Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

Supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh is a consortium of local museums, galleries and archives working together to share information and expertise, and foster collaboration in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Here, at the HAA Constellations blog, you can read about some of the outcomes of these partnerships. Learn more about Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh at https://haa.pitt.edu/ckp.

 

Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh

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    Redesign and Revitalization in Weirton, West Virginia

    Museum Studies Intern at Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center – Spring 2021

    This semester I worked as an intern at the Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center. As a student studying remotely and not living at the University of Pittsburgh campus, it was really rewarding to be able to physically go to the Weirton Museum and work hands-on to redesign an exhibition space along with Weirton Area Museum director, Savannah Schroll Guz. Because of the nature of smaller museums, I had the freedom to choose a project I was passionate about - to create a new exhibition exploring Weirton during the Colonial period.

    A challenge we faced was finding information about this period of Weirton’s history, at the time that the town was called Holliday’s Cove. Most of the museum is focused on the early to mid-twentieth century when the Weirton Steel Mill gave this city its identity as a working-class community with a thriving industry. Despite the mill's closure, many members of the community still remember that era where they or their loved ones were employed by Weirton Steel. They come in droves to the museum searching for small steel plates that served as ID cards for their family members. Hundreds of these small plaques have been donated to the museum – each part of someone’s identity and on their person for decades.

    Although the closed mill was part of this community’s identity for years, what I found in Weirton was still a close-knit community who not only yearns for this museum because it tells the story of their town but also because it brings the town together which is even more important in this pandemic-fueled era of disconnectedness. For instance, I was present for an event where a local retired undercover police officer came to speak at the museum. Crowds of people came to hear the about the officer's life. We all laughed together at the funny parts of his stories and sighed at the disheartening and tragic moments. During the breaks I was struck by the way it seemed everyone knew each other as they said hello to one another and made small talk. Virtually, the museum is making a community, too. Each week, Savannah and I would film ourselves updating the public about our progress in the exhibition space, and it was really encouraging to see the likes and comments from community members who were excited to see what we were doing.

    Overall, I am so grateful I was an intern at the Weirton Area Museum because I see in its future it being a catalyst for massive community revitalization. This museum is going to make its mark as part of Weirton’s post-steel identity. There is so much history here just waiting to be discovered, and I am glad I got to uncover and show a little portion of it in our redesign.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
    • A screenshot of the Pittsburgh Glass Center's Google Arts & Culture page for the Light in Transmission exhibition. The image shows a wide view of the gallery brightly lit by the neon artworks with white text stating the name of the exhibition over the photo.
    • An image of my supervisor, Valerie Bundy, standing before a neon artwork in the Pittsburgh Glass Center's gallery. There is also a camera and laptop in front of her in order to communicate with the class via Zoom. Another employee stands behind the camera to help zoom in and out.
    A screenshot of the Pittsburgh Glass Center's Google Arts & Culture page for the Light in Transmission exhibition. The image shows a wide view of the gallery brightly lit by the neon artworks with white text stating the name of the exhibition over the photo.

    The front page for Light in Transmission story I designed on the Pittsburgh Glass Center's Google Arts & Culture page.

     

    Lights in the Dark

    CJ Dawson

    Museum Studies Intern at the Pittsburgh Glass Center - Spring 2021

    As we recently passed the one year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, museum spaces and galleries have found their footing and embraced new ways to safely engage with visitors. Many turned to digital resources, using livestreams and Zoom panels to offer virtual art events at home. My internship at the Pittsburgh Glass Center allowed me to reflect on my own remote experiences from the 2020-2021 school year to inform my contributions to their digital presence and assist with virtual gallery experiences for the opening of their neon and plasma exhibition titled LIT: Light in Transmission.

    One of the largest projects I worked on throughout the semester was helping my supervisors Valerie Bundy and Paige Ilkhanipour translate artworks and exhibition narratives to the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s forthcoming Google Arts & Culture page. While I wasn’t familiar with Google’s digital architecture on the curator’s end, I recalled what virtual strategies worked best for me as a student and digital wanderer. I used this knowledge to guide how I arranged photographs and selected information for their stories on the Google Arts & Culture platform. It was an exciting process to be a part of, and building a relationship between the in-gallery Light in Transmission exhibition and its online counterpart was especially transformative. I enjoyed witnessing the unique experiences each realm could offer. While the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s gallery allows viewers to physically encounter the artworks and their characteristic neon glows, the digital space provides deeper insight to the artists’ processes and encourages further engagement with their works at the click of a button.

