A Review of My Summer at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College

Hi there! 

My name is Grace Duckworth, and for the past ten weeks I have been the 2022 Summer Education Intern! I am a rising senior at Randolph, double majoring in Studio Art and Art History, and minoring in Museum and Heritage Studies. For a while, I’ve known that I would like to work in a museum “when I grow up.” Through my classes and various internship experiences, I’ve finally settled on pursuing Museum Education and I am so glad to say that my time at the Maier Museum has been instrumental in helping me to decide! My summer here has been invaluable, not only for gaining industry-applicable experience, but also growing confidence in myself and my goals. I am so excited to share with you the special projects and lessons I have learned this summer! 

Testing out the interactive elements in the educational wing at the VMFA

Packaging: How to Handle Your Audience with Care 

One question that I have gotten from a lot of people about my internship is “So you’re just a tour guide?” Well…  yes and no. I have gotten the opportunity to co-lead several tours this summer, but I realized very quickly that giving a tour is not as simple as people think it is. It involves a lot of what my supervisor (the fabulous Laura McManus, Curator of Education) and I like to call “packaging,” which is essentially tailoring information to fit your audience. For instance, if your audience is a group of children, you would refrain from talking about the scandalous love-life of your artist.

I had the opportunity to package information for four different audiences: 

  • The Governor’s School groups. We had two groups of teens come to visit that were participating in the Science and Mathematics Summer Governor’s School program, hosted by the University of Lynchburg. I tried to make sure that the tour and the information I was sharing would be fun for them, so when I told them about Project Y, the secret history of the museum, I didn’t tell them about building plans, but about secret emergency drills run by the National Gallery. The real challenge for packing their tour was connecting the Collection to their programs. Together, Laura and I chose to discuss artworks that touched on things like weather patterns and cloud formations, or symmetry and circumferences for the groups to be able to relate back to their lessons. 
Showing storage to the Governor’s School students
  • The Homeschool group. This group had a range of ages, from lower elementary to adults, and I got to know different strategies for making sure that there is something for everyone on a tour. I helped Laura to set out touchable props for the younger viewers (and for those of us that really wish we could feel a nice, thick oil painting), vocabulary cards and maps for those wanting to learn something new, and photographs of the artists for those who wanted to connect a face with a name. I also helped her make decisions about content based on our audience – we kept the scandal talk to a minimum for the kids! 

I liked this tour a lot because I finally got to see our Docents in action! Because of the pandemic, it’s been a while since the Maier had tours and they were so enthusiastic to finally get to interact with the public again. 

  • The Lynchburg Group Home. Laura and I invited teens living at the Group Home to participate in a Zentangle workshop which I orchestrated myself! We observed patterns in the artworks on display and made Zentangle doodles based on what we saw. At times, I found it difficult to keep their attention, but I adapted when I realized that they were more engaged when I was more casual and friendly, as opposed to trying to be their tour guide. This was a big eye opener for me because I realized the importance of reflecting the energy and interest level of a tour group. 
Zentangle examples I made for the workshop
  • Docent Training. I fully organized this training session, meaning that I researched content, made handouts, and planned a lecture for the Docents. I spoke to them about Arthur B. Davies’s Decoration (1918), Margrit Lewczuk’s Chrysalis III (2012), Sally Mann’s The New Mothers (1989), and Pat Passlof’s Dusk (1997).  I felt like I was doing a big “info-dump,” but I enjoyed the chance to let my inner-professor out! Some of the questions that the docents asked blind-sided me a little, and it was challenging to come up with appropriate and informed answers for them. It was a good lesson in being prepared, but also in quick thinking/remembering! 
Presenting Decoration to the docents

Binders and Scans and Plastic Protective Sleeves, Oh My!! 

If anything came out of this summer, it’s that I became very handy with the copier machine! In total, I organized 10 resource binders: 5 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant large-text readers, 1 binder to house the texts that received the Helen Owen Calvert Writing Award, 1 artist-reader with articles relating to the artists in the New Acquisitions 2022 exhibit, and 3 binders with training materials for new docents! (All of which can be found at the Maier if anyone was curious to see my handiwork.)

