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annette shumway: summer at the smithsonian

We invited our recent Smithsonian Affiliate interns and visiting professionals to blog about their experiences in our “Summer at the Smithsonian” series. Below, Annette Shumway, intern partner from the Frost Art Museum (Miami, FL) shares the story of her summer internship at the National Postal Museum.  Special thanks to Annette for this post!

As a graduate student in the Museum Studies Certificate program at Florida International University I’ve focused much of my research efforts on digitization projects being undertaken by museums and archives.  I am particularly interested in the effective administration and proper usage of current technologies for digital projects and believe that without organization much time and resources could be wasted. I was looking for an internship that would provide a meaningful, sensory experience that would enhance all of the learning that I had acquired, but couldn’t quite find one. When my Museum Studies Coordinator suggested I look into Smithsonian Affiliations Internship Program (our campus museum –The Frost Art Museum- is a Smithsonian Affiliate), I was excited because I would actually be able to execute my own project at the Frost, after I acquired hands-on skills at the Smithsonian.

I was placed with Kate Diggle, Database Administrator at the National Postal Museum (NPM). At NPM digitization of the collection is a high priority.  While at the museum I had the opportunity to work on two different projects involving digitization. 

We worked on one collection consisting of modern philatelic and postal history artifacts which are being transferred from the USPS to the National Postal Museum’s care.  We re-housed, marked, and cataloged all of the objects during the first phase. Next, we created digital records for more than 4000 records down to the item level.   Hard work, but we accomplished our task a month ahead of schedule!  With the help of curators and conservation staff, we identified the items that would be the best candidates for imaging. Some of the artifacts in the collection were larger than the imaging equipment we had in-house, so we couriered these objects to a facility that would be able to handle our imaging needs. It was fascinating to courier the objects and to have access to some of the most state-of-the-art equipment in the field of image capture.  

The second project involved the actual image capture of artifacts for an upcoming exhibit.  These images were added to the museum’s database and will be available online when the exhibit opens. This helps to preserve artifacts like letters from revolutionary war, civil war, and both world wars for future generations of researchers.  Thanks to instruction from the preservations, collections, and web team at NPM, I was able to hone the handling, technical and editing skills necessary for completing projects in digitization field.

Taking part in both of these projects has helped me understand the logistics behind coordinating loans and standards involved in collections’ imaging projects. I feel that much of the experience that I gained through this period will aid in the second portion of my internship at the Frost Art Museum. I look forward to contributing valuable knowledge to the digitization plan and efforts at the Frost.

eric stanley: summer at the smithsonian

We invited our recent Smithsonian Affiliate interns and visiting professionals to blog about their experiences in our Summer at the Smithsonian series. Below, Eric Stanley, curator of exhibitions and collections at Sonoma County Museum (Santa Rosa, CA), describes his spring residency at the Smithsonian. Special thanks to Eric Stanley for this post.

Eric meeting with Peter Liebhold and other curators at NMAH to discuss the "Bittersweet Harvest" exhibition

Seeking insights into the process of creating history exhibitions, I spent two weeks in March at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) through the Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professionals Program. While I was expecting exposure to a select few elements of the process, it was my great pleasure to be introduced to many facets of creating exhibitions, as well as some other management and collections issues at NMAH. During the course of my program, I met over thirty people at the Smithsonian, mainly at American History, and was able to learn something from each of them. The time I spent with those individuals, each one knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and warmly receptive of my presence, was a tremendous benefit to me and my institution.

Early in my program, I met with Paula Johnson, Curator in the Division of Work and Industry. Our conversation focused mainly on the exhibition On the Water. She shared with me the various stages of exhibition conception and design; fundraising; label writing; artifact selection; which elements were most successful and why; and many other topics. As the Sonoma County Museum moves into the process of creating larger, longer term exhibitions, the exposure to Paula’s approach was useful.

Eric meets with Peter Liebhold and Steve Velasquez at NMAH.

Two particular appointments helped me appreciate the craftsmanship, planning and effort involved in the physical production of exhibition cases, graphics and other components. I met with Omar Wynn, Director of the Office of Exhibits Production at NMAH and toured the museum’s production areas. I also had the opportunity to see Omar and his staff at work in the First Ladies’ gallery in preparation for receiving and installing Michelle Obama’s gown. His outlook on the relationship between his production staff and the curators, and his intense commitment to uphold his standards was thought provoking and inspiring. Similarly, I had the unusual opportunity to tour the Office of Exhibits Central and met with graphic designers, curators, collections managers, and production people associated with the facility.

