Monday, August 13, 2012

Week 10

August 6th - August 10th

And thus I began my final week as an MFAH intern...

With the essay out of the way, things really started to wind down. On Monday, I wrote out 'thank you' notes to MFAH staff, created a map of the important places that Tanner had traveled to throughout his life, put together a PowerPoint of Tanner images for the packet, and continued to rework some of the Tanner questions and text. Tuesday, I stated to assemble my internship presentation. On the last day of this week, the six summer undergraduate interns will give short talks on what we did this summer. If we thought that summarizing ten weeks of work in 5 -7 pages was tricky, it's nothing to the five minutes that we then had to condense it into.

Wednesday, the interns met with Amy Purvis, the Director of Development at the MFAH. This was a pretty interesting meeting and seemed to summarize both the glamour and humility involved in running a major arts institution. Development is a lot about creating and cultivating relationship with benefactors. This means knowing A LOT of information about both potential and present donors and hooking them or keeping them on board by finding good matches between individuals and museum projects.

In Purvis's own words, she does decent amount of "glad handing." You definitely need to have the right kind of personality to successfully carry out the more public aspects of development. There are definitely very social parts of the job that involves going to lunches and parties with benefactors, leading them on international tours, etc. However, there's also a quieter side of the department, involving things such as writing letters and 'thank you' notes and helping other departments write grants.

According to Purvis, there's significant room to grow in the field of development. Not only in terms of the number of development professionals (staff are in high demand and are paid well), but in terms of the amounts that entities could be giving, individual and especially corporate. I finished off the day with my final education staff meeting.

Thursday, I finished up the PowerPoint for my presentation on Friday. Unfortunately, when George and the interns got together to practice later, the six of us were all well over five minutes each. So Friday, I adjusted the PowerPoint to the critiques from the previous day. Then, I cleaned up my electronic files, had a debriefing meeting with Jason, and got ready to give my speech! In a small room filled with family, supervisors, and other interested parties, the six of us, one after another, delivered our presentations. Despite nerves, all went well. Each talk was met with enthusiastic applause and the entire event was capped off with a quick reception outside the auditorium.

Selected slides from my internship presentation

If I have not expressed my gratitude for the Education Department throughout this blog, I'd like to do it here. I really did have a wonderful summer at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. I learned a lot about what it's like to be an educator and had so much fun doing it. Looking back, there wasn't one morning that I wished I wasn't going in to work at the museum. The entirety of the education staff was so welcoming and encouraging. I'd like to express special thanks to George Ramirez, Dr. Victoria Ramirez, Jason Moodie, Natalie Svacina, Jennifer Beradino, Clare Hulfish, and Kris Bergquist. I could certainly go on, but I'd end up listing the entire department. I had a wonderful experience at the MFAH, and would recommend this internship to anyone interested in museum work or arts education.

The 2012 MFAH Summer Undergraduate Interns
Top: Alex Irrera, Education/School Programs, Rachel, Curatorial Film
Middle: Araceli, Education/Family Programs
Bottom: Molly, International Center for the Arts of the Americas,
Kenji, Curatorial Photography
Not Pictured: Leslie, Conservation
Photo by George Ramirez

Week 9

July 30th - August 3rd

This summer has certainly gone by quickly! With two more weeks left to go on Monday, the end of the internship was definitely in sight. I started to put together a list of resources for the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY teacher packet. The articles and websites that I came across mostly recommended strategies for covering difficult subject, such as war, violence, and death, in the classroom. I also attended the presentation for a research project about the collections feature of art museum websites, completed by the Photography intern Kenji.

Tuesday, I began annotating my WAR resource findings. I also met with Natalie to go over my Tanner packet questions again. She gave me some feedback on my writing for two more of Tanner's paintings. Primarily, I needed to hone in one the point that I wanted to make with each question. I also needed to change the ordering of my questions and text so they matched each other - ultimately creating a scaffolding that students will be able to build their reading of the paintings on.

Later in the day, the interns met with Director of the MFAH, Gary Tinterow. Following the typical structure of our meetings with staff, Mr. Tinterow told us a little bit about his background, his experiences at The Metropolitan Museum of Art where, after nearly thirty years of services, he concluded his time there as the director of the Met's 19th century, modern, and contemporary department. Our talk with him was congenial. He answered questions about his approach as a museum professional ("you get what you give"), the museum's plans to construct a new modern and contemporary building, and his goals concerning the MFAH's commitment to serving a diverse public (he said that he hopes to "dispel imperceptible barriers" and make the museum a place where there is something for everyone). The meeting was personally enlightening and a great opportunity to hear from the individual who will guide the MFAH's public presence and personality through the coming years.