These projects really felt like I was scanning, printing, sticking paper in plastic sleeves, rinsing, and repeating. Although it was tedious at times, I do have a couple of major takeaways, the first being the importance of having resources available to the public that are accessible and organized.  The second is the sheer volume of resources that a Museum Educator must produce! Before this internship, I didn’t realize the amount of time and effort it took to prepare the resources that shape the museum experience. This lesson also applies to some of the other things I made, like flyers for volunteer recruitment and the Exhibition Checklist for New Acquisitions 2022

Some resources I created are also meant to be available online! As part of my Exhibition Catalog Conversion Project, I made scans, scans, and more scans of previous exhibition catalogs, reaching back to 2015. Then after lots of cropping and editing, I uploaded them to the computer as digital flipbooks to be viewed on Maier’s website (The Maier Museum Past Exhibitions – Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College). I’m proud of this project because, as our director Martha Johnson said, I’ve been able to bring exhibitions that are no longer on view back to life!

The Hostess with the Most-ess 

This summer I’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes and tour work, but I have also gained my fair share of “front of house” experience. In June, the Maier was co-host to the Forte Chamber Summer Concert Series, and to the Randolph College Creative Writing M.F.A. Readings. We also hosted the Annual Volunteer Luncheon, which I helped to decorate. My responsibilities included greeting guests, answering questions, and ensuring that guests (especially those with food and drinks) kept a safe distance from the artworks on the wall. I was surprised by what a big stressor this was for me! It was definitely a test of my patience and politeness when asking people to step away from the walls while I was so worried about the art. 

The place settings I helped design for the Annual Volunteer Luncheon

Other than hosting duties, I also gained a lot of experience with Visitor’s Services while sitting out front at the reception desk. I found it so fun to chat with guests and share some of the knowledge I acquired over the course of my internship. Additionally, I got to learn a little bit more about some of our guests! I met Randolph alumni, quizzed children about their favorite artworks in the galleries, and spoke to one guest who was able to relate the Maine scenes in the Whitehead-family loans to her time in South Korea. 

Thank You for the Music 

I feel that during my time as an intern, I have become very comfortable with the Collection here at the Maier and with the staff and volunteers.  I have enjoyed my time here and have appreciated all the guidance and advice from everyone. I am grateful for this experience and everyone who has been a part of it!

I have learned so much, and I am excited to see where my senior year will take me. I’m looking forward to applying my new skills to the end of my studies and to my future career. 

Thank you to everyone who made this wonderful opportunity a possibility!  

Me and my fellow summer interns, Emilie and Fable
Me and the docents celebrating a successful training session!
Me and Laura after the Volunteer Luncheon

Howdy, everyone!

My name is Fable Forest, class of ‘22, and I had the amazing opportunity of being the Generalist Intern this summer! I had originally applied for the Education Intern position since I love the idea of teaching and I have always loved to share what I’ve learned with people. However, after being offered and accepting the Generalist Intern position, I’ve come to enjoy this work just as much.

As the Generalist Intern, I have been involved in almost every aspect of the museum and had a chance to work with each person at the museum as I learned how hard everyone works to keep it running so smoothly and looking so effortless. (I can promise you it is not all that effortless and everything they manage to do is impressive.) All jobs are learning experiences, but this one has taught me much more than I ever would have thought as I jumped from task to extremely different task. I also was lucky enough to work with two other amazing interns who made the summer that much more fun.

The Coolest Intern Team (Emilie, Me, Grace)

Part of our internship involved a day trip to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to enjoy their Whistler to Cassatt: American Painters in France exhibition. (That’s us there in the picture!!) It taught me more about artists that we have here in the Maier, such as Mary Cassatt, and about the history and development of American art and the artists who made the works we all love. I especially loved the way they divided the spaces to show art saloon-style and the beautiful floral arrangement they did to show the shift from city living to summer weeks in the countryside. The saloon-style installations inspired me to start hanging the artwork I have at home in a very similar manner.

