When I first started my internship in the Public Programs department at the American Folk Art Museum, my understanding of what was required to work in this field was limited. In a broad sense, I understood the responsibility of a public programs director was to engage patrons through special events. In order to gain a deeper perspective of the department’s inner workings, my supervisor Persephone Allen assigned me such duties like assisting in the set-up of events, digital documentation of survey responses, as well as analyzing the survey’s results. I learned all feedback is vital. By accessing the audience’s responses, we obtain greater insight on how to improve our patrons’ experiences in the future. Persephone also had me attend public programs at various institutions. Whether it was in person or through a virtual online event, I was able to see how each program reflected artwork from their collection or on-going exhibition.
The first AFAM program I participated in was the Dialogue & Studio: Lacemaking Workshop. The instructor was Elena Kanagy-Loux, a Collections Specialist at the Antonio Ratti Textile Center and founder of the Brooklyn Lace Guild. All guests were provided a set of materials to create bobbin lace. Before Kanagy-Loux began her lace demonstration, the class toured the gallery to discuss a few 19th-century portraits featured in AFAM’s American Perspectives exhibition. In each portrait, the subject wore some form of lace fabric. Kanagy-Loux pointed out and named each type of textile and explained the process that went into making it. The workshop contained no more than ten people, which made it easier for participants to concentrate and receive more individualized attention. I also noticed during the making portion of the event, that when one person was struggling with a pattern, a nearby seat mate would offer their assistance. As an educator, Kanagy-Loux’s patient approach and intriguing dialogue helped the program run smoothly. Event-goers responded positively to her direction and expressed interest (myself included) in attending future programs on lacemaking. Participants were also provided a list of resources on bobbin lace. I learned from this experience there are many different components in creating a successful program. Some of those components are: a strong lesson plan, subject matter that is interesting and relevant, and most important, creating a learning environment that is conducive for an audience.
I faced some challenges during the internship. They ranged from the universal struggle of adapting to life during COVID-19, learning how to use different kinds of software (my fellow interns can definitely attest to this!), and becoming more self-confident. It was such an honor to work with the staff and the internship cohort at the American Folk Art Museum. I am endlessly grateful for their support, mentorship, and resources that they provided. It was a powerful experience and I would not trade it in for anything.
During the quarantine and self-isolation, people have been facing different problems and handling them the best they can. It has been a unique experience interning at the American Folk Art Museum in a time like this because a lot of things that we work on connect to physically doing something such as attending meetings and hosting workshops and tours. Being limited to meeting virtually has been unfortunate and led to missed experiences, but we try to stay connected through weekly video conferences.
In one of our digital meetings, we had a great experience doing art together from home. The museum provided prompts inspired by artworks from the American Folk Art Museum’s collection to create art from home. While there were a fun variety of prompts, I decided to choose “favorite activities”.
Stuck at home, I am left with constant thoughts and longing to see my friends, my partner and my coworkers. Everyone around me plays an important part in my life. They were all involved in my daily routine and it has been hard not seeing everyone. Because of this situation, I wanted to draw an activity I miss when we were able to go outside and visit places. I was able to pour out my feelings into this quick drawing.
I chose to do a digital painting of a special person in my life walking in an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was a very beautiful and interesting exhibit relating to Japanese culture. The museum’s collection of watercolor paintings and furniture was amazing and I had a lot of fun looking around constantly being distracted. One of these memories was captured by a picture of the Ceremonial Teahouse: Sunkaraku (Evanescent Joys). Throughout the internship, I have come to appreciate museums a lot more and I wanted to relate my personal experiences with my work experiences.
While I was drawing and enjoying the memories I had that day, the rest of my coworkers also chose prompts to work on along with Education Specialist Natalie Beall who hosts our weekly meetings along with recent fun events such as a “Digital Drink + Draw”. Below are two of the amazing artworks from my fellow interns who participated in the meeting, which show diverse styles, prompts, and media.
