UAG

    Dr. Proctor in the Rotunda.

     

    Student journal: Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room

    Dr. Proctor’s illuminative words on the inherent difficulties of the African Heritage Room 

    Abby Brady, 6 December 2017
     

    Over the course of the semester, I have focused on objects and documents from the archives of the African Heritage Room. I chose a letter from art historian Rosalind Jeffries addressed to Professor Laurence Glasco of the University of Pittsburgh History Department. The letter outlines the broad goals of committee members to represent a boundless and collective African identity. What struck me most about this letter was the comprehensive research and conscious effort to showcase an archetypal African self—one that extends beyond borders of country and continent. Looming over me, however, was the understanding that there were many difficulties inherent in the formation of the only Room representing an entire continent, rather than an individual country. 

     

    Just before Thanksgiving, our class had a special meeting with Dr. Ralph Proctor, Professor of Ethnic and Diversity Studies at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC). I was intrigued by this opportunity because I knew he was going to confront the blatant issues that developed in the planning of the African Heritage Room. Dr. Proctor began the discussion detailing personal stories from his time as a Pitt student and professor. Although today Pittsburgh is often thought of a progressive and diverse city, the University itself did not become truly inclusive of women and minorities until they were pushed to do so during sit-ins in the 1970s. The short glimpses into Pitt’s history helped introduce students to the environment in which talks of the creation of an African Heritage Room developed. Dr. Proctor was a member of the original committee, but could not bring himself to support a plan that aimed to represent the 52 distinct countries in Africa in a single space. In addition, he was worried that the concept would insult various ethnic groups that would not be able to relate to the space that was so ambitiously curated. 

     

    Through humor, Dr. Proctor expanded on concerns he had during his time as a committee member, and after the fact, when he was consulted for his expertise in the area of Africa and African art. Whether it was the lack of wood, the overly specific design, or the fact that the space did not represent the African American community of Pittsburgh, Dr. Proctor lamented problems that could have been avoided if there were highly qualified historians and scholars involved during the planning process, or if the African Heritage Room were divided into spaces dedicated to individual countries. However, his explanation of the problematic use of the words ‘art’ and ‘artifact’ in relation to African objects stuck out to me the most. Through a Western lens, ignorance and misunderstanding often take over when dealing with African objects. While Dr. Proctor offered funny stories about having to explain to experts in the field of African studies that their artwork was hanging upside down, I think it is valuable to reflect on how this blurry lens impacted the resulting African Heritage Room. 

     

    After spending the semester investigating archival material and learning more about the formation of the African Heritage Room, I think the flaws that have been addressed and recognized are what make this Room an important place of contemplation and learning. I believe that other planning groups have faced similar difficulties in how to best represent the essence of a country, but because the African Heritage Room is intended to sufficiently exemplify an entire continent, as well as a difficult history of enslavement and trans-Atlantic diaspora, the issues are

    amplified and particularly prone to criticism. The invaluable opportunity to hear Dr. Proctor speak about his experience with the Nationality Rooms enhanced my knowledge of a space that I had previously only understood through documents and artifacts that I had encountered on my own. His playful banter and engaging storytelling abilities encouraged me to further contemplate the identities, culture, art, and history brought to life in the African Heritage Room. 

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  • Photograph of the map
     

    Student journal: Put a Pin in it

    Morgan Benner
     
    The gallery opening has come and gone and the exhibition has been open to the public for several weeks now. Everything went over very smoothly, which I’m sure was a relief for everyone. If there is one thing I have been keeping an eye on, however, it is the interactive map in the rotunda. The main concern I had was whether visitors would actually be willing to participate or not. Would we come back to it in a few weeks with only a few pins scattered here and there?

    The purpose of the map is to allow visitors to engage with the broader ideas of the exhibit by placing a few pins in the places they identify with. We decided to hang both a world map and US map, to allow for people to pinpoint their hometown in the US. The students involved in the exhibition were all given silver-headed pins and we placed them on the map a few hours before the opening. It was almost like the finishing touch to the exhibit. 

