Mansions, Volera, & Quilts
I’m back in Cooperstown, New York, and as the leaves start to turn and the air becomes crisp my mind wanders to the hot days of summer that I spent with Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts, as an intern at the Newark Museum. I am a second-year student at the Cooperstown Graduate Program who will graduate in the spring with a Masters in History Museum Studies. The Newark Museum appealed to me as a location for an internship because of its combination of a world-class collection and its commitment to serving and reflecting the community. My internship was comprised of four main areas: work with the textile collection, the jewelry collection, exhibition research, and field research. Each week included some work in all four areas, which resulted in a holistic view of what it means to be a curator in today’s museum world.
My first task was re-housing the embroidery collection. I located, photographed, measured, described, and re-housed each object in the embroidery collection. I took the gathered information and updated the digital record for each of the objects in the museum’s database. In addition, I helped accession three quilts into the museum’s collection. I was especially excited to be a part of a new way of connecting the donated museum objects to the community. This connection was accomplished by photographing the donor with the object. We attached a copy of the image in the object file as a reminder of the face and story that is related to each piece in our vast collection. Though this process has just started for the museum, I am excited to see how it will open up new exhibit opportunities in the future.
I also conducted research for an exciting new exhibition entitled, “Mansions and Millionaires.” This exhibit is going to explore the dynamics between style, taste, and wealth. It proposes that style is not innate within a person, community, or culture but rather is formed by a complicated play between the forces of competition and mimicry. I read and took detailed notes on two books for this exhibition: “Stanford White: Decorator in Opulence and Dealer in Antiquities” and “Artistic Houses: Being a Series of Interior Views of a Number of the Most Beautiful and Celebrated Homes in the United States.” I cannot wait to come back to Newark to see this exhibition come to fruition.
My work re-housing the jewelry collection was by far the most extensive aspect of my internship. I worked with Sara Parmigiani, part-time registrar, to collect, photograph, tag, organize, and re-house all of the jewelry. The new drawers, that we were putting the objects into are metal and without a lining to protect the objects, so we measured and made a custom liner for each drawer out of a type of acid-free foam called Volera. I made countless templates out of matte board and cut out hundreds of liners over the course of the summer. Because of my close proximity to the jewelry collection I had time to consider how the collection reflects John Cotton Dana’s notion of embracing the new and of having objects that reflect the community at large rather than the collection of the elite. The jewelry in the collection ranges from rings and charms that are still in their boxes from the yesteryears of Newark’s jewelry production days to cutting edge polymer jewelry made by studio artists from around the world. Embracing Dana’s notions have given a great freedom and freshness to the collection that is rare to find in other institutions.
The fourth and final aspect of my internship was research into the current museum world of exhibitions. One day a week I went into New York City to museums that Ulysses suggested. Over the summer I visited seventeen museums in NYC and critically talked about what I found at them with Ulysses. This experience was extremely valuable for my development as a museum professional and gave me a strong foundation of exhibition practices in a variety of institutions and subject matter.
My internship at the Newark Museum under Chief Curator Ulysses Dietz has been an invaluable experience. I feel that I now have a practical understanding of what goes into maintaining and building a collection and how objects and ideas become exhibitions. I formed valuable friendships, skills, and insights for which I will forever be indebted. As the hot air of summer slowly turns to cool, another school year starts, but I will never forget my time in Newark.
– Jenna Robinson, Decorative Arts intern
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