I spent most of my time on social media projects; researching how other museums used social media, how the Maier used it, and finally creating new content for us to use. This ended up being more complicated than just coming up with a fun idea and using it. I learned a lot about how both the Maier and Randolph use social media, and just how much more complicated it is than it appears from the outside. When you look at social media, a lot of what you’re doing is just absorbing content, but once you start working on social media, you start to think about the way that people are advertising and encouraging engagement with their content. You also have to start thinking ahead by several posts and making plans for holidays and breaks. I also got to work closely with Laura and Grace while we did a social media takeover for the Virginia Art Education Association. We spent time planning what we wanted to show and do and putting it all into a list. Then we spent the rest of the day taking photos and videos of art, posing with it, and running from the Maier to Main Hall to capture even more art to show it all off. Here’s a link Grace made to show our work from the takeover!

A lot of this work was done remotely, which was both fun and also much harder than it seems. I found that I had to make sure to put myself into a specific headspace or I would be too distracted by being in my own space where all I wanted to usually do was relax, and I would struggle to focus on my work. No couch potato hours for me. I had to make myself a specific working space set up in the room or go to the library. It was a repeat of college homework time all over again! It did get easier after I made sure to treat my space like I was still in the museum and dedicate spaces to be purely for work.

I also did research and inventory work for the pop-up gift shop, which started out being one of the more confusing aspects of the job. It’s very easy to know the things you personally want to see in a gift shop. It’s much harder to think for someone else and then figure out how and where to get those items. I spent many hours looking at various providers’ websites and reaching out to them with questions, and occasionally feeling more than a little silly as I didn’t understand some of the things they were telling me. I have, however, become a pro at invoices and other administrative tasks, and the job became much easier as I learned more.

One of my favorite things to work on was researching artists and their work for upcoming exhibitions. I spent several days just looking up various artists and their stories and looking at their art to create readers for sharing that information with docents and others. It was so much fun to spend time reading about what inspired the artists to start making art and how they learned. Several of them came from families where everyone did some form of art and passed down that tradition to each new family member. It was also a great chance to learn about a wider variety of artists and types of art. 

Overall this summer I have learned so much, from how to run the business end of a museum and its social media to how stressful -and fun- it can be to put up art. I have enjoyed immensely working with everyone and while I am sad to be done, I am so happy and very grateful I had the chance.

An Internship as a Historical Detective: Finding the Hidden Histories in the Photographs of P. H. Polk

by Emilie Bryant ’22

Over the summer, I researched a set of pictures taken by Prentis Herman Polk. Polk takes stunning pictures. Although he has a strong grasp of light and composition, his talent for capturing the character and essence of his subjects is what I found most compelling. For most of his life, Polk, a portrait photographer, oversaw the photography program at the Tuskegee Institute. He took pictures of a number of famous figures during various visits to Tuskegee. In addition, Polk took pictures of residents of Alabama, including local college students, families, and kids. So I thought to myself, “Other than the famous historical figures, who were the other, unknown subjects of his photography?” With this as my mission, my research became a treasure trove of unexpected discoveries, full of fascinating and significant individuals who have been lost to time and who have rich historical legacies that merit preservation. 

Whether or not Polk was aware of it, he produced an anthropological record of the Black experience in the 20th century. In a 1974 interview, Polk said, “I believe that when a Black photographer goes out on an assignment dealing with the Black experience, he has a definite advantage. I think he takes with him a kind of intimate knowledge, a certain sensitivity, a certain feeling for the job that can only come from having lived the experience. I think that all these things are reflected in his photographs if he does a complete job.” My objective was to find out more about the subjects Polk photographed so that I could add more details to their museum labels. Currently, museums that have exhibited Polk’s photograph offer little more than a title and a brief explanation of his technique. I want visitors to know how significant each of the subjects is to history.

P. H. Polk, Abigail Kyzer, 1933, gelatin silver print on paper. Purchase made possible by Alice Hilseweck Ball ‘61, 2022. Collection of the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College.