Newly appointed Director of the MFAH,
Gary Tinterow
On Wednesday, the interns met with one of my supervisors, Director of Education Dr. Victoria Ramirez. The talk followed its usual format: personal/academic background, overview of the department/position, and questions. Like many others, Dr. Ramirez began with an interest in curating but switched paths after having an eye-opening experience with an education department and concluded its type of work was better suited to her ideas and goals about contributing to the museum world. Something that was surprising to her (and I think would be surprising to anyone interested in museum work) is that most people come into the education center to ask, what is there to do here? It's sort of a strange question for people who simply love museums, but I think the prevalence of this question sums up what the education department is here to do: serve as a medium between the museum and the typical visitor. If the typical visitor enters the museum with a question of this nature, then the education department is indeed poised to perform a vital function.

Thursday, I worked on my internship essay. Each of the six undergraduate interns is required to write a 5-7 page reflection on their experiences. These essays are then compiled into a book to be given back to the interns or are shown to trustees, donors, and other supporters of the museum's internship program. I took a break in the middle of the day to watch The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a film that is considered to be the older surviving animated feature. Created in 1926, it's no longer the most politically correct of children's tales, but for the most part the animation was really beautiful and the story entertaining.

The first few minutes of Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures
of Prince Achmed

On Friday, I completed my essay and a brief paragraph about myself by the afternoon. The rest of the day I spent editing the Tanner packet.

Week 8

July 23rd - July 27th

Week eight was busy with WAR and more off site field trips. Monday, I continued to read through the WAR exhibition catalogue. Later in the day, the education department met with curators Anne Tucker, Will Michels, and Natalie Zelt to discuss the educational space that will be placed in the last gallery of the exhibition. First, Natalie Zelt gave a presentation of exhibition highlights, the titles of which I quickly jotted down so I could include them in my own list. Staff then discussed the three types of audience members who will visit (military, general public, and the arts/photography community) and that these individual groups will all be expecting different information and experiences from the show. Because the exhibition is so big and often graphic, there was discussion of putting together a map of all the galleries, with the more brutal areas marked out (so people with young kids or sensitive viewers can avoid as they see fit). How best to prepare the docents for the material was also brought up and Dr. Ramirez mentioned to me that I might put together a list of teacher resources dealing with how to approach difficult subjects, such as conflict, in the classroom.

Tuesday morning I helped Jason register people for the Summer Mini-Conference, in which artists and educators can learn about art history, art making, and art education in different sessions. Wednesday, the interns visited the conservation department at the Rosine Building. First, Kress Foundation Conservation Fellow Melissa Gardner introduced us to the department's paintings lab. She talked about her own educational background (and about how extremely competitive the conservation world is) and introduced us to a few of her projects. After she led us around the analytical lab, we had our second meeting of the day with Conservation Assistant Trevor Boyd. Boyd talked about the silver coating project and the large amount of work that the team had recently completed for American Made - including recreating a rare Gothic Revival settee from (basically) just its frame, and figuring out how to put together George Nelson's Comprehensive Storage System with Desk without any instructions... or a picture of what it should look like once assembled. Overall, it was a really cool visit.

An example of a Gothic Revival settee

Conservation inside the Beck Building
(Sorry - I couldn't find any pictures of Rosine!)

Thursday, I assisted Family Programs sketching activity in the morning and worked on WAR in the afternoon. On Friday, George took the interns out to lunch at local Vietnamese restaurant Van Loc before traveling to the Menil Collection to met Associate Curator Michelle White. There are so many truly wonderful aspects of the Menil, but I won't go into detail about too many of them. Foremost however, the Menil is beautifully constructed. It is primarily lit with natural light (you can experience light changes in the lobby as clouds come and go) and has clean white walls and dark wood floors, which are slightly warn from the footsteps of its visitors. These aspects, as well as the fact that it's relatively small and contained on a single floor, were utilized to avoid museum fatigue, a goal of the de Menils, the museum's remarkable founders.

We traveled into the preparations lab (to see models of the museum and its permanent collection in one twelfth scale). Then, we went into a few of the storage rooms. Arranged "cabinet of curiosity" style, two dimensional works hang from floor to ceiling and sculptures are placed on stands and in cabinets. In short, these rooms were the most intimate art spaces I think I've ever been in. The de Menil's were famous collectors of surrealist art so the first room contained groups of Ernst sculpture, followed by a wall or two of paintings and drawings by René Magritte. There were also shadow boxes by Joseph Cornell, drawings, paintings, and collage by Picasso, paint and mounds of pigment by Kline, sculptures by Oldenburg, and Warhol or two. It was magical - the candy store equivalent for any art history enthusiast. This intelligently clustered arrangement seemed like it would be rare but extremely useful from an academic perspective. It was if the pages of a catalogue had spread out and come to life, allowing one to view small periods of artistic activity for an individual artist with one look. Curator White made it all the more fun by providing us with background stories on certain works and quizzing us on our abilities to name artists. The tour of the Menil's storage has definitely been one of the highlights and privileges of the summer.