    During the gallery opening, I watched the map closely to see if anyone was using it. I was delighted to see guests gathering in small groups, discussing where they were putting their pin and why. The map became a real discussion point, which was wonderful to watch and be part of.

    I have checked in on the map a few times since the opening and the number of pins on it is more than I had even hoped for. There is a concentration around Pittsburgh, as I suspected would happen, but there are also pins spread around the world. There are many pins around China, Japan, Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia that I did not expect. The map has been a great way to show our city’s diversity. It’s been a really exciting thing to watch, and I’m overjoyed that visitors seem just as excited about it as I am.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

    Figure 2: Wooden beam being brought to the English Room, view from outside the Cathedral of Learning

     

    Student Journal: Mistaken Idenity of a Photograph

    Darcy Foster, 14 November 2017

    The Narratives of the Nationality Rooms: Identity and Immigration in Pittsburgh exhibit is the result of the careful work of about thirty students throughout two months. However, no matter how carefully plans are laid, they often go awry anyway. Working as a member of the visual knowledge team, which was responsible for curating in the front gallery, I picked a photograph of six men carrying a beam through the window of the English Room (Fig. 1). I found the photograph interesting because it shows the progress the room made. This is especially evident because it is juxtaposed with the Wratten & Godfrey architectural drawings for the English Room, which are in a display case underneath the photograph. The drawings show the original vision for the room, which evolved greatly by the time it was made. When I submitted a loan request to include a scan of the photograph in the exhibition, there were multiple photographs that fit the description on the request. A similar photograph to the one I requested (Fig. 2) showed up at the exhibition, but it was not the correct one. It did not show the inside of the English Room, but the scan (Fig. 2) instead was shot from the outside of the Cathedral of Learning, so Heinz Memorial Chapel is visible in the background. Heinz Chapel was dedicated in 1938, and the English Room was dedicated in 1952 after construction was postponed during the World War II. Heinz Chapel is such a staple on campus today that it is interesting to look at it in this perspective. The English Room was at the start of construction, and so in the picture, Heinz Chapel is at most about a decade old. It would have been considered a very new building.

    Originally, I chose the photograph of the inside of the classroom (Fig.1) because it showed the interior of the English Room before it was transformed into the way the room looks
    today. The brick interior in the photograph is also a surprising contrast to the inside of the Cathedral of Learning. The brick of the English Room would eventually be covered by paneling that was one of the gifts from the British government to the English Room committee after the House of Commons in London was bombed in 1941. A theme of conflict was eminent in the visual knowledge group’s front gallery because many of the Nationality Rooms were created in response to conflict.

    The University Library System, who provided the scans, was able to send the original photograph (Fig. 1) that I chose, so we decided to keep the extra scan (Fig. 2), which featured the same beam being passed through the English Room window. I adjusted my label to incorporate both scans, but it was actually a blessing that the wrong scan had been sent to us.  Due to the fact that the photographs are exhibited in the front gallery, there is a direct tie to another part of the space: a timeline (Fig. 3). The timeline is broken into three different lines, and each one shows events that have occurred since the founding of the university. The lines from top to bottom represent events in the histories of the university, the Nationality Rooms, and the world in general. The visual knowledge group included events that affected each other to see how the Rooms have developed and been shaped over time. The addition of my second and accidental photograph allowed me to show the many different projects going on at the time and the quick expansion of the university’s properties. Previously, I had only connected the original photograph with world conflict (World War II), but this accident helped me to relate the photographs even more to our exhibit and to the growth of the university.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: Hard Work Pays Off

    Geoff Mansfield, 21 November 2017
     
    Looking back through the previous two months from the start of the planning, into the late installation phases of the exhibition, I started to visualize things slowly coming together from the design stage transitioning into a physical sense.  From the start of the project, everyone was designated with a specific role to contribute in the show. These were implemented through three planning groups, each responsible for a separate room of the exhibition, and four working groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of making the exhibition.  Everyone in the class was assigned to one planning group and one working group, although some took on greater roles intermixing to help accomplish the project. In total throughout the semester there were seven groups, and we all worked together as a team to get everything done to meet the deadlines. This required participation in each part of the learning experience throughout the process from the conception of ideas, the selection of objects, themes, titles, installation, and most rewarding, the opening on the evening of November 9th. My personal favorite learning experience of the exhibit was learning how to measure foot candles, or light intensity. This was critical in displaying the Andrey Avinoff Nationality Room Watercolors as they have to be kept under no more than a measure of five foot candles to limit damage from the lighting. 