    Despite the unfortunate but necessary restrictions on in-person activities at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, the affordances of virtual spaces opened up new avenues to engage with visitors of all ages. I created two Tiktoks for their new profile on the popular app by manipulating the Pittsburgh Glass Center’s high-quality footage as well as recording my own videos of the brightly lit artworks to capture viewers’ attention. I was also able to assist one of my supervisors, Valerie Bundy, with a middle school class’ virtual field trip to the Light in Transmission exhibition. This opportunity allowed me to witness how educators have adapted to current circumstances in order to continue to foster curiosity and creativity among students in inclusive ways. Whether through Zoom or Google Arts & Culture or Tiktok, my time at the Pittsburgh Glass Center was spent participating in ways their team has been sharing (neon) light in an otherwise dark historical moment.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Soaring Sky High in Ancient Egypt

    Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2021

    The Carnegie Museum of Natural History has a wide array of departments. Over the course of my internship, I provided research for the development of the exhibition Egypt on the Nile in the Egyptology department. This exhibition was slated to have virtual lectures, however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, plans were altered. The research remained crucial, so I continued to assist in researching the three major areas of this exhibition: birds in ancient Egypt, Egyptian blue, and the Dahshur funerary boats of Senwosret III. I found the topic of birds in ancient Egypt to be personally of most interest. I was surprised at the many sources explaining the specific significance of owls, geese, hawks, and vultures.

    Through my historical investigation, I found that birds are found in a variety of areas in Egyptian culture, including religion and everyday survival. Located near the Nile, wildlife could be easily spotted and used as a means for survival. Geese and ducks were often hunted and eaten by Egyptians along the Nile River. These birds were not only used as a source of food, but every part of the bird was used including eggs, bones, ligaments and all. Birds were mummified and offered to the deceased for means of survival in the afterlife. Birds were a food source, widely used icon, and also could be found in practices and beliefs surrounding the spiritual afterlife.

    My historical exploration revealed that many different Egyptian deities are illustrated as birds. Some qualities of birds were associated with the attribute of kingship. Birds of prey are strong, fast, have excellent eyesight, and, of course, fly. The god Horus, represented as a falcon or a human with a falcon head, was a sun god as well as the Egyptian god of kingship, representing the living king of Egypt. If you would like to know more about Horus and the importance of his connection to the falcon and kingship visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Blog. Horus was not the only deity that was personified by a bird, the goddesses Nekhbet and Mut were linked to vultures. Neith, the war goddess of wisdom and the cosmos, was commonly associated with the Greek goddess Athena, whose sacred bird was a little owl. Birds were used as a means to personify deities because it was believed that flight represented soaring between the afterlife and Earth placing birds physically closer to their gods.

    During the duration of this internship, my continued research revealed a great deal about the complexities of civilization in ancient Egypt. I have always been intrigued with ancient Egyptian civilization and my internship has only made my interest grow. If you are interested in learning more about ancient Egypt visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to see the extraordinary exhibits developed by the Egyptology department!

     

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

    This image is a statement on the unethical circulation of images of human remains. To respect the thousands of individuals on display across museums I will not be posting an image with human remains in view.

     

    Rebranding Human Remains Education in Museums

    Museum Studies Intern at Carnegie Museum of Natural History – Spring 2021

    When people think of natural history museums some of the first exhibits that come to mind are mummied human remains or as many know them: mummies. I am the first to admit as a child I always gravitated toward the human remains on display, maybe it’s because of the media where we see them often portrayed them as supernatural monsters (looking at you Scooby-Doo), or how they are branded often as the star attraction at a museum. Although I understand why human remains are often one of the reasons people go to museums or visit traveling exhibits, there isn’t enough of a push to educate people and bring up the ethical dilemmas that surround these controversial displays. Having come into this internship knowing this was an area of study I was deeply interested in, my project quickly set out to focus on these issues.

    With guidance from my mentor Dr. Jessica Landau, I began doing research and speaking with some of the anthropologists, egyptologists, and educational staff at the museum to learn what educational efforts were already established in the Egyptology hall and more broadly all of the human remains in the museums care. It became clear there wasn’t quite as much as there could be, and more importantly, there wasn’t much specifically targeting children. It is difficult to explain to children something as sensitive as the topic of human remains and death, so I wanted to make an educational tool that parents, teachers, and other caregivers could use to appropriately facilitate a conversation with children about the ethical issues of human remains.