For example, take the image titled “Abigail Kyzer.” Other than her name and a date, what can we know about who she was in life? The photograph features a young woman wearing a backless dress. Her elegant profile is highlighted as she looks over her shoulder with her back to the camera. From the image, viewers can tell that Abigail is a young lady. However, I soon discovered that she was much more. 

I started my investigation by looking for Abigail at the time of this photograph in the Tuskegee Archive. I located her graduating class’s yearbook, the 1935 Tuskegee Annualette. The Annualette mentions that Abigail, also known as “Dumplings,” was an Alpha Pi Gamma member. Abigail enjoyed dancing, had the catchphrase “Gi-RR-ul,” and in the Annualette, she listed the quote “What’s in a name?” as her favorite. Most importantly, the document indicates Chicago as her hometown. My first clue! 

So, I turned to census and genealogical records as my next step. I then learned that Abigail Kyzer was a child of Joab and Pricilla Kyzer, who were married in the early 1900s. Census records from the 1920s show that Abigail was born in Louisiana. However, she and her parents, two siblings, and an aunt were residing in Chicago, Illinois, in 1920. I was reminded of the Great Migration in America, when over six million African Americans moved from rural southern states to northern urban areas to escape rural poverty in the 1920s.

Census records also recorded that Abigail had married George Hobson, the head of the Physical Education Department of Alabama A&M University. It noted that Abigail worked as the head of the Home Economics Department there. The couple had adopted Abigail’s niece, Florence, when, in the 1940s, both of Florence’s parents passed away. 

Additionally, a thesis titled “A Study of Values of Rural and Urban Negro Families in Alabama with Implications for Homemaking Education” was linked to her name in search results. I thoroughly enjoyed her thesis and read it from beginning to end. Abigail hypothesized, “The values emphasized in homemaking classes at the secondary level conflict with those accepted in the homes of families for whom the curriculums are designed.” She found that in the secondary home economics classes, students were less likely to accept the curriculum and chose instead to continue to adhere to the teachings provided by their families, showcasing the strong bond between mothers and daughters and the importance and strength of family values learned at home. These studies were carried out by Abigail in order to enhance the future home economics course offerings. 

I sought additional information from the Alabama A&M University archive after exhausting my options with census records, the Tuskegee University archive, museum catalogs, and scholarly journals. I was thrilled to receive an email from them containing numerous images of Abigail as a professor in their Home Economics Department, as well as a number of important historical records. I received the nomination form, submitted in 1980 to the Women’s Scroll of Honor in Huntsville, Alabama, which described in great detail the numerous awards and accolades she had received during her lifetime.

Abigail had such a significant influence on education that Alabama A&M University honors her legacy by giving the Abigail K. Hobson Memorial Scholarship Award to deserving Family and Consumer Sciences students. Additionally, the archive division sent a copy of the faculty and staff awards banquet from their centennial year, which featured Abigail and described her legacy. And finally, they included Abigail’s 1976 obituary, which I was unable to locate on my own. It details Abigail’s remarkable life and dedication to family and teaching. Abigail was a devoted home economics teacher and said, “The responsibility of every teacher is that of providing the type of environment in which the pupils may develop a system for accepting values that make life richer and more meaningful for them than the values previously held.” Without this research, visitors would be largely unaware of the important woman that Polk photographed in the 1930s. 

Dr. Abigail Kyzer Hobson was just one of the amazing Americans that I had the pleasure to research. I wrote extended labels for her, Catherine Elizabeth Moton Patterson, Thomas Monroe Campbell, George Washington Carver, and P. H. Polk as well. I gained valuable experience in historical research, made connections with archival departments, and learned about significant 20th century American figures that I had never heard of before. I thoroughly enjoyed researching each of the photographs and becoming a detective of sorts, discovering the anthropological and historical significance of the subjects captured in P. H. Polk’s photographs. 

