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MHCAM Interns - Summer 2019

During the summer of 2019, the Museum was a hub of activity thanks to four Mount Holyoke undergraduate interns whose many contributions ranged from object research to exhibition preparation and installation. This post highlights the summer work experiences of Izzy Chen ’21, Verity O'Connell ’20, Bran Kroc ’20, and Erin Hancock ’20.

November 23, 2019

MHCAM Interns - Summer 2019

The Museum was honored to host four talented and enterprising Mount Holyoke undergraduate summer interns, who made significant contributions to the ongoing research, care, and display of the collections at both the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum and the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum.

The following highlights the summer work experiences of Izzy Chen ’21, Verity O'Connell ’20, Bran Kroc ’20, and Erin Hancock ’20.

Izzy Chen '21
Photo Credit: 

Kendra Weisbin

Izzy Yiqi Chen ’21

Curatorial Intern
Art History Major

One of the many things I enjoyed about my summer internship was simply how difficult it is to sum it up. Started out browsing the digital database and overwhelmed by the massive records, I have read through sources to learn about an artist, hesitantly typed up drafts for exhibition labels, moved objects around trying to come up with the best layout… Even on the very last day, I made exhibition labels with mats for the first time. I am very lucky to have worked with the enthusiastic and supportive staff at the MHCAM, with whose help I was able to freely explore what I am curious about.

I started my internship cataloging and researching ten prints by the Japanese-French artist Leonard Tsugouharu Foujita (1886-1968). Foujita’s sensational debut in Paris in the Roaring Twenties was a groundbreaking moment in the transnational narrative of modern Asian art, which corresponds with my academic interests. Excited when I discovered this artist in our collection, I was able to directly engage with his works for an extended period of time, and learned to present my research by writing object summaries. This project familiarized me with object-based research at a museum which is quite different from writing a paper for a class. Dating the works and looking for original context of their making was like a detective’s work. To decide whether they are woodblock prints, etchings, or lithographs, I learned to identify the quality of marks like a technician with the help of Preparator Jackie Finnegan and her magnifying devices.

I am lucky to have had the opportunity to write labels for the upcoming Money Matters exhibition, and prints rotations in the Asian gallery. To write a label, I carefully selected information and tried to present it in clear and concise language. My projects, in particular, involved making connections between several objects in a way that is relevant to the exhibition theme. The process was challenging but inspiring. Whereas doing research asked me to spend time with objects and report to museum staff, writing labels was about trying to communicate with the museum audience, so that the story of an object would be meaningful and accessible to the general public.

Working with the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum was quite different. Largely preserving its conditions in the 1930s, the Museum houses nearly 7000 objects collected by Skinner himself. Though a vivid example of the culture of collecting in the US during Skinner’s lifetime, the tightly packed display of diverse objects could be overwhelming. How to make Skinner’s collection more informative and engaging without harming the historical value of the entire space? I could not have provided an answer to this tricky question but contributed to a single display case—the one holding 29 antique pocket watches and 27 pairs of eyeglasses. Based on some research on the design history of watches and eyeglasses, I dated each object and identified its maker if possible. I then rearranged the objects in chronological and geographical order, and wrote labels showing how these personal gears have evolved through time. With Curator Aaron Miller’s help, I imitated the language of Skinner’s labels in the 30s, trying to keep my changes consistent with the original vision of the Museum Joseph Skinner might have had.

My projects would not have been possible without the supportive staff and incredible resources at the MHCAM and the Skinner Museum. When I brought up an idea, the museum staff would always encourage me to develop a larger project and help me realize it step by step. The teaching efforts of the MHCAM inspire me to contemplate on how a museum interacts with the community, whereas the Skinner Museum expands my idea of what a museum could look like. I would love the opportunity to help with the two unique museums in the future.