    My final piece is a workable educational pamphlet and PDF page that can be printed, put on a website, or used by education staff to approach this topic sensitively in hopes of further conversation. One of the main sections is “Say this NOT that” which focuses on changing the language used when discussing the topic. An example being, “mummified human remains” not “mummy” to try to lessen the objectification of the remains on display and serve as a reminder that what is in front of them is a person who should be given the same respect we would show anyone who has passed. That, along with other sections like “Rules of Respect”, “The Children of Ancient Egypt”, “Let’s take a closer look”, and an FAQ section will hopefully begin that dialogue that is so desperately needed and change how people view the human remains in the museum.

    I have further work to complete on my project with the CMNH. I am currently in the process of writing a research paper that dives deeper into the ethics of the display of human remains and what should be done in museums moving forward. My educational work was just the first step in exploring the needs of many museums in this arena Now, museums should put forth an effort to reconsider how human remains are treated and displayed and begin to ask the difficult question: “Is it right to have them on display at all?”

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Digital Resources and the Carnegie International

    Ryan Kulka, Museum Studies Intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art - Spring 2020

    During Spring 2020, I was an intern at the Carnegie Museum of Art in the Fine Arts Department. Over the course of my internship, I worked to digitize information about non-accessioned works that were part of the Carnegie International exhibitions between 1911 and 1926. This work was done to eventually be published as a resource for scholars and internal staff. With the COVID-19 pandemic at hand, our society sees now more than ever the importance of digital resources. In almost every field, the digitization of resources and processes are essential to efficiency and accessibility—and museums are no exception to this phenomenon.

    During my internship in the Fine Arts Department at the Carnegie Museum of Art, I created over 3,000 digital records in the museum’s database for works of art shown at Carnegie International. I was able to use archival documents, such as exhibition catalogues and artist cards, in order to cross-reference and verify the information that I was entering into the database system. This work was rewarding for me because I felt I was helping to clarify the provenance of these works for future researches by adding this information to the database.

    As someone who is unsure about the specifics of my future career path, I found it extremely helpful to see what curators do on a daily basis when interning with Emily Mirales (Curatorial Assistant of Fine Arts) and Akemi May (Assistant Curator of Fine and Decorative Arts. I was able to observe Emily and Akemi prepare for the Carnegie Museum’s 150th anniversary exhibition. I was also given the opportunity to go with them into museum storage, which was a task that I never expected. There, Akemi and Emily combed through the works in storage to find additional 19th century English works that could be added to the current exhibition Created, Collected, Conserved: The Life Stories of Paintings.

    Although my internship was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am so thankful for the time I did spend at the Carnegie Museum of Art. With social distancing occurring, museums are finding new ways to utilize their staff and engage the public in a digital way. Although I am not at all involved with the Museum’s new #museumfromhome campaign, I am glad that I was able to contribute even in one small way to CMoA’s expansion in an accessible, digital world.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Left: A screenshot from an archived webpage of a small business in Pittsburgh. Right: A screenshot from the patched archived webpage.

     

    Preserving Websites? Yes, it Exists!

    Museum Studies Intern at the Senator John Heinz History Center’s Detre Library & Archives – Fall 2020

    This fall I interned for the Senator John Heinz History Center here in Pittsburgh. Given the current situation, I was working remotely on a project relating to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic under the guidance of Archivists Sierra Green and Carly Lough through the History Center’s Detre Library and Archives. I was able to spend hours reviewing trial captures (crawls) of websites from multiple areas of society that have been affected by the pandemic.

    These crawls captured websites from local business and industry, community organizations, religious communities, municipal government, people with disabilities, schools, recreation, healthcare, charitable giving, the arts and cultural institutions. A number of the business webpages captured were small businesses that had to close their doors due to complications of the current situation. I have shared a screenshot from a crawl that was done of a small business called The Pittsburgh Yarn Company that had to close its store. Above the text there is an empty white box along with two images missing above the business name. The main point of archiving this particular website, despite the images missing, is what the text says. The company states that, “The COVID-19 pandemic was really the nail in the coffin for us and there is no way we can continue to maintain the shop.” Thankfully in this case, the History Center archivists were able to “patch” this crawl so that the missed images were preserved as well.

    The capture of this webpage is now a part of the History Center’s web archive, which will be open to researchers in the future. This is just one of many stories that have been preserved through crawls using this way of archiving the web. Throughout my work, I have also reviewed Facebook posts, Instagram posts, and even videos. There was a number of local businesses and places of worship that posted weekly videos for their audience to watch. So, every week, there were several webpages that I would review to make sure the weekly content was displaying correctly. Now, there is a digital timeline that is created for every week that particular webpage was captured.

