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My Experience as the Metal Museum's 2020 Arts Intern

By Theresa Smith, Arts Intern in Collections

My name is Theresa Smith, and I am a senior at the University of Memphis. I'm majoring in Anthropology and minoring in History. I was the Metal Museum's Summer 2020 Arts Intern. This program is run by the Studio Institute and offers paid internships in the arts to undergraduate students. Here is a quick overview to show what I did throughout the summer.

The Arts Intern program usually spans over nine weeks, but due to COVID-19, it was shortened to seven weeks. I worked Tuesday through Friday from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm at the Metal Museum for a total of twenty-eight hours per week. During the week, I would meet with the Arts Intern Program via Zoom and have weekly virtual visits with arts professionals from different museums. We met with conservators at The Cleveland Museum of Art, a curator at MoMA, and a panel of education directors, including one right here in Memphis at the Dixon Gallery & Gardens. I would like to give special thanks to every arts professional who took time out of their busy schedules to entertain us and give us useful advice. An upside of interning during a pandemic was the opportunity to virtually visit museums we wouldn’t have normally had the opportunity to go to in person.

Selections from the J.G. Braun Collection

My project for the Metal Museum was inventorying, cataloging, photographing, doing condition reports, researching, and co-curating the Fall 2020 exhibition of the J.G. Braun Collection. The 280+ objects in this collection were donated by Ernest Wiemann of Wiemann Iron Works to the Museum back in the 1970s. The J.G. Braun Company (1887-1997) produced elaborate metal ornaments, railings and fences, which became a sensation in the Victorian and Art Deco buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Museum’s J.G. Braun Collection only represents a small portion of what the company produced. To learn more about the J.G. Braun Company and collection, read my next blog post.

My first and second week, I met the Metal Museum staff, received a tour of the grounds, attended demonstrations at the Foundry and Smithy, and read articles on museum practices. During the demos, Foundry Operations Manager James Vanderpool created a Hershey bar bottle opener for me, and I later gave it as a gift to my dad who he loved it. Early on in my internship, I also began to research how to write a press release and worked on inventorying and writing condition reports for the first half of the collection. In the press release, I included information on the J.G. Braun Company, the Metal Museum’s collection, details on the exhibition, and information about the Arts Intern program.

In week three, I continued to work on the first half of the collection. This half, 139 objects in total, was originally cataloged and conditioned in 2016. My job was to check if the conditions of these objects had changed, put them in trays, find their old number in the J.G. Braun Company's 1928 catalog, and record all this information in an Excel spreadsheet. Condition reports are used to track an object's health; these reports typically consist of the name of the object, collection title, artist, object number, date, dimensions, material, and a brief description.

In week four, I started to document the 141 unknown objects from the second half of the J.G. Braun collection. Because this half of the collection wasn’t fully documented like the first half, I had to write object names and brief descriptions, in addition to writing condition reports and finding the old numbers from the 1928 catalog.

In weeks five and six, I photographed the objects from the second half of the collection. During week three, Marketing Manager Kim Ward taught me how to take museum-quality object photos and tutored me on how to use a camera, light box, and the photo editing software Lightroom and Photoshop. This task was a little daunting due to the sheer size of the collection and because I had never used a professional camera before. I had to learn about shutter speed, focus, and lightning. Luckily, Kim was a great teacher, and I was able to produce great pictures.

My final week I spent finalizing the cataloging spreadsheets, writing this blog post, and selecting objects to be represented in the Fall 2020 exhibition of this collection. The objects I picked were based on similar object factors and condition. I made sure to choose the best and the most interesting pieces. Next, I laid all of the chosen objects out and asked both my supervisor Brooke Garcia, the Collections & Exhibitions Manger, and Kevin Burge, the Preparator, their thoughts on the objects. We added a few and changed out some, but overall, the objects I selected were great representations of the J.G. Braun Collection. Once everything was finalized, I made a chart with the groupings and object numbers for Brooke to use in later exhibition planning.

This wraps up my internship at the Metal Museum! I’m excited to see the collection I worked on this summer on display in October. I’m grateful for all the experiences I had as being the Collections Intern at the Metal Museum. This summer has taught me so many things about museum work and what it takes to come together during hard times. The knowledge I gained will be helpful in continuing my education in Museum Studies as well as finding a career in museums.

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