Verity O'Connell '20
Photo Credit: 

Ellen Alvord

Verity O'Connell ’20

Curatorial Intern
Art History and Gender Studies double major

This summer I had the opportunity to be a curatorial intern at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. From the first day I started I was in the action with working on the new exhibits and being part of the museum community. Never having worked previously in an academic museum, I loved seeing a different side of the art world that was centered and dedicated to the college I love.

One of the best parts of my internship was being able to work on the Money Matters exhibition with Curator Aaron Miller and history professor Desmond Fitz-Gibbons. This show was based around a class Professor Fitz-Gibbons taught about the history of money. I loved learning about the different objects and works that we were putting in the show from Professor Fitz-Gibbons and what he discussed in his class. I was able to write a chat label for the show that discussed the relation between two works, the Brixton Pound and Felipe Jesus Consalvos' One Wild Girl. While I loved writing about the connections between these two objects, what I really enjoyed was diving deeper into the complicated histories of these works. I was able to learn how the Brixton pound challenges common currency in Britain by helping the local economy by limiting its usage to the Brixton area. For Consalvos’s collage, it was not as easy to find information; Consalvos was never known during the time he was creating art but was instead “discovered” at a garage sale. Because we know very little about his biography, it is hard to date his artwork. We didn’t want to give a wide range for the date but it seemed like there was no way to know a more distinct timeline. Consalvos’s work is mainly collage, meaning that he uses materials from magazines, newspapers, etc. In the work there is an image of a car and my supervisor Aaron Miller thought that if we could identify the car we would be able to have a better idea of a timeline. I looked through lists of vintage cars trying to see if one of them could possibly be a match. Eventually I contacted an antique car website and asked if they could help me with the identification. They gave me an email of a car expert, I sent him the image of the car, and within hours received a response telling me what the make and year of the car. This was one of my favorite experiences because I was able to witness the different ways to figure out aspects of artworks and see a different side of working in a museum.

Another aspect of the internship that I loved was conducting some independent research. I was able to learn more about the museum's photography collection and able to pinpoint some areas that I wanted to explore. Looking through the collection, I was able to discover Larry Clark’s work which I will be using for my thesis in the upcoming year. But the area that I loved learning the most about was the Ann Zelle collection. Zelle is a Mount Holyoke alum, a photographer, and collector of vernacular photographs which she has donated. I was able to use the skills that I gained with researching historical information with the Consalvos piece for this collection. Because the vernacular photographs are anything from family snapshots to photos from artists studios, for the most part we have no idea who the people pictured or or what time period they were taken. So, I became a detective and tried to see what I could learn from looking at an image. From looking to cars to what people were wearing to trying to figure out what type of photographic process used I was able to find potential dates and locations for these images, adding another layer to their history and mystery.

I loved my internship at the MHC Art Museum this summer because I feel that I gained so many skills that I wouldn’t have been able to in a different museum setting. I have worked with some of the nicest people I have ever met and feel that my love of museums continues to grow and expand since this experience. I will miss working in this amazing environment so much.

Jackie Finnegan (L) and Bran Kroc '20 (R) installing a print
Photo Credit: 

Katelyn Allen

Bran Kroc ’20

Collections Intern
Gender Studies Major and Studio Art Minor

This summer I had the opportunity to intern with the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. I worked in the Collections department with Linda Best, Collections Manager/Registrar, and Jackie Finnegan, Senior Preparator. I’ve completed multiple projects over the course of my two-month internship, in the realms of both art handling and data management.

I worked on projects to complete the acquisition of photographs and posters into the Museum’s permanent collection. This included reorganizing and re-numbering over two hundred works, the related record keeping, and the creation of new housings for these objects. I fixed and updated art housings such as adding handles and labels to trays and boxes, creating foam cavity housings, and making new phase boxes. Making phase boxes was a really fun project. Phase boxes are made from one piece of archival cardboard cut and scored to make flaps that fold over the object inside, keeping it safe and secure without risk of the box coming apart or breaking. The flaps are then secured with a piece of twill tape tied in a pretty bow. I created over twenty-five new phase boxes and replaced others that had been made with earlier techniques that were not as effective.