    The greatest challenge was keeping the flow between the rooms while still differentiating between the major themes of “visual knowledge”, “identity”, and “sacred space.” Some intermingling between objects selected for different themes had to take place in order to fit everything within the spatial restrictions of the University Art Gallery. The idea was to communicate how these objects represent not only the Nationality Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning, but also the bigger themes of immigration, and identity in the history of Pittsburgh. In the final days, it was rewarding to see the concluding elements bring this representation of Pittsburgh diversity together in a definitive form. I was exceptionally pleased with the way the exhibit merged together and the high turnout of the opening. It has been an honor be part of this project where the class came together as a team in order to create something that was truly special, giving the chance for others to appreciate the exhibit and not only to represent the University of Pittsburgh, but to help bring Pittsburgh together as a whole collectively.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
    Fig 1: The world map with pins in the exhibition.
     

    Student Journal: What My Pin Means To Me

    Emily Marturano

    During the planning of this exhibit, an idea was formed that we should include some sort of interactive aspect to engage with the guests. This was finalized in the form of two maps – one of the United States, one of the world. Our intention with the maps was to have our visitors place pins in maps from where they were from or also in location with which they identified with. We hoped that through these maps, we could convey the same message that was so vital in the creation of the Nationality Room, which was the importance of immigration and national identity within communities in Pittsburgh. I thought this was a great idea, but I was not sure how great of an effect it would actually have on the exhibit.  

    On the morning before the opening, the class stood in front of the two empty maps, mounted on corkboard. We had been given special long white pins that were just for the members of the class to use, colorful pins for visitors that would soon take up residence on the map. I had the honor of putting in the first pin. I joked before pinning about what an honor it was to go first. I stuck one pin in my small hometown in western New Jersey and another in the town in Sicily where my father was born, and I moved on with my day without thinking much more about it.

    Later that evening, during the opening, I found myself back in the rotunda watching as almost every visitor stuck a pin in the map. It was then that I realized the impact the map could have on the exhibit. In an exhibit based around immigration and identity, the map allowed me to take into consideration how my national identity helps me view the world. I hope that other visitors to the museum have this same realization. I believe that the maps can create a new viewpoint through which to experience the exhibit. Looking at these maps forces visitors to recognize that each one of us has a unique cultural background and different family histories, and because of this, we are able to come together to create a new, diverse community here in Pittsburgh. This idea is what propelled the Nationality Rooms into existence almost 80 years ago, and is still an important aspect to recognize today.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: First thoughts on The Narratives of the Nationality Rooms

    Kendall Dunn, 13 November 2017
     
    After many weeks of editing floorplans, dictating objects to each group, and writing labels ten times over again, the show is finally open! All of these tasks could not have been completed without the help of every person in this class. We all contributed small things, that resulted in a beautiful and well-thought-out exhibition. This past week, the whole experience really came to life on Thursday night. We hosted our opening reception, showing all of the work that has built up for months now. During these two hours, we were able to observe visitors walking through the gallery and admiring our objects. I found myself looking at the eyes and facial expressions of viewers. Everyone seemed super excited when a visitor approached their object. It’s almost as if we were on view ourselves, through the objects we had chosen. Our intended flow of the exhibition seemed to be accomplished. Visitors walked through the front gallery, transitioned to the hallway, and finished in the back gallery with all of the watercolors. I think people were most surprised when seeing the watercolor towards the end of the exhibit. The show’s opening attendance reached over 150 on Thursday, which we are all so pleased about. After talking with professors and other Pitt staff members, it seemed like there was nothing but positive thoughts regarding the organization and the differences between each of the objects in the show. Yet despite the diversity among the different, people still understood that they all collaborated in telling a story.