Exterior of the Menil

Menil gallery space

Scale model of museum in the exhibitions

René Magritte (1898–1967), L'empire des lumiéres
(The Dominion of Light), 1954

Week 7

July 16th - July 20th

The end of the Tanner packet is near! Well, at least temporarily. Monday, I started writing a section of the packet comparing Tanner's work and life and that of local Houston artist John Biggers. The comparison is a little bit of a stretch; Tanner and Biggers had very different styles of painting and practical opposing conceptions of what it meant to be African American (granted they were working nearly three quarters of a century apart). However, both faith and travel were integral to their experiences as artists and human beings, which is what I focused on.

John Biggers (1924 - 2001)

John Biggers, Jubilee: Ghana Harvest Festival, 1959-63, Tempera and acrylic
on canvas, MFAH, Gift of Duke Energy.

Tuesday, Jason suggested that I give myself a break from Tanner by moving on to the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY EFE packet. I'm very excited about the switch because, 1) Tanner has been dragging and 2) WAR's got some really incredible content. For this packet, I will be looking through the works (almost 500) and going through the catalogue (or what exists so far of the projected 600 page text) to find the works that are described most extensively and that seem most useful and appropriate for the classroom. The appeal of this new project, also gave me the little boost of energy that I needed to finish up my writing the comparison between Tanner and Biggers and reworking some of PAFA's original questions.

Wednesday, I dove into WAR. My first task was just to locate all the documents and images from the the photography department that I would need. In the afternoon, the interns met with Assistant Curator Christine Gervais for a insider tour of the new exhibition: American Made: 250 Years of American Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Christine was very nice and was able to tell us about certain restoration projects that happened for the exhibition and about the many curatorial decisions that she and American Painting curator Emily Neff made in creating the exhibit. Overall, American Made is one of the most impressive exhibitions that I've seen - it does a wonderful job of evoking the thoughts and feelings of each time period it covers without featuring any particularly famous works or didactic panels. The exhibition is an elegant creation that leaves one feeling practically patriotic by the final gallery (despite the fact that the room features selections from Robert Frank's critical photographic work The Americans).

John James Audubon, ​The Birds of America:
from Original Drawings​, 1827–38, hand-colored
etching and aquatint, Private Western Collection.

Unknown makers (including S. R. Carroll, M. A. Humphreys,
Sophia Osborne, Ellen Ehlies, T. S. and M. D.), "Baltimore
Album" Quilt​, 1840s, cotton and cotton appliqué, the MFAH,
 gift of Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. 

Elie Nadelman, Tango, c. 1918–24, cherry wood
and gesso, the MFAH, gift of Mr. and
Mrs. Meredith Long. © Estate of Elie Nadelman

Helen Torr, Corrugated Building, 1929, oil
on panel, the MFAH, gift of The Brown Foundation,
 Inc., and Isabel B. Wilson in memory of
Peter C. Marzio.

Thursday, Kendra and I did a little bit to help out with Family Programs by making examples for the art making activity based on Turner's A Coast Scene with Fisherman Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece") from the Kenwood House exhibition. The rest of the day was devoted to the WAR packet.

Joseph Mallord William Turner, A Coast Scene with Fisherman
Hauling a Boat Ashore ("The Iveagh Sea-Piece"), c. 1803–04,
oil on canvas, Kenwood House, English Heritage, Iveagh
Bequest. (Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

A splendid example project! Created using watercolor pencils
and paper, markers, and projector sheets.

Friday, the interns headed to Rienzi, the MFAH's second off site decorative arts department. While Bayou Bend focuses on decorative arts from America, Rienzi collects European works. Director and curator Katherine Howe was able to give us a tour of the house, which was a real treat because she was integral contributor to its creation in 1999. Beautiful art aside, the house itself is really interesting - many parts of its design are undeniably evocative of the 1950s, yet it is also accommodating to gold, silver, and ornament from another continent, centuries ago.

Friedrich Ketwyck and Jochim Timme, Wall Sconce
(one of a pair), c. 1670, Silver, MFAH, The Rienzi
Collection, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Harris Masterson III

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Week 6

July 9th - July 13th

Monday began with my introduction to Jen and Natalie's Teacher Fellows Summer Institute (TFSI). The program will formally begin on Tuesday so the first day of the week gave Natalie and Jen the chance to practice and refine their gallery talk with an audience (Jen's assistant Clare and I). While Natalie led us through a looking and discussion exercise with Georgia O'Keeffe painting Red Hills with White Shell, Jen interjected to explain the kinds of choices Natalie was making as educator, such as when to give or withhold information, how to change the questions if the audience struggles to answer, and strategies for leading and pacing the conversation.

Georgia O'Keeffe. American 1887-1986. Red Hills with White Shell.
1938. Oil on canvas.  30 x 36 1/2 inches.

