Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Summer Internship in Seattle

 by Rebecca Migdal, Lois F. McNeil Fellow, Winterthur Program in American Material Culture

During Summer 2012, I interned in collections at the Henry Art Gallery, the contemporary art museum at the University of Washington in Seattle. The Henry has focused on bringing contemporary art, artists, and art historians to Seattle and stimulating the UW’s scholarship and programs since the gallery’s founding in 1927. The Henry shares its diverse collection through permanent and rotating exhibitions, as well as the Reed Collection Study Center.

During my internship I focused on learning proper methods for handling, storage, and management of costume and textiles in the Henry’s collection. Over the course of six weeks, I worked with a team of interns from the UW and Cornish College of the Arts on an inventory and re-housing project of the boxed garments. It was an opportunity to refresh and improve my textile handling skills, including dressing and lighting textiles on mannequins for photographic documentation.

Hands-on access also developed my visual vocabulary for late 19th and early 20th century clothing, the various issues with their conditions, their storage requirements, and other special needs. Throughout the internship, I contributed to other collections management functions, too. I helped research selections from the historic dress collection so we could more precisely date costume pieces. I also learned about the Mimsy XG database and the preparation and organization of digital images for both internal and external use. Learning a little about 
the Henry’s methods for condition reporting, storing flat textiles, and its accession process was also a focus during the summer.

Under the guidance of Judy Sourakli, Curator of Collections, I was also exposed to the history of collections management and conservation at the Henry. She helped me learn about and understand the various challenges to the collection, including budgeting issues, space, and scheduling. She shared some of the innovative adaptations the Henry has made for storing and displaying three-dimensional collections objects (including trays, hat stands, and shoe forms) and some of the goals for continuing to protect the objects better and make them more accessible.

While it seems unlikely that future University of Delaware students will intern at the Henry, I felt it was an excellent site for getting hands-on museum experience and building on my Winterthur training.

Images: Woman’s Day Dress, c. 1903 - 1904
Gift of Marguerite Putnam Acc. # 77.8-75, t1 & t2
Courtesy of the Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle
Explore more of the Henry's collections here.