Drawing from home was a really nice breather of an activity. The other interns and I chatted about random things and updates, and talked about our drawings while also concentrating on what we were drawing. Despite being “just” a fun activity, sharing this experience felt special because I felt connected through our silence and focus and I also felt no pressure to say something and was able to just listen. I believe it is a nice experience to share and maybe others can get inspired to draw at home. There are plenty of resources online to get inspired by along with events to join digitally. There’s also artwork that can be done by yourself such as the “AFAM from Home Community Quilt Project”. Socializing digitally is a possibility for us thanks to the advances of technology, so let’s take advantage of it.
My experience in the education department working with different museum audiences has given me a feeling of excitement. It has given me a willingness to learn and a better understanding of how everyone brings their own experiences into the galleries and interacts with the museum educator. As an education intern, I took notes during these programs and thought about what I could learn from them. I also assisted the instructors and shared some of my input with the audience and the educator.
The first program I participated in was the Verbal Description Tour. This series is designed for visitors who are blind or have low vision. The trained educator meticulously describes details of each selected artwork, so that participants can experience the objects through senses other than sight. It was really interesting to observe how some of the participants had different kinds of abilities and pictured the guided description in their own way. Some participants were not able to see very far, and others were able to see the shadows and colors of the artwork. To see an up-close image of the work, there was an iPad which was passed around so participants could zoom in and freely see the work a little more clearly. Some of them could even make out the kinds of figures in the artwork. The educator used a lot of details when it came to describing the artwork, and we also used “touch” pieces that could be handled by participants for a tactile experience, which was really one of the highlights of the program.
The other program I assisted with is the Families and Folk Art series. I worked with one of our museum educators, Hannah Heller. For this program, we worked with kids of all ages. Children were asked to create a portrait, either of themselves or their parents, based on one of the portraits by Ammi Phillips: Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog. They had a variety of materials to experiment with and also the support of their parents to guide them. I even got to interact with them and ask them questions about their process and creations. The children were creative and excited to be participating in the program, and so were the parents. I would say they were the true artists of the group. It was ultimately interesting to see the outcome of their artworks. I hope to work with this kind of group again, because it was my favorite.
After learning I was accepted as the collections intern, I knew I would be handling art eventually. I did not, however, expect it to be one of the very first things I was involved in. My first thought went to “What if I drop something? Am I in debt for life?” as I’m sure many others would also think. I expected to be dealing with excel sheets and entering data for a while but was pleasantly surprised. I was also nervous, but that nervousness quickly faded after working with the installation crew for the first time. It was almost like being thrown into the deep end, but I learned it’s not too hard to swim, you just need to be mindful. The crew, Edie, Patrick and Dave, took me under their wings and gave me many valuable tips and insight into art handling. They showed me how to specifically hold artwork of different categories, how to move them, which tools to use, how to properly use them, how to always be aware of the artwork in my surroundings and know when to be a little or a lot more cautious.
The first installation I was able to experience was the quilts show currently in the Self Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City, Signature Styles: Friendship, Album and Fundraising Quilts. I was extremely nervous about handling the quilts as some of them are almost tenfold my age and very delicate. Learning about the process and correct procedures lessened that anxiety quite a bit. Making sure to always use gloves, creating a space for the quilts to lie, how to properly handle them and how they’re attached to the wall to be displayed were all things I learned within the first hours of the day. It also helped to learn the quilts were not as delicate as I once thought they were before handling them. By the end any nerves I had were gone.
Not long after this, my second time experiencing an installation commenced and this time on a larger scale. For two weeks, we relocated from the Self Taught Genius Gallery to the museum at Lincoln Square for the installation of the American Perspectives: Stories from the American Folk Art Museum Collectionexhibition. There, I met other members of the installation crew, Billy, Glen, Don and Kirsten. The most interesting part of the installation was seeing how everyone knew exactly what to do and when, like a well-oiled machine. I just hoped I wouldn’t be the gear that got stuck. I was able to work with objects of many different categories, from paintings and sculptures to pottery and carved wood. I don’t think many people can say they vacuumed artwork or nailed and drilled into a museum wall, and I’m proud to say I am one of those people.