    Now that we are past the opening of the exhibition, the next step is to speak about the gallery talks that will be given over the next couple of weeks. I believe that the most important aspects of these gallery talks will be explain the whole process of making the show. Because not all of the Rooms in the Cathedral of Learning are represented in the show, we all want to communicate the fact that there weren’t objects and documents available from every Room. We want to make sure we are representing the Nationality Rooms as a whole. Therefore, we should not individualize them, or suggest that one Room is better or more important than another. Our goal is to explain why the Nationality Rooms were designed and constructed in the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus. I am excited to see even more visitors view this exhibition, and to talk more with individuals regarding all of the decisions that were made to get to where we are now.

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

     

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

    Kenneth Wahrenberger, 14 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Figure 1: Bronze rooster base with bending

     

    Student Journal: Conservation and Condition Reports

    Patricia Smith. November 7,  2017

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

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

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

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

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: Seeing it all come together

    Xander Schempf, 24 October and 6 November 2017

    October 24

    As a class, we are currently in the stages right before the show really starts to pick up, or at least that’s how I’ve perceived it. Coming from the Installation group, it feels like planning can only go so far, and that once we get into the gallery to begin set up, things will come together and solutions to problems we didn’t know existed will be found. After multiple drafts with constant revisions and tweaks from fellow installation members, professors, and other classmates, we as a group have a pretty solid grasp on how things will be displayed.  The original plan of having Visual Knowledge in the front gallery, Identity in the rotunda, and Ritual in the hallway is intact (with just a few deviations). Within a week our installation group went from tentative guesses on locations to a well thought out layout of the upcoming exhibition. Next comes the physical installing of the objects, which is what I’m most looking forward to. Weeks of planning and scrapped ideas have led to this, so I hope for the best of luck!

    November 6

    Just a few days before the show opens, and the exhibition has truly come together. I've learned a lot about how a museum might operate from the de-installation of the previous show and the installation of ours. I learned many installation techniques such as proper lighting, display methods, handling of objects, and many more that I hope to bring to careers in my future. After it’s all installed, all that’s left to be done is to just let it happen. That's what I’m most excited about, just knowing that it’s installed and anyone can come and visit. 

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • Spaces
    • UAG
  •  

    Student Journal: What is Ruyi?

    Wendi Yu, 7 November 2017

    When you look at the vitrine that is filled with a set of ceremonial keys from the Nationality Rooms, an ornate key with gold accents will catch your eyes. Made for the Chinese Room, this ceremonial key is designed as a Ruyi (scepter), with a curved shape and a head fashioned like a cloud. But do you know what a Ruyi is, and what it represents in traditional Chinese culture?

    The Chinese term Ruyi is a compound of Ru “as; like” and Yi “wish; desire”, which had been used as early as the former Han Dynasty (206 BC – 24 AD). The Hanshu biography first recorded that Ruyi means “as you wish” in a quotation of scholar Jing Fang (77-37 BCE). There are two basic theories of the origin of the Ruyi. One is that Ruyi originated from Sanskrit Anuruddha, “a ceremonial scepter” used by Buddhist monks in India, who later brought it to China. The other is that the Ruyi was invented as a back scratcher because it had an apparent ability to reach parts of the human body that there normally impossible to reach.

    During its historical evolution, however, Ruyi became luxurious symbols of political power in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD). A Ruyi was regularly used in imperial ceremonies, and they were awarded as gifts to and from the Emperor. Because of its elegant style, the Ruyi was also popular among the literati class.

    A Ruyi could be made from various materials, including jade, ivory, metal, coral, wood, lacquer, crystal, and precious gems. Craftsmen fashioned the head of each Ruyi as cloud, fist, flower, Lingzhi mushroom, or a bat, which all symbolize power and good fortune. Since the design of the Chinese Room in the Cathedral of Learning was inspired by the Forbidden City, which was the Emperor’s palace for more than 600 years, the shape of Ruyi was used as a model for its ceremonial key to represent the dynastic history of China. The Chinese characters "Ruyi" were also incised on its head, making the appearance of the key as an important motif of Chinese culture unmistakable.

    Categories: 
    • Undergraduate Work
    • UAG

Pages