    At times, an initial crawl would not go according to plan. An example of this was an instance where images of the staff from a business would not load when I replayed the archived webpage using the Wayback Machine. In this case, it was important to have these images show up in the archived webpage because they helped tell the complete story of that particular business. As a result, I would flag this as an issue and either Sierra or Carly would tweak the crawling parameters or try a different approach to produce a more complete result.

    Each of our lives have been affected by the current pandemic that is hitting the world. These archived webpages are now part of the growing documentation of how Western Pennsylvanians have responded to the pandemic. So much of the information about this pandemic is rapidly published, updated and changed only on the Internet.  The History Center’s ability to archive webpages is crucial in its efforts to document all sections of society in Western Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh area during this pandemic.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • Screenshot of one of the Instagram posts I created for the UAG.

     

    Stay Connected: Museum from Home

    Museum Studies Intern at the University Art Gallery (UAG) – Fall 2020

    Covid-19 hits the world unexpectedly, spreading across the globe and affecting people’s lives in every way. Museums and art galleries, being the places where people would usually go to and get themselves immersed with arts, were faced with an immediate challenge to respond and adapt to “the new normal.” At the start of the semester, I was anxious about securing an internship during this tough time, and my location in China added complexity as well as difficultly to the situation. Luckily, I was able to obtain an internship at the UAG, working under the guidance of director Sylvia Rhor. During my internship, I mainly worked on developing programs that connect and engage people with the UAG via social media. I will also be working on carrying out interactive Instagram projects for our current exhibition and redeveloping the UAG website.

    In preparation for developing online programs, I first researched how other academic museums respond to the pandemic, primarily through looking at their websites and social media accounts. My research indicated that many academic museums are making efforts to stay connected and continue to share art with the world. Some of them devised virtual tours where visitors could get a sense of the physical exhibition space, while others created various programs on social media such as Instagram.  After listing several potential projects that the UAG could do projects, Sylvia and I agreed that we should create a series of posts drawing from the UAG’S permeant collections to share on Instagram. In this way, despite the gallery remained closed to the public, people from all over the country can explore and get informed about the UAG collection.

    With a general theme in mind, I then browse through our permanent collection to undertake the project. The screenshot above shows the first Instagram post I created for the UAG. I decided to share this particular etching of the Cathedral of Learning because I knew many others could not be in Pittsburgh due to the pandemic. I hope that people can find comfort by looking at a piece of artwork of this familiar Pittsburgh landmark. And I want to remind people that although we are somewhat isolated at the moment, we can still stay connected from home and continue to enjoy art through social media platforms.

    The rampant pandemic had us rethink the future of museums. Whether through creating virtual tours or social media programs, academic museums strived to adapt to the new normal to continue sharing cultural objects with the public. As we progress, I believe we can do better in connecting and sharing our beautiful collections with more and more people regardless of their geographic locations.

     

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    The Joy of Virtual Connection

    Museum Studies Intern at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh - Fall 2020

    I surely don't have to express how strange this year is, but I would like to discuss how important social media and virtual experiences have been in the current context. Social Media has been a staple for some time now, but it became nearly essential over the course of this year. It gained a new power as one of the only ways to escape our quarantined space and live vicariously through the images, words and videos that were generously posted. My internship allowed me to add to this virtual experience. 

    The incredible task that I was able to work on for my internship at Associated Artists of Pittsburgh was to create weekly videos that highlighted the artworks and creative places that can be found across Pittsburgh. These videos were posted to Associated Artists of Pittsburgh’s Instagram. The Executive Director, Madeline Gent, hatched this plan along with my input as she insisted I was to be involved in a project I would enjoy and be proud of. While I was also involved in a variety of day-to-day tasks, my main objective was the production of these videos. To do this, I would visit various galleries and organizations and make a video that would last no more than one minute. This was done to show AAP support for local art galleries, museums, organizations, and artists.  

    Through this opportunity, I was able to learn how important social media is and how it can be beneficial to the development of a company's digital outreach. People would view these videos and sometimes even contact me to thank me for showing them a new place or artist. I was so happy to increase audience for these arts venues and provide a virtual experience with art at a moment when it was most difficult to visit in person. 

    This was a tough year for so many reasons but art could provide an uplifting form of human expression or even a form of escapism. Social media became the most important museum in the world, and one in which all are eligible to participate and explore. This internship opened my eyes to both the importance of being social and also the inner workings of a cultural sector non-profit. It was an incredible experience and I’m so glad I was able to be involved and happy I could put something positive out for people to view.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
  • A photograph of 34 people at Area nightclub.

    Photo by Michael Halsband, 1984. Courtesy of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh.