I’m glad to say that neither of these installations ever felt like work or something I didn’t want to do. It was reassuring to work with people who were experienced, willing to teach an absolutely clueless intern and amazing to work with overall. The crew felt tight knit and everyone was very approachable. I never felt like I had a stupid question or was uncomfortable asking for help. I felt like a valued member of the team and at the end of each day, it was extremely satisfying to take a step back and see how everything had come together. I walked away with new skills, new friends, an openness to take on different tasks and a better understanding of what it means to be a part of the collections department.
About twice a month, my colleagues and I at the American Folk Art Museum take trips to museums and galleries throughout New York City. When thinking of the handful of trips we have been on so far, there were two that made a strong impression. Edith Halpert and The Rise of American Art at The Jewish Museum was an eye-opener. With many of our field trips, there is usually a connective thread that ties itself to self-taught art. The exhibit at The Jewish Museum was no exception. Halpert gave recognition and credence to folk-art in a time where it was held without value and helped pave the way for museums such as AFAM to exist. Our tour guide Chris Gartell (who was ever so engaging and gracious), met us at a large wall-sized portrait of Edith Halpert. In the forefront, Halpert sits on a chair, staring directly and confidently into the lens. Six artists pose behind her, all men. The photograph was taken in 1952 and considering the time, this portrait speaks volumes. Edith Halpert was a trailblazer.
At the turn of the century, Halpert and her family emigrated from Ukraine and settled in New York City. Edith got her first taste for business while working at her family’s candy store. Mr. Gartell shared an anecdote about Halpert blowing air into bags of sweets that were sold at the shop, giving the impression the bags were much fuller than they were. This was a clever marketing tactic for a kid if you ask me! Halpert worked many jobs to support her family and at sixteen became an illustrator for Bloomingdale’s advertising department. With a natural inclination for the arts, Halpert studied life drawing at the National Academy of Design and was a member of two radical artist collectives. Hardworking and fiercely independent, Halpert tried her hand in a variety of career roles. She achieved great success as a high-powered executive for multiple companies. But it wasn’t until 1925 that Halpert, now married, decided to leave the corporate business world and embrace her true passion, art.
In 1926, with her own money, Halpert and her friend Berthe Kroll Goldsmith opened an art space called Our Gallery (later renamed Downtown Gallery). The gallery focused primarily on avant-garde and contemporary American art, as Halpert felt there was not much of a market for American artists to sell and display their work. In that era, museums and galleries mainly exhibited traditional art. Ever the innovator, Halpert was ready to shake things up and give exposure to artists that were often unknown or marginalized in society. Halpert called upon her advertising and marketing skills to draw attention to the newly founded gallery. Mr.Gartell explained to our group that in order to excite the general public, the preparation process for each new exhibit was made visible to pedestrians on the street by opening the gallery’s large glass windows. Halpert felt strongly that art should be accessible and inclusive to people of all races and economic statuses. Admission to the gallery space was free and Halpert negotiated prices that were affordable to collectors of modest means. Halpert also served as a partner for the The American Folk Art Gallery and The Daylight Gallery.
For the exhibit at The Jewish Museum, we were able to see first-hand paintings and objects that Edith Halpert had curated in her gallery. Halpert tended to pick pieces that (seemingly) contrasted one another in hopes of engaging a conversation between visitors. To give an example, Mr.Gartell brought us to Charles Sheeler’s Americana, painted in 1931. In this oil on canvas still life, Sheeler uses warm colors to depict a large living room table set at an odd angle from the left side corner. On the table sits a patterned board game, two wooden bowls, and a piece of folded paper. Rugs and various textiles encompass the room. I noticed that we were all straining our necks trying to absorb each detail of this highly textured painting.
After viewing Charles Sheeler, we looked at a portrait of young boy painted circa 1790 by artist John Brewster, Jr. In the painting, a small child with a blonde page boy haircut stands against a dull grey wall. He’s wearing a frilly forest green blouse with matching trousers. A finch is perched on the finger of his left hand. Underneath his fine dress shoes is an earth toned, floral-patterned rug. The rug, with its muted color palette of orange, brown, and yellow, is almost reminiscent of early 1970’s décor. Although painted centuries apart, we notice a commonality between the two paintings. With a strong focus on detail and pattern, both artists invite the viewer to look closely.
