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 (√† 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 – Fundaci√≥n 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...