Linda taught me how to work with deaccession files and card catalogs, showing me the importance of record keeping and data management. By prudently deaccessioning works of art that are in bad condition or that do not serve our institutional mission in some way, the Museum is able to reclaim precious storage area needed for the ever-expanding collection. I also assisted Linda with her project of reorganizing the flat file storage from alphabetical order by artist name to accession numerical order, which will provide more efficient storage and retrieval of objects.

I was also able to participate in installing the new exhibitions in some of the galleries. I uninstalled and unframed works on paper that had been on view, and then framed the works that would be replacing them. Jackie taught me how to calculate and measure hanging heights and spacing so that I was able to complete the installation of the printmaking show in the Front Gallery. The salon-style hang on the feature wall was a particularly tricky installation as all the pieces are different sizes and orientations as well as required differently-sized spacings apart from each other. Between hanging art and making phase boxes, there was a lot more math this summer than I expected!

Working with the Museum this summer has been an incredible opportunity that has taught me so much about myself, the world of art, and the behind-the-scenes of museums. I’ve loved the work and the people, and I’ll miss it when this internship is over. I’m so grateful for everything I’ve learned and experienced and I can’t wait to continue learning and doing!

Erin Hancock '20
Photo Credit: 

Ellen Alvord

Erin Hancock ’20

Curatorial Intern
Anthropology Major, History Minor, and Ethnomusicology Certificate

This summer I had the opportunity to be a curatorial intern with the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum as well as the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum. I had previously worked with the museums and museum staff during J-term. I was excited to return to both working with the staff of the museums and several projects I began in January.

I worked primarily with Aaron Miller and Jackie Finnegan. My main focus this summer was on bringing a late 17th to early 18th century loom back to life. In January, Aaron, Jackie, and I had taken the loom parts out of the Skinner Museum White Shed storage and into the Schoolhouse. We put the frame pieces of the loom back together, working off of Roman numerals carved into the loom by its maker. The loom itself was dry, dusty, and covered in cobwebs and pine pollen. It was also missing several pieces including pegs, heddles, and treadles. This summer, I worked to both clean and recreate most of those missing pieces. I began by vacuuming and brushing off the dirt, pine pollen, and cobwebs. After consulting with Jackie on wood cleaners, I cleaned and added linseed oil to the loom.

Then, I started making the replacement parts for the loom. Jackie and I raided the Mount Holyoke excess woodpile for pine branches, and Linda Best found several more branches in a museum auditorium. Using a knife and a handsaw, I carved replicas of the missing pegs from the branches. Using wood also found in the White Shed, I collaborated with Kris Camp and Katie Kelso of the MHC Makerspace to make heddles, basing them off of the single heddle stick we found. In doing research for this project, I got into contact with Historic Deerfield and the Marshfield School of Weaving in Vermont.

By visiting the Marshfield School of Weaving, I was able to put together more information about the loom’s history, as well as how to set up a barn frame loom for active weaving. For one week during my internship, I spent a week at Marshfield learning how to actually weave on a barn frame loom, as well as how to process flax. I also was a part of the Hands On Historic Textiles Forum put on by the School in association with Eaton Hill Textile Works and Thistle Hill Weavers. During the forum and the week afterwards, I learned much more about the cultural practices associated with cloth making. I participated in a Scottish waulking (a process in which a circle of people rhythmically thump a length of woolen cloth on a board to full the cloth, set to working songs) led by Norman Kennedy at the forum.

In addition to working on the loom project, I did research on multiple objects at the Skinner Museum for the purposes of replacing or recreating them so that the original object could be better conserved. These included the candles originally present in the Skinner candelabras and a World War One memorial flag.

I learned an incredible amount this summer while working at the Art Museum. Much of it was unexpected in the best way: I got to learn how to carve loom parts, how to create museum exhibits, and how to actually weave on a barn frame loom! None of these opportunities would have been possible without the support of the Museum staff. I am excited to continue working with them as I develop my senior thesis on the loom and its cultural context.

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