Upon further exploration of the exhibit, we noticed a large collection of weathervanes that varied in size and material. Halpert found this type of functional art to be unique and made this a strong selling point to potential buyers. She even convinced one reluctant buyer to purchase a weathervane of a steer, who initially referred to it with a less than flattering term. I never quite understood the allure of weathervanes myself, but was in awe of a liberty weathervane pattern on display. Carved in wood and painted with gilded metal, I was surprised to learn that this beautifully sculpted, towering weathervane was mass-produced.
Another painting that our guide pointed out was that of artist Horace Pippin. Pippin was an African American self-taught artist who centered many of his paintings around the subject of racial-segregation and slavery. Pippin’s Sunday Morning Breakfast was painted in 1943 with gouache on paper, and depicts a black family sitting down for breakfast. At the kitchen table, a mother serves her two children plates of food, while the father sits in a chair, tying on his boots for a day at work.A kettle sits whistling on a hot coal stove above flames of bright orange. The yellow front door is adorned with a horseshoe for good luck, and the kitchen cabinet is painted in a soft blue. Upon further inspection we notice the father is wearing tattered clothing, the window curtains are torn, and the kitchen walls are chipped, baring the skeleton of the house. We can only surmise that this family is poor. The painting engages with a comforting scene of everyday life, but it also brings attention to the history of a group of people who have long been disenfranchised through the constructs of racism.
We also viewed artists such as O. Louis Guglielmi, whose boldly painted Tenements gives commentary on how poverty and death are inextricably linked. By displaying works by these artists, Edith gave room for progressive dialogue between people from all walks of life.
The field trips we take are the most motivating and inspiring part of my internship. I’ve been exposed to new artists, institutions, and different ways of thinking and seeing. It has been an invaluable experience and has only emboldened my passion for the arts. I hope to share more of these experiences with you in the future.
After the first half of this internship, during which we came together as a group twice a week to learn about the American Folk Art Museum’s collection, it was time for us interns to begin actually working in our respective departments. It would be the first time that we wouldn’t all be together, and that was pretty nerve-wracking. When all the interns were together for each session, I didn’t feel as much pressure when I made mistakes because everyone there was learning too.Working with a staff member by myself made me nervous.
Then, I began to work with Social Media Manager Sam Morgan and Director of Communications and Marketing Chris Gorman in the communications department, and I realized that I had nothing to be nervous about. When I don’t understand something, they teach me and help me fix my mistakes. It’s only been a fewweeks, but I feel like I have learned so much about how the museum promotes itself and how much work goes into creating content for a continuously growing community.
I actually feel like I am helping out when I am asked to do a task, and I am not afraid to ask questions because I know that Sam and or Chris will patiently answer them. Not only am I shown how the department works, but I am also encouraged to come up with new ideas and really be a part of the department. I’m encouraged to give my input and I feel like I am a full-on staff member, like everyone wants me here. So, in the end, I was worried for nothing,and now that I am not so nervous I am having a lot of fun.
For example, last week my fellow interns and I got to take a closer look at the Signature Styles: Friendship, Album and Fundraising Quilts exhibition hosted by curator of folk art Emelie Gevalt. Afterward, I had the great opportunity to create my first Instagram story. I used a special website called canva to design an appealing Instagram story that communicated how cool it was for us interns to get a closer look at the exhibit. I used photos and text to promote the great things that happen in this internship program, and I also got to promote the exhibition as well. It was a win-win situation. This experience also shed some light on how I can use what I am learning to properly promote myself as an artist. I learned that a lot of thought goes into promoting oneself. I can’t wait for what I’m going to learn next.
On September 11, 2019, the American Folk Art Museum welcomed its fifth cohort of LaGuardia Community College students for the 2019-2020 Museum Career Internship Program. Our first day was filled with filling out paperwork, setting up email accounts, introductions to staff, a discussion on “What is Folk Art?”, and of course, muffins. We are looking forward to a fantastic year.