     

    The Lankton/Warhol Connections

    by Grace Marston, Museum Studies Intern at the Mattress Factory - Fall 2020

    When I sought to conduct my Museum Studies Internship at the Mattress Factory’s Greer Lankton Archives, part of the idea was to get some museum experience outside of the Andy Warhol Museum, where I have worked for nine years. Indeed, it has been extremely rewarding to work in a different museum with a different collection, yet I started noticing connections between Lankton and Warhol on my very first day.

    Greer Lankton’s datebooks indicate that she went to nightclubs like Pyramid, Palladium, and Club 57 during her years in New York in the early 1980s. Andy Warhol frequented those same clubs. Lankton created dolls modeled after Divine and Diana Vreeland, who were both friends with Warhol. Lankton knew Rene Richard, Teri Toye, and Stephen Sprouse, who are all mentioned in Warhol’s diaries. Peter Hujar photographed both Lankton and Warhol. Lankton compiled folders of magazine clippings about Warhol Superstars such as Jane Forth and Candy Darling. Lankton owned a book of Warhol’s prints and cut out images of several artworks.

    Sometime in the afternoon of my first day at the Mattress Factory, I came across a newspaper clipping of an advertisement for a nightclub called Area. It was a group photo taken by Michael Halsband featuring 34 people, a dalmatian, and a horse. On the far left of the photo was Andy Warhol, and on the far right was Greer Lankton. I recognized many of the people in between. It was exciting to see evidence that these two artists were in the same room at the same time, at least once.

    I spent the next few weeks digitally cataloging photographs in the Greer Lankton Archives and generating content for the Mattress Factory’s social media accounts, but my mind kept returning to that Area photo. Eventually, I discovered that the Andy Warhol Museum had a behind-the-scenes photo that Warhol had taken on the day of the Area photoshoot. I also found that Stanford University’s collection of Warhol photos contained two more contact sheets of behind-the-scenes images from that photo shoot. I decided to use these resources to begin a research project about the Area photo.

    I managed to identify 26 of the 34 people in the photo. I learned a lot about the lives of the regulars at this notorious nightclub, people who were part of both Lankton and Warhol’s worlds. I’m not surprised by Lankton’s quote that Warhol was the “dullest person I ever met;” she clearly knew a lot of fascinating people who were probably much less reserved than Warhol. Despite the pithy quote, obviously she was a Warhol fan in her own way. I felt uniquely well-positioned to investigate this overlap between the collections of the Mattress Factory and the Andy Warhol Museum; and for me there was never a dull moment.

    Categories: 
    • Academic Interns
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh
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    Interning in the Digital Age

    To finish out my final semester at Pitt, I had the opportunity to be a Museum Studies Intern at Silver Eye Center for Photography. 

    If you’ve been on the planet in 2020, you know that there has been a global pandemic. Although life slowed down for a while during the summer lockdown, once the fall semester rolled around had to get back to work and prepare to graduate. One of my final degree requirements was to obtain a Museum Studies internship for the completion of my minor. I was lucky enough to secure a position at Silver Eye!

    In past years, Silver Eye offered students a very hands-on experience, where they could learn how to print photographs as well as get a glimpse of the behind the scenes process of putting together a gallery exhibit.  Even though we could not physically go into the gallery, I found our weekly zoom meetings to be highly informational and just as eye-opening. 

    Prior to my time at Silver Eye, I had a basic understanding of photography since my major was in Film Studies. Even if both mediums use a camera, I did not know that photography was a very different art form altogether. It was almost as if I was exploring an entirely new world. Silver Eye immersed me in the image-making process. I always thought photos were more so a documentary style, but here I found myself redefining what photography meant to me. It was so much more creative, expressive, and personal than I had noticed before. 

    Because the internship was conducted remotely, I also explored the ways in which the gallery interacted with the public through its online presence. I enjoyed most of the videos that were on their youtube channel that featured artist talks. The artists featured in previous exhibitions would talk about their thought process, methodology, and lives in general. It not only let me peer into their creative process, but it also outlined what it was like to be a working artist today. I found myself thinking more deeply about photographs than I ever had before, and it was so easy! Just by watching their youtube videos, I was able to glean new information to build new connections. Little did I know, this was all preparing me for the culminating project of the semester--making my own online exhibition.

    Currently, I am in a class called Exhibition Presentation so I am eager to combine the skills I used learned there with the training I received at Silver Eye. With my online exhibition, I get to engage with my chosen photographer and present their work to the online Silver Eye audience. All of the new questions and interests I have developed over the course of the semester now will come in handy when I have to conduct an interview. Silver Eye made learning something new really fun for me, and I am excited to make learning fun for somebody else.  

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

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