Natalie and Jen's program is really interesting. Essentially, they're developing a Learning Through Art program for a middle school audience (LTAs are currently planned for elementary). The pair wants this programs to focus on higher level thinking or what they're calling "habits of mind." These include themes like ambiguity, persistence, and determination. The purpose of the TFSI is to really begin to tie the work that Natalie and Jen have done so far to the curriculum that Texas teachers are required to teach (called TEKS). After the practice session, I helped Kendra by posing for some photos she'll need for the audio tour flyer (fancy!). Later in the day, the staff meeting was held, after which I asked Natalie for some feedback on what I've written on Tanner so far. She looked over my discussion of Tanner's paintings Pomp at the Zoo and A Mosque in Cairo.

Henry Ossawa Tanner. Pomp at the Zoo.
 c. 1880.  Oil on canvas.  20 x 16 inches.
Henry Ossawa Tanner. A Mosque in Cairo. 1897.
Oil on canvas. 9.5 x 13 inches.

Natalie's feedback was very helpful; she let me know what I ideas she thought I needed to expand and gave diction suggestions. She also mentioned that she thought that a lot of the classroom questions that go along with the painting examples, which I had borrowed from PAFA (with permission), aren't strong. Question writing is an area that I'm particularly unfamiliar with so, I hadn't felt equipped to be too critical of the PAFA. However, having watched a bit of gallery teaching by this point, I can definitely agree with Natalie's assessment. My next steps will be to rewrite the sections that Natalie commented on, get feedback for the rest of what I've written, and rewrite the questions. Natalie has also kindly suggested a few articles on question writing to help me out: Pat Villeneuve's Aesthetic Scanning and From Periphery to Center: Art Museum Education in the 21st Century.

Tuesday, I attended sections of the TFSI, notably Natalie's gallery talk and the curriculum connections session, in which the teachers began to brainstorm connections between "habits of mind" and specific curriculum content.Wednesday morning, the TFSI duo lead a group discussion on the topic: what makes a good question? Later in the day, the interns met with Curator of Photography, Anne Wilkes Tucker.

Tucker is one of the biggest names on the MFAH staff as well as within the field of photographic study. One of her biggest accomplishments has been to establish the MFAH's now extensive photography collection, building it up from the very little that the department possessed when she began here in 1976. Her production of exhibition catalogues and other texts on photography has also been prolific. Tucker was able to talk about her life and career, and a bit about WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY; then we had a Q&A session with her.

One thing that stood out to me was her process for both coming up with show themes and adding to the permanent collection. Both seemed to come out of a series of questions: Has someone done this?/Do we have this? Why not? How can we do it?/ How can we get it? It's part of a process that requires persistence, confidence, and a bit of nerve. Another interesting point was that much of being a curator is fundraising (which I think perhaps aspiring curators don't usually realize). A final aspect of the conversation that struck me was how little preciousness she seemed to assign to her work. Although she definitely expressed pride concerning her professional accomplishments, she also noted that no one can know what will survive the test of taste and time. The works and exhibitions that are currently revered may be forgotten tomorrow, just as the pieces that are dismissed today could later inspire awe. After our discussion with Tucker, we met with Del Zogg, Manager of the Works on Paper and Photography Collections, who told us a bit about himself and gave us a tour of the Works on Paper Study Center and storage (freezers and all). On a side note, Tucker recommends Errol Morris' article on the debate surrounding Roger Fenton's famous pair of photographs The Valley of the Shadow of Death, which will be featured in the W/P exhibition.

Thursday, I helped out a little with Family Programs. The activity was gallery sketching and scavenger hunts. This time, these activities took place in one of the temporary exhibitions, Modern and Contemporary Masterworks from Malba - Fundacion Contantini. With these activities, kids get the chance to study and draw from great works like Abaporu (The Man that Eats People) by Tarsila do Amaral and Frida Kahlo's Self Portrait with Monkey and Parrot.

Tarsila do Amaral, Abaporu, 1928,
Oil on canvas, Malba - Fundación Costantini,
Buenos Aires. © Tarsila do Amaral

Frida Kahlo, Autorretrato con chango y loro
 (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot),
1942, Oil on masonite, Malba - Fundación
Costantini, Buenos Aires. © 2012 Banco
de México Diego Rivera Frida Kahlo Museums
 Trust, Mexico, D.F. / Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York

Despite the threat of a downpour on Friday, the interns headed off to tour Bayou Bend (BB). Originally the house and collection of Ima Hogg, daughter of a Texas governor, BB is the decorative arts wing of the MFAH and exclusively features American-made items (furniture, silver, paintings, etc.) from the early colonial times until the later half 1800s. The house is located in the wealthiest of Houston neighborhoods known as River Oaks and has extensive gardens and walking paths.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Week 5

July 2nd - July 6th

Thanks to our national holiday, this week was short and sweet. I'll keep my description concise as well by just saying that the week was devoted to finishing the rough draft of the biographical content for the Tanner packet. By Tuesday afternoon, I had completed Tanner's biography, added vocabulary terms, and edited the draft a bit.