Hitchhikers Guide to Modern & Contemporary Art

Over the past few weeks I have been putting together research on three works in the collection that are currently on display: Love is Real by Karl Fortess, Red Head by Richard Lindner and Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head by Keith Rogers Alford. With this research I have been able to develop a “lecture” to present to the docents at the Maier Museum of Art and will be able to talk about these works in a public tour this coming weekend (Sunday, August 4th).

It is truly incredible what you can dig up about the artworks in your collection if you know where to look (…google). I stumbled across a lot of interesting information, some historic, some opinionated. Each work has offered unique and new information and has led me to develop my own thoughts which I will share along with what I have found for each piece.

Love Is Real

Karl Eugene Fortess was born in Antwerp, Belgium on October 13th, 1907. He later moved to the United States and gained citizenship in 1923. He studied at the Art Institute in Chicago, Art Students League in New York, and the Woodstock School of Painting with Yasuo Kuniyoshi. He has won several awards including the E. Keith Memorial Award in 1935, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946, and the Childe Hassam Fund Purchase Award in 1952. He taught at multiple schools and state universities like Boston University School of Fine Art where he worked to supply higher education students and faculty with resources to art by creating an archive of 250 interviews of contemporary artists. Other notable institutions where he taught include: Brooklyn Museum Art School, Louisiana State University and Fort Wright College. Fortess has been an active member in the art community being a part of: the Artists Equity Association, Society of American Graphic Artists, American Association of University Professors, and the British Film Institute.

Karl Fortess, (Untitled–Landscape with Masks), ca. 1930s-1940s, lithograph on paper, Smithsonian American Art Museum

Aside from all of his teaching and education, Fortess worked in the Artist for Works Progress Administration Federal Art Project, which was a New Deal Program to fund the visual arts. Fortess worked under this program in 1937 with several other artist who were sent to Alaska to document the towns, villages, and remote wilderness landscapes. This information was then given back to the US Department of the Interior for filing and documenting purposes.

A lot of Fortess’ art deals with themes relating to the environmental impact that mankind has on the earth. His works often depict a tree stump or a dead tree in the foreground with objects placed around it.

Love is Real
Karl Fortess, Love is Real, Maier Museum of Art, 1964

The work Love is Real is a great representation of his themes and composition. An oil on canvas, the painting was completed in 1964. It features a tree stump with a sign posted on it “love is real”. There is a small tin can that is at the right side of the stump that contains tree branches and there are wooden boards that seem to be nailed into the stump as well as held up by a couple of, what I am interpreting as, belts.

Image result for karl eugene fortess love is real
Karl Fortess, Untitled (First Version of Portrait)

What is interesting about this painting is that it is the third and final version of a painting called Portrait. With each recreation, the painting was altered. The first version depicted a stormy sky and a planter filled with flowers to the right of the stump as if it acted as a grave site. The paper that was posted on the stump showed a tree. The second version replaced the planter with an old tin can containing tree branches and the sky was lightened. The paper changed to be a self portrait of Fortess. In the final version, the work that is on view at the Maier, the sky has been set to a grey scale with the branches in the tin remaining and the sign posted “love is real”.

“This painting is the third version of a painting called Portrait. The first painting had on a paper the entire tree nailed to the stump. The second had a self-portrait in place of the tree. The third version had the slogan “Love is Real”. All three paintings were a continued exploration of man’s effect on the landscape, in all cases man’s contrivance with the real elements that exist in the landscape around us. (My concern is with a reality that is contrived from direct observation of man’s effect on the environment.) This also involves the mood I reflect on nature.”

– Karl Fortess, March 3rd 1976

When I look at the artwork, Love is Real, I see what Fortess is trying to convey, but I am wondering why this work is called portrait. Looking at the first painting of the series we see the tree on the paper attached to the stump. Does this resemble the tree as it once was? Is this a portrait of the tree? The second painting shows us Fortess’ portrait attached to the stump and finally no imagery at all, just a slogan. With these clues I almost see it as the story of the Giving Tree, written by Dr Suess.

