at the time.

    The resulting Pittsburgh Photographic Library is a collection of over 11,000 black-and-white negatives rich with the History of Pittsburgh. The specific task given to me by my supervisor Brooke Sansosti, the Digitization and Special Projects Lead, was to develop an exhibition featuring photographer Esther Bubley, one of the few female photographers who took part in the initiative. My mission was to go through the collection and find a compelling theme within her photographs that would best showcase her work as a photographer.

    Going through a collection this large wasn’t an easy, or timely, task, and at first, deciding on a theme seemed almost impossible with all the possibilities. Bubley shot all kinds of subjects during her time with the PPL, from families, to community events, to hospitals, to architecture, and much more.

    It wasn’t until I read more about her life, that I discovered exactly what I wanted people to take away from her work. In her biography, her niece, who now owns her estate collection, notes that Bubley was a “people photographer”, and had the uncanny ability to achieve intimacy with her subjects. Another author, Benjamin Ivry, mentioned that “in her quiet way, [she] was an empathetic witness to silent sufferings.” Even according to Stryker, head of the project, her subjects “didn’t realize she was there, she wasn’t invading them, she was sort of floating around. And all of the sudden they saw themselves, not unpleasantly, yet with her discernment… and they said ‘My God, its interesting.”

    After this, I knew right away that I wanted to showcase those “intimate moments”, as they are often overlooked, and aren’t what one would immediately think of when considering a large city’s historical documentation.

    Once figuring this out, I was able to view the collection in a new light. I understood just how rare and fleeting these moments actually are, proving her immense skill as a photographer. Bubley was able to capture these quiet moments, therefore capturing people in very vulnerable situations. She took ordinary people doing everyday things and raised it to the level of art.

    With this theme in mind, I was able to select 15 images from the collection that I believe best represent this theme. The REcollection Studio at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, works hard to digitize and catalog the PPL in order to make it available to the public through online resources. With their technology, I was able to scan the negatives with immense detail and transform them into files that can now be uploaded online, or in my case, printed to exhibit.

    From there, the next steps were simpler, creating wall texts and officially hanging the show in its home at Gallery @ Main, where it will run though the end of December 2018.

    Curating an exhibition, and trying to select only 15 photographs out of a collection of over 11,000 is no easy feat. There is no right way to fully express the body of work of a singular artist. But, I believe that this collection showcases a really interesting perspective of humanity, and captures quiet moments in our city’s history that can never be relived again.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Emily working on Lowy’s materials
     

    Bernard Lowy’s Mushroom Mystery

    Author: Emily Pelesky, Museum Studies Intern at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation – Fall 2018

    Fascinated by botany and the personal connections within the field, Rachel McMasters Millers Hunt amassed a unique collection of historical botanical writings and artwork. Seeking a home for this educationally and artistically valuable collection, the Hunts chose the Carnegie Institute of Technology (Carnegie Mellon University) in 1961. The collection has grown and diversified with time and is still accessible to researchers, as well as producing publications and exhibitions.

    As an intern in the archival department of the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, I had the unique task of caring for and re-foldering botanist Bernard Lowy’s papers. As an anthropology student, I am interested in the study of the human past. In particular, I am fascinated by humans’ relationships with their environment, which naturally includes the flora that surrounds them. When presented with some choices of botanists by my supervisors, Lowy’s Mayan research stuck out. In reading through Lowy’s documents, including personal notes and correspondence, I learned about his work in Guatemala with Mayan mushroom stones. These artifacts (dating from approximately 1500 B.C. to 900 A.D) are effigies of mushrooms carved from volcanic rock. With much of Mayan culture lost, Lowy and a network of other researchers with whom he corresponded closely, sought to understand the purpose of these artifacts. This involved intensive research including referring to Mayan codices and taking linguistic approaches. Lowy and his colleagues concluded that mushroom stones are evidence of an ancient cult surrounding hallucinogenic mushrooms. 

    In handling Bernard Lowy’s collection, I was able to watch this research play out across time and space. The development of these researchers’ conclusions was clear, and I felt their excitement as they relayed new information across the world. My internship at the Hunt Institute taught me the importance of archiving as a means of preserving the stories behind scientific discoveries that can get lost in favor of research conclusions. Not only are their conclusions important, but their processes, failures, and collaboration as well. This was one of Rachel Hunt’s principles in her collecting and I witnessed its continued realization in the Hunt archives. 

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Dawn Kriss displays the operation of multi-band imaging equipment to student Jon Kobert (pc: Alec Story)
     

    The Intersection of Science and Art: Multi-band Imaging and the Carnegie Boat

    Author: Alec Story, Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Fall 2018

    At the CMNH, not all is as it appears. Conservators are working with new methods of scientific imaging in order to recover pigments lost from objects within their ancient Egypt collection. 