Wednesday was the Fourth of July, but we were back on Thursday for another intern field trip. For this excursion, we traveled across the Montrose Street to meet with the staff of Houston's Contemporary Arts Museum (CAMH, commonly referred to as the "CAM").

Museum of Contemporary Arts, Houston
Back of the museum,
sculpture by Houston native and artist Mel Chin.

The meeting assembled in a sort-of pow-wow in the middle of the museum's ground-level gallery. Standing in a large circle, MFAH interns and CAMH staff and interns introduced themselves. At George's request, some of the CAM's head staff spoke at length about their backgrounds, offering their professional trajectories and experiences. Most notable were the stories of Director Bill Arning and Senior Curator Valerie Cassel Oliver. As to be expected, both described years of hard work. However, each also embodied a strong degree of flexibility in navigating their experiences. Although neither began their formal education in the visual arts (Arning wanted to be a musician and Oliver originally got her undergraduate degree in communications), by embracing and taking full advantage of their changing interests and opportunities, both have built sound careers and have done impressive, often groundbreaking work in the field. I especially liked Oliver's characterization of curating as "collecting voices." A number of Arning's quotes were also amusing and cogent. Towards the end of the discussion, he said something to the extent of: "Sex, violence, and other controversial subjects are all over television and it's numbing. There's plenty of sex, violence, etc. in a contemporary art museum, but here it's up close and personal. Here, it makes you think." After the meeting, the MFAH interns stayed to check out the two exhibitions currently on view: It Is What It Is. Or Is It? and Perspectives 178: Cineplex, both of which were appropriately exciting and thought provoking.

I left the group a bit early to assist with Family Programs at the MFAH. The day's activity was scroll painting, inspired by the Japanese art of the Powers exhibition. Volunteers help kids and their families discover how to use the value of a pigment to designate foreground, middle ground, and background in landscapes. I ended the week by having a meeting with Dr. Ramirez about my progress with the Tanner packet and by beginning to add the content and make the adjustments that she had suggested.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Week 4

June 25th - June 29th

Over the weekend, I visited the Rice Library again to copy sections from their books on Tanner. On Monday, I reviewed what I had gathered that weekend, reading and then writing for Tanner examples in the packet. In the afternoon, I also attended the staff tour for the Kenwood House exhibition, in which pieces by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Reynolds made notable appearances (the rivalry of the later two artists was interestingly illustrated in the exhibit and explained by European arts curator Peter Bowron).

Frans Hals, ​Pieter van den Broecke​, 1633, oil on canvas,
Kenwood House, English Heritage, Iveagh Bequest.
(Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

Frans Hals, ​Pieter van den Broecke​, 1633, oil on canvas,
Kenwood House, English Heritage, Iveagh Bequest.
(Courtesy American Federation of Arts)

Tuesday morning I took a longer break from Tanner to attend the LTA "Beyond the Canvas," which explored the ways in which the MFAH's permanent collection could be used to develop vocabulary as well as analytical and writing skills. In the workshop, teachers practiced using strategic questioning skills and participated in activities like a symbolic scavenger hunt, writing and illustrating a poem related to their subject area, constructing a scene using basic shapes (à la Stuart Davis), and creating a self portrait as part of a discussion on symmetry. The last two hours of my day were allocated to helping clean up the LTA and writing for the Tanner examples. Wednesday consisted of more reading and writing for examples and background. I also got my hands on the PAFA Modern Spirit catalogue, which was helpful in writing discussion for those Tanner works that were more difficult to interpret. Thursday, I assisted with Family Programs. FP has scheduled events on Thursdays on Sundays, usually involving activities like gallery sketching, scavenger hunts, and art creation. This particular day involved gallery sketching so I spent the morning sharpening pencil, arranging sketch kits, and giving instructions to and interacting with families and kids. Overall, it seems like the museum is good about making the gallery spaces kid-friendly. With some of the more fragile or popular works roped off (just for good measure), the free programs allows children to go into almost any gallery in the museum, get comfy on a stool or the floor, and sketch away. Later in the day I finish writing about the Tanner the examples and began rewriting the biographical background information on Tanner that PAFA had used. Friday, the interns went on a behind-the-scenes tour with Michael Kennaugh from the Preparations Department. This basically meant we visited areas like the loading docks, matting and framing, on-site conservation, and on-site storage - also we got to ride in an enormous elevator that is used to transport art (large amounts or things that are especially heavy). I finished the day by concluding my writing on Tanner's biography.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Week 3

June 18th - June 22nd

The third week is when I really started to settle into the internship. That Monday I got to go on a tour with a group of history teachers. In addition to going into some of the galleries, we met with two of the curators of the upcoming WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibition, Anne Wilkes Tucker, the Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography, and Will Michels, photographer and Glassell School of Art instructor. The pair gave a really cool introduction to the show, which covers all the wars that the camera has been around for and is ten years in the making.

