GOLDEN REFLECTIONS: AN INTERN’S BRUSH WITH ASANTE REGALIA
About three weeks into my time as a summer intern for the Arts of Africa Department of the Newark Museum, I was asked to write condition reports and create records for an incoming gift of Asante Royal regalia that the museum had recently acquired. Having spent the past several weeks mostly doing research, I was eager and nervous to begin physically handling items in the museum’s collection. My time at the museum had been incredibly informative, a huge learning experience for an aspiring curator, and this project represented a new level of involvement and participation in museum work. While previously my research had gone to my supervisor Nichole Bridges, Associate Curator for the Arts of Africa, to help her develop long term projects she was working on, this cataloguing process would be my first time directly dealing with and contributing to the museum’s permanent records. My work would be the first level of development for this new collection comprising seventy-seven pieces, and would be referenced by any and all museum staff who wanted to access it. It would also influence what and how pieces would be selected for display and use in the museum. Needless to say, I was very excited.
I was guided through the steps for creating these records by the lovely Antonia Moser, an Associate Registrar, who showed me how to number and measure each object, and how to write a condition report. She clued me in to what kinds of words were customarily used in these reports, and she taught me what to look for and what was worth noting down. Afterwards, she left me largely to my own devices, and I made my way slowly but surely though several carts of fabulously decadent regalia. I measured, photographed and recorded the condition of gold covered crowns, ceremonial staffs, and rings literally fit for a king. As well as equally sumptuous anklets, sandals, arm bands, flags, and impossibly large and elaborate cloths. Once I got the hang of it, the work was straightforward and methodical, the tape measure became quick in my hands, and the condition reports became routine. The thing that slowed me down the most was my inability to resist playing little games of dress up, indulging my daydreams while covering my fingers with heavy gold rings.
The art prep room where I was doing the project was bustling with activity. On a daily basis conservators and pedestal and mount makers were hard at work for various collections, registrars would come in and out to check on the progress of ongoing projects, and curators would come by to see the pieces they were hoping to reinstall. Everyone would always stay for a quick chat. And this was how I became the beneficiary of several impromptu object lessons. Once Katherine Anne Paul, Curator of the Arts of Asia, explained the uniqueness of a Hindu mandala that was being cleaned. Another time Holly Pyne Connor, Curator of 19th century American Art, talked excitedly about a Winslow Homer etching that spoke to evolving notions of childhood in turn of the century America. Sitting quietly at the large central table, I absorbed the things going on around me. I was really able to see behind the scenes at the museum, and witness the diligence and devotion that the staff applies to their work. It was there in that work room that I gained the most understanding of what a collaborative place the museum is. Everyone is not only interested and engaged in their own projects, but interested and engaged in the work of others, offering advice and comments that foster an incredibly open professional environment. Through the two weeks that I spent photographing and cataloguing I had countless conversations with professionals in a diverse range of fields. People were curious about my project, and would in turn explain to me their own, tell me about their backgrounds and career paths, and offer me advice on topics ranging from graduate school to apartment hunting in New York City.
After the initial phase of the project was over, I began to enter what I had recorded into the museum’s database. The work was repetitious but far from banal, and I felt thrilled to be contributing to the permanent records of the museum. Now that the assignment is over, I feel very accomplished and happy to have done it. The hands-on experience provided by this project and all the others I have worked on over the course of my internship has been invaluable to me. I learned a tremendous amount at the NewarkMuseum, and my desire to pursue a museum career has increased tenfold. After this experience, I feel capable and ready to take the next step.
– Jazia Hammoudi, Arts of Africa Intern (Summer 2012)
Entry filed under: Uncategorized.