    New scientific methods and technologies can lead to discoveries that completely challenge our assumptions and perceptions of historical artifacts and museum collections, including photographic processing method called multi-band imaging. 

    The setup for multi-band imaging is quite simple: all that is required is an object, a camera, filters, lighting, and a reflectance and color standard. Therefore, multi-band imaging is a technique that can be performed with relative ease, and theoretically, in any location. 

    Through both a presentation given by conservator Dawn Kriss and hands-on work at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, we learned about the diversity of wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum and their varied uses in artifact imaging and analysis. Of particular interest to Dawn Kriss was visible-induced infrared luminescence (VIL), which displays a black-and-white image of an object. The clear contrast of black-and-white VIL images were - ironically enough - useful for discovering a very colorful pigment: Egyptian Blue. 

    Egyptian Blue, as well as other pigments, tend to fade with time or become completely invisible to the human eye, but luckily even trace amounts of pigment can be detected with multi-band imaging. In the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Dawn gave a demonstration of how VIL photographs would be taken of one of the museum’s own artifacts, the Egyptian funerary boat, also known more commonly as the Carnegie Boat. 

    As art history students, it was absolutely fascinating to experience the way in which human understanding of artifacts improves as new technologies are introduced to archaeological and museum practice. We look forward to hearing about the results of the analytical imaging at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and what it can tell us about the Carnegie Boat and ancient Egyptian civilization.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Illustration in the exhibition Paddington Comes to America at the Eric Carle Museum

     

    Embodying Empathy: Summer Internship at the Eric Carle Museum

    Author: Annie Abernathy, intern at the Eric Carle Museum – Summer 2018

    This summer I worked as an intern in the Collections department at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA. I worked closely with the Carle’s extensive collection of over 5,000 pieces of Eric Carle’s work and 6,000 works made by other notable illustrators. I grew up reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, so this experience was deeply meaningful as an opportunity to develop my career and to relive some of my most cherished childhood memories.

    On my first day at the museum in early June, I accompanied two of the museum’s registrars to return some of Carle’s art work to his studio in nearby Northampton that had recently returned from a touring exhibition in Japan. Seeing his workspace and drawers of colorful tissue paper ignited a joy that lasted the rest of the summer working at the Carle.

    As an intern in the Collections department, I worked closely with the registrars of the museum to organize and consolidate the museum’s vault, whether this meant rehousing illustrations or rearranging whole shelves of boxes. I wrapped a hand-painted chess set with care. I returned works to their proper storage from the recent Caldecott Award exhibition. I handled original illustrations from books I memorized as a child– Shrek by William Steig, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg.

    More important than any famed artwork were the people who make up the Eric Carle museum. Beyond learning best practices in art handling and collections stewardship, I learned how to embody the deep empathy and inclusion cultivated by children’s books as a museum professional. Treating every object and visitor with the utmost care and respect creates a welcoming environment. At the Carle children yell and play in the galleries, breaking down the idea of the museum as a place of restraint, decorum, and quiet contemplation in order to celelbrate illustration art,  a medium that has historically been treated as lesser than fine art. 

    Making the museum a warmer and more welcoming space for all visitors is essential. Inclusivity and kindness are steps against centuries of institutional cultural appropriation, inequality, and elitism.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Xander describing his exhibition

     

    Politics, Propaganda, And The Steel Industry

    Author: Xander Schempf, Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Fall 2017

    Spending over six months working with Rivers of Steel Arts taught me more about the history of Pittsburgh and its role in the development of the United States than being born and raised here. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to develop a new exhibition for the traveling “Steel Case” – a mobile display case that functions as a miniature gallery on wheels. In preparation for the exhibition, I began by sifting through Rivers of Steel Arts’ vast archive to create a list of possible themes. None of them were quite right, so I always ended up scrapping them for something else. Eventually, I stumbled upon some old magazines created to spread information about union rights. Searching for related materials led me to an array of interesting artifacts and documents that taught me a lot about the WWII era, a moment in US history that until now, I did not know very much about. 

    With the guidance of Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Ron Baraff, and the Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis, I developed a Steel Case exhibition that examines the political propaganda produced before, during, and after WWII in response to the rise of the steel industry in the United States. The rise of the steel industry ushered in new political ideas, my case considers how the political climate of the period was shaped by two major competing ideologies. There were left-wing groups who sought to attract steel industry workers to the socialist ideology, and in response, there were large corporations who quelled and attempted to maintain the existing capitalist working state. Themes such as the “common man” and the “greater good” were staples for each side in discrediting the other and strengthening their own views. Yet, hidden beneath corporate language was a continued effort to quell movements that threatened their status. The objects on view are only a small selection of the materials that can tell this story, but the ones I have selected seek to illuminate the progression of these interactions from unions, the industry, and popular culture, exploring how their influence made its way throughout many facets of twentieth-century America.