Alexander Gardner, Group of Guides for the Army of the Potomac,
1862, albumen print, the MFAH, gift of Harry Reasoner at “One
Great Night in November, 1995.”

Mark Grimshaw, First Cut, July 2004, inkjet print,
courtesy of the photographer. © Mark Grimshaw

Because the show spans such a great deal of time, it won't be organized chronologically but by the typical "steps" of war.The rest of the day I worked with Kendra to get EoTW ready to ship and worked on the Tanner packet. Tuesday was another a new adventure - my first Learning Through Art (LTA) workshop. The "ARTiculation" LTA introduced the concept of using art as a learning tool for any classroom subject. The MFAH instructor Rita led the teachers in a number of looking activities, which often involved making descriptive lists of things they saw and then using those lists to facilitate detailed writing. These looking exercises were often accompanied by fun art-making activities such as making easy etchings and paper masks. The teachers also practiced looking and question-writing in the galleries. The LTA went from 9 AM - 3 PM so it ended up consuming most of my day. Wednesday, I again turned my attention to EoTW. George Ramirez, who is the Manager of Digital Media for Education as well as the interim School Programs Coordinator (Lauren's old job), wanted to see if we could get any of the state congressmen who represent the Third Ward at the capitol to attend the exhibit and pose for some promotional photos. I wasn't able to get the congressmen themselves but there were a few individuals from the offices who were interested in attending. I put the staff of Representative Borris Miles and Senator Rodney Ellis in contact with our photographer in Austin to schedule the shoot. Once this was settled, Kendra and I finished all the prep work for EoTW by organizing the instructional materials, pairing the photos with their respective labels, and and packing up the stands and photos into their boxes. Thursday morning we shipped off the show. Later, I continued looking over biography for Tanner. I was trying to enhance the PAFA packet by connecting him with other African American artists. However, I wasn't really sure how useful this would be. After some frustration, I asked Natalie for help and she was able to give me direction by suggesting that I give a bit of background and analysis for the Tanner works that PAFA had written discussion questions for. In short, Natalie is great and continues to be my go-to person for advice. So, Friday I headed off to Rice University's library to do research on the examples. When I got back , I had a talk with Jason and did some writing.

Also, late news but, the piece from the permanent collection that I've chosen to journal about is Philip Guston's Passage.

Philip Guston, Passage, c. 1957, Oil on canvas

The Sarofim Gallery
 aka where I hang out with Guston.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Week 2

June 11th - June 15th

Week two was all about settling in and getting started on the Tanner packet. With Jason gone this week and Lauren preparing to leave the following week, it was important that I tap into her experience as much as I could by asking questions and volunteering to help with activities. On Monday I met the graduate school interns who would also be working in Family Programs for the summer, Kendra and Eunjung. I also got started on my Tanner research, mostly using the Hirsch's online databases and looking over PAFA's packet, and went on a staff tour of the Modern and Contemporary Masterworks from Malba – Fundación Costantini exhibit. Tuesday was a continuation of research and reading on Tanner. I attended a Learning through Art tour with one of the museum's on staff teachers, Rita. Rita actually helped develop the LTA curriculum and has been teaching with the MFAH for over 20 years now. It was interesting because I got to see some gallery teaching for the first time as well as what's involved in teaching teachers.The biggest thing that was emphasized was taking the time LOOK and take an inventory of what you see before jumping into analysis or conclusions about the work -- really focusing on knowing your process.Wednesday brought a few more orientation formalities: a tour of the Registrar (they deal with acquisitions, cataloguing, lending and loaning, etc.) and a training session for The Museum System (TMS), which is the museum's digitized catalogue of all of its works, both permanent and temporary. Tanner research continued and I began to construct a timeline of Tanner's life and accomplishments that will contextualize him by also including important political, artistic, and scientific events. This will be included as an additional resource in the teacher packet. Again, Thursday, more of the same, reading, and working on the timeline; but also feeling a little lost about how to evaluate the PAFA packet, a piece of writing by someone who I would assume has much more experience in museum education than I do. Clearly, I was feeling a bit insecure so on Friday I met with Victoria and was able to get some feedback on the timeline (finished now) and some suggestions about where to go from there. Another thing that I was busy with during the week was getting the EoTW show prepped for Austin. Kendra and I spent about half of our time during the week figuring out how exactly the photos were going to be oriented on the stands, marking the places for each work on its respective stand, writing a set of hanging instructions, rewriting and editing the text panel, and reformatting the labels to be printed.