From Left: Khori Wilson, Aaliyah Kee, Jessica Toomey, Deseree Ramos, Matthew Morris, Tiffani Hernandez, and Teshaba Barlow (not pictured: Audrey Capria)
When I went to visit the Souls Grown Deep exhibition in Philadelphia with my colleagues at American Folk Art Museum, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been to Philadelphia. We arrived at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the first thing I noticed were the stairs that Rocky ran up in the movie “Rocky” and the statue to the right.
We first met with John Vick, the Collections Project Manager at the Philadelphia Museum. Vick told us about his experience working with other creative people to build the Souls Grown Deep exhibition. He also mentioned how passionately he believes in the tour experience to connect the art to visitors.
After meeting with Vick, we visited the Souls Grown Deep exhibition. I saw many of the artists who are represented in the American Folk Art Museum’s collection like Lonnie Holley and Thornton Dial Sr. My favorites were all of the quilts by the Pettways from Gee’s Bend.
We then met Michelle Millar Fisher, the Assistant Curator of Design at the Philadelphia Museum who was also AFAM Assistant Curator Steffi Ibis Duarte’s mentor. Fisher showed us around the museum and pointed out how they plan on using the space for the next exhibition which starts in September.
She then took us upstairs to the offices where they design the exhibitions using miniature models of the space. We also do this at the American Folk Art Museum. Her colleagues were all using design programs like Adobe Illustrator and CAD software for laser cutting. I liked seeing their work environment because it gave me confidence that I’m on the right path. The skills that they were using in the office are skills that I was introduced to in design school.
Overall, the trip was unforgettable. Thank you to Steffi for making this happen.
Exciting things are happening at the Self-Taught Genius Gallery. The popular New York Experiencedexhibition has come to a close, and as we say “see you later” to some of our favorite pieces (Gregorio Marzan’sCentaur, for one), we are already rolling on fresh layers of paint for the next exhibition, A Piece of Yourself: Gift Giving in Self-Taught Art. In this case the “we” are the talented art handlers on staff that make the transition between exhibitions smooth and ensure that each new installation is lit and hung perfectly. This is not their first rodeo.
During the week of installation, the gallery is a mix of artwork and hardware. The pieces are brought out from storage and before any nails are hammered, they are placed roughly in their future spot. One piece is out for conservation, and there is a piece of paper cut to the same dimensions serving as a place holder until it arrives. Pedestals are brought out and the skeleton of the exhibition is in place. Nothing is placed arbitrarily, either. In the lead up to each exhibition, assistant curator Steffi Ibis Duarte has worked on scaling, grouping, and laying out each piece so that the show is not only visually stunning, but follows a narrative that will give visitors a full experience when visiting the Self-Taught Genius Gallery.
One of the final steps is putting the text on the wall. Graphic Designer Kate Johnson designs all of the labels and wall texts for each exhibition at the museum and Self-Taught Genius Gallery. Wall text not only gives the guests information on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the show – the font, design and layout of the text act as a visual introduction to the whole exhibition.
On Wednesday, April 26, 2019, from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, the American Folk Art Museum’s Self-Taught Genius Gallery in Long Island City had a program called “Drink & Draw,” which was organized by Steffi Ibis Duarte, curator of the Self-Taught Genius Gallery, and Natalie Beall, education specialist. This program was free and open to all art lovers from the general public. This program was a workshop for enthusiasts to do activities such as drawing and making new friends. Those who attended had a good time in the company of other art lovers, made friends, and practiced their artistic skills. The museum provided rosé wine, beer, and lollipops in the conference room for the those who attended.
This program was also about seeing the exhibition in the gallery titled New York Experienced. The participants had to choose an artwork from the exhibition and draw it with their own styles and techniques. This kind of program is good because people can feel free to be creative and not worry about being criticized or hearing negative comments about their drawings. The participants had an hour and thirty minutes to make their own drawings, enjoy drinks, and have a fun time.