    The exhibition is on display at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland through April 30, 2019.  

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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    Andy Warhol, Ladies and Gentlemen (Marsha P. Johnson), 1975, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

     

    Important Identities: Recognizing and Remembering the Faces of Ladies and Gentlemen

    Author, Rebecca Moser, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Andy Warhol Museum – Summer 2018

    As the most comprehensive single-artist museum and archive in the world and the largest in North America, The Andy Warhol Museum certainly doesn’t lack research material. During my Fine Foundation Fellowship at the museum under the supervision of Milton Fine Curator of Art, Jessica Beck, I spent the summer experiencing the daily operations of the museum and learning about the curatorial process. My favorite thing about working at the Warhol was seeing the lengths that the dedicated staff go to exhibiting Warhol’s artworks in new contexts in order to connect with diverse communities.  The opportunity to participate in these efforts was one of the most rewarding experiences of my internship.

    This summer I assisted in the curatorial staff’s research on Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series (1975) as they prepared for a temporary exhibition opening this fall. Ladies and Gentlemen is portrait series featuring predominantly black and Latinx drag queens and transgender women from New York. The series was commissioned by Luciano Anselmino, an Italian art dealer, and is arguably Warhol’s largest undertaking. The series, including Warhol’s preliminary work, is comprised of 268 paintings, 65 drawings, a print portfolio containing 10 collages, and over 500 Polaroids of 14 models. Select prints, paintings, drawings, and Polaroids from Ladies and Gentlemen will be exhibited for the first time as a comprehensive group at the Andy Warhol Museum in conjunction with Devan Shimoyama’s first solo museum exhibition, Devan Shimoyama: Cry, Baby (October 13, 2018–March 17, 2019).

    In an effort to recuperate the stories of figures who have historically been marginalized and overlooked, even by Warhol himself, we focused on the models’ biographies. During Warhol’s lifetime, the models for the series were left anonymous at exhibitions. Due to this persistent disregard for the individuality of the models, they were grouped together and commodified as anonymous faces of an oppressed subculture. After Warhol’s death, when works from the series were displayed, the models were occasionally named, but still little was known about their lives. Thanks to efforts by the researchers behind the Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne: Volume 4, published in 2014, extensive information about the models and the series was uncovered and compiled. We now know they did not lead easy lives and most of them lived on the streets fighting homophobia and transphobia in society, even in gay activist circles.

    By revealing their names and their stories, the images of Ladies and Gentleman become more personal, allowing viewers to connect with the artworks in new ways; especially when the series is put into conversation with Shimoyama’s portraits of black boys and men in queer spaces. Over forty years after the completion of this series, these drag queens and transgender women of the past will be recognized as early advocates in the fight for racial and queer justice and equality that continues today.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Kendall in the Yayoi Kusama’s "Infinity Dots Mirrored Room" installation

     

    Development Difficulties: the Challenges of Working to Secure a Non-Profit’s Financial Future

    Author: Kendall Dunn, Mellon Museum Profession Fellow at the Mattress Factory – Summer 2018

    Over the summer of 2018, I worked in the Development Department of the Mattress Factory as an Mellon Museum Profession Fellow. Having served as an Education intern in the previous semester, I was generally familiar with the staff and offices of the museum. Transitioning from Education to Development, however, was definitely harder than I expected. Working in Development requires patience, determination, and focused work behind a computer, whereas museum Education is more creative and active work.  This fellowship gave me a better understanding of how valuable a development department is to any non-profit organization.

    Working full-time every day for three months, I got a taste of what it was like to be an employee at the Mattress Factory, managing a set of day-to-day duties and long-term projects. My daily tasks included donation requests, membership mailing, and filing. In addition to this administrative work, I was responsible for four larger projects throughout my fellowship.

    One of my first tasks as a Fellow was to write two Letter of Inquiries to two different foundations, requesting funding for the Mattress Factory. In order to create persuasive and informed letters I learned to write project proposals, which included conducting research, drafting budgets, and establishing funding plans.

    Secondly, I did a lot of work to prepare for the Mattress Factory's 40th Anniversary Auction. I was responsible for creating artist folders for each winning bidder at the auction. These folders contained a certificate of authenticity, the artist’s bio, CV, and a photograph and description of the artwork donated for auction. I attended all of the auction planning meetings and worked closely with the museum's Archivist. 