Also, I think I mentioned before that Natalie, the Curriculum Coordinator who also works in my office, has a lot of good advice to give! I thought I'd summarize a bit of her museum education / interning wisdom here:
  • Things that it's good to have a bit of experience with for museum work:
    • Grant writing
    • Photoshop and Dreamweaver
    • Website design
    • Budgets
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions about seeing or sitting in on things!
  • Just FYI: Grant writing is a pretty interesting job. They get to assist all sorts of museum departments (because everyone needs money!). Essentially, they know the ins and outs of the grant writing process; they write most of the grant itself, but also help others with the parts that must completed by the department.
    • Glasstire (Texas specific)
    • American Association of Museums
    • New York Foundation for the Arts
  • Also, it's good to just give your resume out to any gallery, any arts space you can find. Often these sorts of places don't advertise when they need help.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Week 1

June 4th - June 8th

My first week was about orientation and acclamation. On Monday, the undergraduate interns met in the administration building to do paperwork and receive ID badges, parking tags, and access cards (to get us around staff areas of the buildings). After, we trotted over to the main museum buildings for our first of many tours, which would be spread out across the summer. Student Programs Coordinator Lauren Fretz introduced us to the portions of the permanent collection of the MFAH that are currently on display. There are two main buildings to the MFAH - the Audrey Jones Beck Building and the Caroline Wiess Law Building. The Law Building houses the museum's original neo-classical structure. The additions, which were designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and constructed in 1958 and '74. For an introduction to the permanent galleries in these buildings visit Lauren also told us that we are required to write a five to seven page reflection paper on our internship by the end of the summer. She additionally encouraged to pick one artwork from the MFAH's permanent collection currently on display and journal about it for thirty minutes a week.

Outside the Caroline Wiess Law Building

Cullinan Hall of the Law Building, completed 1958

After the tour, all the interns met up with their supervisors. There are a total of six interns. This year, positions were offered with the Education Department, for School Programs and Family Programs, with the Photography and Film Curatorial Departments, with the International Center for Art of the Americas, and with the Conservation Department. Because Lauren also works in School Programs, I stayed with Lauren for the rest of the day. On the bottom floor of Law, in the Kinder Foundation Education Center (KFEC), I was generously lent a desk and computer -- basically my own work station for the summer. Once settled, I met my direct supervisors, Jason Moodie, the new School Programs Manager, and Dr. Victoria Ramirez, the Director of Education. The Education Department is currently undergoing some major staff changes. I would estimate that, out of the 15-20 staff group, at least 5 have recently left or are in the process of leaving within the next few weeks. A participant in these transitions, Jason had only started the Friday before I did. At first, it seemed like this would make getting feedback and advice problematic. However, because there's so much collaboration and, to some extent, overlap in duties among KFEC staff, this has only been a minor issue so far. There are many veteran staff to ask questions of and everyone is very friendly. Jason is also amicable, up-beat, and resourceful -- so we've sort of been learning the ropes together.


I quickly learned that my major project for the summer would be to work on teacher packets for a program called Evenings for Educators (EFE). EFEs are attended by K-12 teacher and can count towards professional development credit. The program focuses on temporary exhibition at the museum through a series of lectures and activities (tours, art making, etc.) that are held during the span a few hours at the museum. The point of the program is to prepare instructor to utilize the artworks from the exhibit and the ideas that they encompass back in their own classrooms. After the program, the teachers receive a packet complete with written material about the exhibit (the artist or artists, information pertaining to specific works, etc.), a PowerPoint of important images from the exhibit, and possibly some other resources. The program and the packet are supposed to be applicable to teachers of many disciplines. Thus, the core of the program really highlights the acute observation skills that can be developed through interaction with art as well as how to use artworks within the many teaching curriculum. I finished the day by starting to read over and take notes on some of the past packets in order to acquaint myself with the general format and standards for content.

Tuesday, the interns met for a Security Orientation, in which we learned how to use our badges and access passes and were given a rundown on general museum rules and safety tips. I continued to assess the packets and later took a tour of the new Asia galleries with Jason and Lauren. Works from these galleries will likely be incorporated for the EFE for a Japanese art exhibit ("Unrivaled Splendor" from the Powers Collection) that will be put up within the next week. The day concluded with the first of two Library Trainings. In the Hirsch Library, located in the Law Building, the interns met with the museum librarians to become familiar with the MFAH's physical and online resources and borrowing rules. The Hirsch is an arts library that is well equipped with everything from all the catalogues from MFAH exhibitions, a multitude of books and periodicals, and files on specific artists.