Where the first painting is a portrait of the world, the second painting is a portrait of man, the third combines the two together to tell the story of how the world loves man and will give him anything to make him happy, but man keeps taking from the earth, depleting it of its resources, yet the world still finds a way to provide for mankind. That is real love; love is real. But, of course this is just a speculation.

Red Head

Richard Lindner was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1901. after fleeing Nazi Germany, Lindner came to the United States where he worked for magazines, such as Vogue, as an illustrator. Later, he became a professor of art at Pratt Institute in New York. His education started in Germany at the Nuremberg’s School of Fine and Applied Arts in 1922 and ended in Germany at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich in 1924.

Image result for richard lindner artworks
Plot 15

Lindner’s work follows that of a the surrealist and cubist movements along with elements of his personal history and literary associations to create a sort of “personal fantasy world”. His subjects often include street walkers, circus women, and men in uniform who take on characteristics of Berlin Cabaret culture from the 1930’s through the depiction of exaggerated body parts and sexual implications.

Although his characters seem to be posed to take part in everyday activities in New York, they do not interact with one another; giving way themes of loneliness, which was often Lindner’s intent.

Red Head
Richard Lindner, Red Head

The work that is on display at the Maier, Red Head, does not seem to follow the cubist and surrealist approach. Instead, this lithograph which was created in 1971 displays an up-close image of an individual, anonymous figure. There is no telling on who the person is, there isn’t even any telling on whether the person is male or female. The ambiguity of this figure, along with the subject matter that Lindner depicts, leads me to the assumption that this person could be transgender or possibly a male in drag.

There is something about the face that is so mask-like. The use of bright blocks of color divided by harsh black lines creates a distinguished facial structure, especially around the eyebrows, chin and nose.

The viewer is in close proximity with this figure and it is almost terrifying, yet empowering. The figure’s direct eye contact with the viewer reveals a feeling of confrontation which is emphasized by the deep purple tones around the eyes and dilated pupils.

Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head

Constance Keith Rogers Alford was born in Louisville, Kentucky on March 27th, 1943. She received her Bachelor of Arts at Randolph Macon Women’s College in 1965 (during her time at RMWC she was the president of her freshman class as well as an artist and editor of the literary magazine on campus, The Sundial) and her Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Mississippi, where she later taught as an assistant professor of art. Her works have been exhibited in sites such as Elizabeth Gaskell College in Manchester, England, Catherine Smith Gallery, Appalachian State University, Louisiana State University, the New Orleans World Fair, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum, Meridian Museum of Art, Attic Gallery and the Gulf South Gallery.

St. Cuthbert and King Edwin's Head
Keith Rogers Alford, Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head, Maier Museum, 1974

There is not a lot that has been said about the painting, Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head that has been hanging in Thoresen Gallery at the Maier all summer, but there has been a lot of questions and I have had my own, such as: Who are these people being depicted and did they even exist? The answers rest in my research.

Saint Cuthbert was a shepherd in Melrose, Scotland. When he was 16 he received a vision from a soul of a saint that influenced him to enter the holy order at Melrose Abbey, but before joining the monastery he served in the army for the Kingdom of Northumbria in England. In 664 he became the head of the Melrose Abbey which he later retired from to go and live a life of solitude as a hermit. In 685 he was called back into the church and became the bishop at Lindisfarne, UK, (also known as the Holy Island) where he died two years later.

He was first buried at Lindisfarne Priory which became a place for pilgrimage. It was reported that numerous miracles had occurred at his grave and thus he was given the title “Wonder-worker of England”. He was buried in at least six locations before his final resting site in Durham Cathedral (Durham, England). The need to travel so much was because the Lindisfarne Monks were being threatened by Danish attack so they were forced to vacate their monastery and wonder the land for several years.

In his final resting site, years later the head of St. Oswald, the King of Northumbria from 633-642, was placed in his grave. St. Oswald was the Uncle of St. Edwin, whom of which is depicted laying in his spot in Saint Cuthbert’s grave. Could these symbolize the dethroning of St. Oswald from Edwin or was this just a misinterpretation from the artist?