    My last project involved visitor experience surveys. This task included, conducting research on museum surveys, compiling a long list of potential survey questions for the Mattress Factory, and then going into the galleries and surveying visitors on a weekly basis. These surveys were designed to supply staff in the Development and Marketing Departments with inspiring visitor quotes for grant writing, social media platforms, and advertisements. 

    Each of these projects were time consuming and detail oriented in ways I found challenging, but I’m happy that I have experienced the ups and downs of a Development office. I want to pursue a career in the museum world and by working in a Development Department I have learned the importance of communication, patience, hard work, and teamwork to professional life at a non-profit organization. Every department of the museum relies on Development to get the job done. I left the Mattress Factory with a greater appreciation for non-profit organizations. Each employee's drive, passion, and hard work contributes to the museum's reputation and financial future. My fellowship experience at the Mattress Factory is something that I will cherish forever, as I jump further into my future career in the arts.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • One of the focus group sessions at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

     

    Nile in Focus: Assessing Community Expectations for CMNH’s "Egypt on the Nile" Exhibition

    Author: Alec Story, Milton Fine Museum Profession Fellow at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Summer 2018

    When preparing for the installation of a new permanent exhibition, museums often assess the needs and assumptions of the communities they serve. For its upcoming gallery rework entitled Egypt on the Nile, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History has been doing just that. Egypt on the Nile unites human and natural histories, a unique approach that differs from traditional Egypt-oriented galleries. The novelty of this concept necessitates properly gauging audience reactions to and receptions of the exhibition and its themes. Over the course of my summer fellowship I assisted curator Dr. Erin Peters in, among other things, the planning and execution of these community focus groups.

    Paramount to this process was recruiting participants from a wide variety of backgrounds: museum members, college students, K-12 educators, and senior citizens. Diverse groups were chosen in order to accurately represent the thoughts and feelings of those who visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

    Prior to the focus group meetings, we created prompts and questions that participants could respond to, and a session schedule to ensure we used our time effectively. Questions were designed to be open-ended, promote discussion, and to tease out valuable information on the proposed exhibition themes. During the focus group sessions we used an array of strategies including surveys, sticky notes, and open discussion to gather relevant information. The focus group environment allowed anyone, regardless of education or experience with Egypt, to come in and share their thoughts on one of the most famous cultures of all time.

    After the focus groups I was tasked with recording and synthesizing the data accumulated during each focus group. With this information the Egypt on the Nile team can even more successfully create an exhibit that both depicts all desired themes and does so in a way that is easily communicable to the public.

    This experience has allowed me to see how museums plan exhibits, how exhibits are constantly undergoing change and adjustment, and how cultural institutions interact with the community.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Museum guest poses with work of art

    Museum guest poses with work of art.

     

    First Impressions: Attracting Museum Visitors Through Effective Web Design and Usability

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

    For many people visiting museums in the contemporary world, the first point of contact with a museum and its collections is not within the walls of the museum complex itself, but through the museum’s online presence. An individual’s decision on whether or not a museum is worth visiting is informed not only through word of mouth and reputation, but through Google (or any other search engine of choice). Review sites such Yelp and social media presence via platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are relevant to this discussion. Even more significantly, however, is the museum’s portrayal of itself on the official website. 

    In Spring 2018, I was a Museum Studies intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art, focusing on the museum’s online presence and improving outreach to audiences. Because cmoa.org website is likely the first platform on which museum goers are going to experience the Carnegie Museum of Art, it is crucial that the website constructs an image of the Carnegie Museum of Art that is both accurate and enticing. While this may seem like an obvious and overly simple goal, it is difficult to sustain a consist pubic image in a very active programming environment.  Because events and exhibitions come and go on a day-to-day basis, online representation must also reflect and synchronize with the series of events.

    Achieving accuracy and synchronicity with programming is related to another difficult goal—the intuitive usability of the website for visitors. Usability must anticipate the impulses and cognitive patterns of online visitors. This means that a good website must reflect the associations that most people—literally the majority—form in their mind, anticipating their online “desire paths.” This is difficult because a wide variety of people will have personal preferences for which website layouts are the most intuitive.   

    In my job I helped the museum website’s usability to potential guests—hopefully transforming them into actual guests.  I had to assure that the dates posted for upcoming events were correct.  Meanwhile I had to make sure that past events did not linger on the website crowding out the upcoming events.

    I learned that it is important for a museum’s website to appear as though it is cared for. In the minds of online users, this appearance and usability reflects the amount of care that is put into the museums actual collections and programming.  For many audiences the online presence and real-life presentations of museums are one and the same.

    Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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