One of the most relevant and insightful meetings I had was with Nigel Briggs, Exhibit Designer. The core goal of my program was to gain some knowledge of contemporary exhibition design standards and aesthetics, which is a challenging and complex question. History exhibitions throughout the country take a remarkably diverse approach, so defining one standard is nearly impossible. However, Nigel provided me some very practical insights and discussed the “look” of a number of exhibitions and what made them appear dated or contemporary. My only regret was not being able to spend a little more time in conversation with him.

Finally, I had an exceptionally productive meeting with the team who created the Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942-1964 exhibition.  Since the Sonoma County Museum is taking this SITES exhibition in November, it was an enormous benefit to be able to interact with the people who actually created the exhibition. I had a chance to discuss their approach to the collection and oral histories from former braceros; we are planning to employ a similar approach to collect bracero oral histories locally. We also recently were awarded a SITES grant to support our programming for Bittersweet Harvest.

Eric was presented with a certificate of award from Affiliations Director Harold Closter and NMAH Affiliations Program Manager Rosemary Phillips.

There were other, very productive meetings that I did not mention here. The broad overview that I was provided through my program was an undeniably valuable experience and afforded me an unusual, insider’s glimpse of one of the finest history museums around. I could not have been more pleased with the support and encouragement I received from Smithsonian Affiliations staff and from the Affiliations Program Managers at NMAH. My participation in the Visiting Professionals Program is an experience I will never forget.

Next in the series: Annette Shumway- Affiliations Intern Partner from the Frost Art Museum at Florida International University (Miami, FL).

Shawn Pirelli: summer at the smithsonian

We invited our recent Smithsonian Affiliate interns and visiting professionals to blog about their experiences in our Summer at the Smithsonian series. Special thanks to our intern partner, Shawn Pirelli, for kicking us off!

Affiliations Intern Partner, Shawn Pirelli, researching at the Archives Center at the American History Museum.

During my designated ten weeks as a Smithsonian Intern Partner I worked closely with the Affiliations unit to create an exhibit that my host institution would like to propose for the Smithsonian’s International Gallery. As a researcher at Plimoth Plantation, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, it was fittingly appropriate that this project focused on the American holiday commonly referred to as Thanksgiving. Thus, for the duration of my time at the Smithsonian I collected materials, searched through archives, met with curators and archivists, and organized my findings. Pending approval by the Smithsonian, the exhibition would tentatively open in the fall 2012.

The prospect of creating an exhibit in the Ripley Center seemed daunting when I arrived at the Smithsonian Institution. As I became more acclimated to my new surroundings in Washington, I began to realize that the Smithsonian faculty and staff were just as excited as I was to discuss the content. With their help, I soon found a gold mine in historical records. The archives figuratively overflowed with objects and documents on so many diverse topics.

Shawn and Affiliations Outreach Manager, Jennifer Brundage, perusing the Archives at American History.

In the archives I found Thanksgiving postcards, Grand Ball invitations, sheet music and gubernatorial proclamations. Additionally, in the collections were preserved pictures of Thanksgiving pageants, dinners, parades, Presidential pardons, and light shows. Altogether I compiled a 350-page inventory list of materials, documents and images found in the archival collections. This list has helped me envision the exhibit in a three-dimensional computerized format.

In September 2010, I will return to the University of New Hampshire where I am currently a graduate student of history. While taking classes, I will be able to work with some of the most revered historians in the academic field; many have already helped me explore several diverse possibilities for this project.

Furthermore, I will also be returning to Plimoth Plantation to work more closely with its staff, curators, and administrators. At Plimoth Plantation, the project will take its shape under the supervision of Richard Pickering, Deputy Director. Under his supervision, the materials I found at the Smithsonian can be requested for loan in the International Gallery.

Smithsonian American Art Museum Graphic Arts Storage study room.

With the Smithsonian Affiliations program I will be able to see the fruits of my work at the most respected institution in the world. It is through this partnership with the Smithsonian Institution, Plimoth Plantation, and the University of New Hampshire that this project is possible. Each entity brings an unrivaled dynamic to this project. The resulting exhibit will be a reflection of all the wonderful assistance the Affiliations program offered me during my summer in Washington. 

Next in the series: Eric Stanley, Smithsonian Affiliations Visiting Professional from Sonoma County Museum in Santa Rosa, California.