I chose to complete my six-credit internship at the Burchfield Penney Art Center during my first spring semester of graduate school. At first I didn’t know what to expect of my duties; I had completed my undergraduate internship at a children’s museum, did volunteer work at a living history museum, and conducted research for my bachelor’s thesis at a library, and to be completely honest, I never thought I’d find myself filling a position at an art center. Having not totally been art savvy growing up, I knew I had to choose one place to complete my credit hours, and I knew the Burchfield was easy access and right on campus. I applied after scoping out the duties of each individual internship opportunity that the website and the site offered, and knowing I had experience with digitization projects and working solely with collections, I knew I would be a perfect candidate for this internship.
I was interviewed for the position by Heather Gring, the archivist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, and at first glance, I gained the feeling that I would enjoy this internship a lot more because of her personable personality, cheery disposition, and welcoming smile. Having had experience with working with content management systems, finding aids, and digitizing, and knowing I would have more experience with gallery maintenance, custom databases, and more side projects, the task almost seemed overwhelming at first, but I was stupid to not take the offer.
I began my internship on Tuesday, the second of February, with a minor tour of the archives and museum, as well as a run-down of their ongoing projects, such as the Living Legacy Project and transcribing Charles Burchfield’s journal entries. Heather started me on the transcriptions, where I got introduced to the Center’s namesake a bit better through his writing and elaborate stories of his family, God, and nature. Carbon notebooks of Burchfield’s journals transcribed were readily available for me as a helpful resource in the event I could not decipher his writing, and would be able to match the word to its best fit.
During the first few weeks of my internship at the art Center, Heather was planning her exhibit, “Finding Aid: Making Sense of the Charles E. Burchfield Archives”, and had me on deck in case she needed another pair of hands or eyes. During this process, I was assigned to search old Birge Wallpaper ledgers, create archival folders and boxes as props, cleaned plastic case lids, spackled old holes on walls, mounted journal pages, and make labels for Finding Aid all within a short time period. Needless to say, as much as I thought how overwhelming this internship would be, it was not; in fact, it was a lot of fun, more so than my undergraduate internship opportunity and the volunteer jobs I had partaken in the past two years. With all the hands-on experience I was gaining under Heather’s watchful eye, it felt as if I had left a mark on the exhibit in its entirety, and it was something I was truly proud of.
After Finding Aid was installed, I was introduced to the archives’ digitizing project and of their custom-made content management system. I had been introduced to the idea of the content management system whilst working on my bachelor’s thesis, which included digitizing old letters and posting them onto the library’s content management system, but never before had I gone as far as uploading the files, and allowing them to be publicly accessible on the library’s website. My first reaction to seeing the desktop scanner was a negative one; I had had a bad experience with the software crashing and me having to restart the computer countless times a day when I was working at the library, but even with the same software and scanner, the process went a lot smoother, which honestly surprised me with all the files stored on the computer and excess hard drives. Heather and I walked through a few past exhibition folders together in order for me to get a hang of my upcoming duties. The past exhibition folders were just as they sounded; manila folders with content of past exhibitions dating back to at least the sixties. Exhibition programs, invitations, loan agreements, and newspaper articles were put in these folders, and although not everything was relevant enough to be put online, Heather told me I had to make a “curatorial decision” on what I scanned into the computer and uploaded to the content management system. From there on out, I stuck to copies of press releases, exhibition programs and invitations, and newspaper articles relevant to the artist, exhibition, or pieces of work being hosted at the museum.
The first week of March, the museum acquired a collection from a local flutist, Michael Colquhoun, including numerous cassette tapes, countless folders of sheet music, and music memorabilia stored inside eight cardboard boxes. I was tasked into taking down inventory, or content of each and every box, folder, and cassette tape included in the collection, a task that took a few days, in which I later was able to record on a Word document and hand off to the curator in charge.
With my weekends free of other work, I began to come into the museum on Saturdays and Sundays for extra hours and some quiet alone time. I mainly worked on the past exhibition folders, scanning and uploading the content online. Some issues I would find with the past exhibition folders would be misplaced exhibition programs and incorrect dates written on the file folder itself. On some days, I would be itching to reorganize each and every folder to remove misplaced exhibition programs or newspaper clippings and to find respective places for them.
The following project Heather had me work on was complete inventory for the cabinet in the back hallway. There were seven shelves, up to seven boxes on each of old floppy disks, meeting notes , staff files, and other miscellaneous content. Like the inventory for the Michael Colquhoun collection, I had to open each box and describe, in general, what was in each. Easily, most of the content that I found inside the boxes was written on the outside of the box, but for some, I had to more or less so guess at what I was finding. I also had to figure out if the material in the boxes were processed; a hint which Heather gave me was if her handwriting were on the boxes anywhere. This task had its ups and downs, ups in which the contents of the boxes were organized and filed correctly in the correctly labeled box, and downs being the boxes with old newspapers in disarray, plastic shopping bags full of photographs, and the like. After this cabinet was finished, Heather brought me back to the shelves in the stacks – the stand-alone shelf, not the stacks in its entirety, and I was tasked with doing the same.
My notes were then uploaded to an Excel file and organized by locations, shelves, and content. Heather had me create record groups for these, such as ‘administration’, ‘curatorial’, ‘gift shop’, ‘miscellaneous media’, etc.
At the beginning of April, the Burchfield was hosting another show, “The Birthday Party”, which was centered on a painting by Virginia Cuthbert (in my opinion, one of my favorites), and the artists that were pictured in the painting, including Burchfield, Phillip Elliott, Martha Visser’t Hooft, and other Western New York artists. The show was to open on April 8, and that Tuesday, Heather had me and another intern walk the gallery with her. She introduced us to the Burchfield’s way of hanging paintings, by measuring the height and width of the picture, adding sixty inches, dividing by two, finding the distance between the D-rings, and eventually nailing the hooks to the wall and hanging it. Heather walked us through the first one, and the other two that we hung she supervised. On that Friday, I was tasked with leveling frames onto the wall in another gallery of another opening show, which took a good forty-five minutes to complete, but nonetheless, I found enjoyment in it, especially being surrounded by interesting and unique pieces of art.
The next week, I was introduced to the Living Legacy Project and the audio interviews that each of the curators would complete with local artists. Heather had me play around with Adobe Audition, a program I had never used before, but I was used to making small stupid videos with Windows Movie Maker growing up, so just playing with the audio wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t – it was intriguing to hear what the artist and Heather were talking about on the tape. I started with David Kane’s interview, a local jazz musician, and Heather sounded extremely excited herself while she was interviewing him. I mainly cut out long pauses, Heather’s rants, the occasional ‘um’, and other unnecessary sounds such as background noise and coughing. This was a brand new program to me, but having read the archive’s Word document explaining each step; it was easy to follow along.
As my internship progressed into its final days, I could honestly say that I had a lot of fun with the tasks I was given to complete. Having been taught different responsibilities of the archives and the museum in its entirety, from hanging pictures to scanning documents, it was a well-received use of my time and prior knowledge of the museum field. At my previous internships, I was only tasked to do one or two things, tops, whereas at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, I was doing almost anything and everything the archives and Heather had to offer as duties of the museum as a whole.
Kirsten Feigel has completed the first year of her Graduate Studies in Museum Studies at Buffalo State College. Kirsten looks forward to working in the arts and cultural fields, hopefully at the Smithsonian.