Wednesday began with Part II of library orientation, during which we practiced using the Hirsch's catalogue and databases. Back in the office, Lauren introduced me to the Eye on Third Ward exhibition (EoTW). The annual exhibit comes out of a partnership between the MFAH and Jack Yates High School, one Houston's magnet schools. Students in the photography class of Ray Carrington learn the craft of photography by taking pictures of the Third Ward, a historically African American neighborhood in Houston and the area in which many of them live. Their photos attempt to document the life and spirit of their particular community. Since 1995, the best of the year's photos are shown at the MFAH and typically travel to libraries and other locations around Texas. This year, the show will spend a week in the Texas Capitol Building in Austin. In charge of getting the exhibition to the capitol, Lauren said that I could help her out by creating the layout for the exhibit. I got started on this but filled out the rest of the day by participating in IT training (how to use intern MFAH email, computer safety, etc.), attending the Staff and Manager Meeting, and having a conversation with Natalie SvacinaCurriculum Coordinator, has a desk in the same office room as me, is very nice, and is really wonderful about giving advice. After I asked her a few questions about the staff meeting, she also explained the differences between School and Family Programs and tried to break down the hierarchy of the office (which is flexible and still a little confusing to me).

Past Eye on Third Ward images

A more personal note and bit of commentary...
I finished out the night by attending the opening of Wes Anderson's newest film Moonrise Kingdom, which turned out to be excellent. Because Anderson is a native Houstonian and his parents still reside here, he usually holds an early screening at the MFAH so his parents can easily see his films. I could say a lot about this film (because it's so genuinely enjoyable) but I will limit myself to noting that visually, the film is meticulous and vibrant and that characters seem unconventional/exceptional yet unquestionably real (for example, the children are surprisingly resourceful and the adults are often a bit lost). Karina Longworth, a reviewer for the Houston Press, called the film Anderson's "most fully realized work" yet, and, from what I've seen, I would have to agree. If you haven't seen it yet, it's very worth checking out.

Thursday - I helped Lauren and George Ramirez, the Manager of Digital Media in Education, set up for a program called the Art of Observation. It's typically a class that teaches medical students at the University of Texas Medical School how to take the time to really look at and visually assess their patients (something that's actually been neglected in medical teachings during recent decades due to the increasing focus on technological testing). During the summer however, what is usually a semester long medical elective is condensed into a two hour presentation for pre-health professions students. Lauren took the students into the galleries and talked about the process of looking at art for about an hour and then Dr. John Foringer, a local Nephrologist, took over and had the student use their newly sharpened looking skills on pictures of sick patients. In short, it was a lot of fun to observe - students picked up on both obvious and more subtly details and seemed to really enjoy themselves while doing it. The rest of the day, I kept reading through teacher packets, worked on and finished the Eye on Third Ward layout, and read over some MFAH publications to try and better familiarize myself with the permanent collection.

Friday - In the morning, I met with Jason. His goal is to pump-up the EFEs and to try and make them more dynamic and exciting. For the Power's exhibition, he's thinking of going with an "Indian Jones" sort of theme or "art as artifact." I'm personally not sure this is the most applicable or appropriate spin. I gave him my input and it's still an evolving idea. The interns also met again for an orientation and tour of the Archives. This is an off-site space where the MFAH's documents are stored, information is catalogued (physically and digitally), and conservation takes place. Toward the end of the day, I had a more formal meeting with Jason and Victoria to discuss what my focus for the summer would be. They decided that I should first work on the packet for the Henry Ossawa Tanner exhibit that we're getting from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in October. Tanner should be the easiest to write for because there's already some published resources from the PAFA. The Powers and Tanner packets will be a bit more traditional and then we'll try to get creative in subsequent packets. Victoria was very adamant about catering to the background knowledge needs of a Texas teacher. I'm excited to work on Tanner but I'm a little worried about taking the teacher perspective, considering it's something I'm not knowledgeable about. However, I have plenty of resources and people to help me. I'll see how it goes as I get started next week.

Henry Ossawa Tanner and his painting "The Disciples See
Christ Walking on the Water," c. 1907

To begin...

I commence my postings six weeks into my ten week internship at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH). I'll begin with introductions and a bit of catch-up:

From June 4th until August 10th, I have been (and will be) spending Monday through Friday in the Education Department of the MFAH. I got the internship through Juniata's connection to long-time MFAH director Peter Marzio.  Marzio, a graduate of Juniata College (JC), made his name in the museum world by establishing a vision of public service for the MFAH. He substantially increasing the museum's collection and endowment, essentially sculpting the MFAH into one of the top American art museums. Retaining his ties to Juniata, Marzio asked the undergraduate internship program to hold a spot for a Juniata student every other year. Although Marzio passed away in December 2010, the museum has decided to continue its partnership with Juniata (although Juniata must now pay its students' stipends).

As a native Houstonian, the MFAH is an institution that is close to my heart and one that I have much of respect for. So when art history professor Judy Maloney asked me last winter if I wanted to do an internship here, my answer was a resounding YES. After the submission of a general application, a personal essay, and a few letter of recommendation, I was on my way.

In an effort to do what I can and provide information for those who are interested, I've decided to record the basics and provide links for further details. I think this should also be helpful in accommodating readers with a range of interest levels. So without further ado...