“On one level, Saint Cuthbert and King Edwin’s Head describes an historical event that came alive to me when I saw Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral. King Edwin’s head was deposited in St. Cuthbert’s grave. I imagined the saint, who had laid quietly for a long time, was shocked to be disturbed in the first place and then repulsed by the nature of the thing disturbing him. On another level, the painting is about the human spirit. The body of the saint is decaying: it is dead. But, his spirit is alive and reacts to the head with revulsion and pity. The saint does not move like a bug which continues to twitch after it has been killed, but moves on impulse rooted in compassion.”

-Keith Rogers Alford, March 16th 1976

St. Oswald was King of Northumbria from 633-642 after the death of his uncle, St. Edwin (Who is being depicted with Saint Cuthbert in Alford’s painting). Oswald’s death was seen as a martyr for the Northumbrian Church, having been killed in battle, hence giving him his title of “saint”. Edwin was King of Northumbria in 616 until 633 (that’s when his nephew Oswald came into power). He was considered to be the most powerful English ruler of his day and the first Christian King of Northumbria. When St. Edwin died his head was buried in York, England where it has remained to this day.

Places & Spaces: Landscapes Lecture by Kathleen Placidi

I have had the pleasure of attending last week’s lecture at the Maier Museum of Art, by Kathleen Placidi. Her central theme for this week’s talk was in regards to the relationship that we have with nature. The lecture really focused on the transition between an untouched landscape and the introduction of a human mark and how much of an impact that we can have on our environment (exclusively looking at the United States). Looking at paintings done by the Hudson River School to works completed past the 1870’s and 21st century; there is a big difference in how we portray the American landscape and how it functions as a space to occupy. What was once full of possibilities, expansion, wildlife and Natives has slowly become manipulated as mankind claims the dirt under themselves.

The history of land is vital to the identity of it’s country. It can extend over 1,000 of years where painters have documented the surroundings of which they have lived, although this is not the case of the United States. Being such a young country we have only started to take notice of the land and it’s beauty starting in the seventeenth century. (Anything prior to that was just used as background to a subject.)

Now, we take pride in the beauty of the world around us, even as it changes. We can start to identify our own culture from our land, and for the United States, the depiction of landscapes seems to be the most unique from any other culture. (But of course this is just an opinion.)

Our landscapes, like others, look to inspire other artists in dance, composition and the like. Landscapes from the American perspective can offer a sense of patriotism, educational value, morals, and it can also serve as a means in which to depict history. It can teach us what the world looks like or inspire us. It can warn us of a dark future. We can see our relationship that we have with nature. The importance of the landscape goes on, as we begin to look at paintings and the artists behind them.

The Hudson River School Painters

Thomas Cole was a leading artist in American landscape painting. His works are filled with literary and historical associations. He tends to edit his paintings of mankind to show scenes of untouched natural beauty and offers us a pristine view of how our land used to rest. He also uses imagery of Native Americans to show the great scale of humans to the natural world the surrounds them along with the relationship that they share with that same scenery. This is just what he does in his painting from the Maier Collection, Corway Peak. In this painting we can see the dawn of humanity with the rosy colored sky behind the mountains or perhaps the twilight alluding to the time of the Native Americans to pass away. The only hint of a season that one can see is with the trees in the lower right hand corner that show the golden leaves of autumn. There is also some interesting, yet debated, imagery from the trees seen on the horizon line towards the right side of the work, showing something of perhaps natural crosses that maybe give in to his association with the Episcopalian church.

Asher B. Durand took over the Hudson River School after Cole’s death and thus became the new leading artist of American landscape. His work is often similar to Cole’s, but are different in the idea that Durand painted what he saw and not what he “imagined”. He focused on painting single scenes in nature and included incredible detail (which probably was an extension from his techniques that developed previously being an engraver). Something that is fairly interesting about his works is his orientation of a canvas. Usually when one thinks of a landscape they often picture a scene on an elongated, horizontal canvas, but Durand did the opposite of this. His landscape scenes are often depicted on vertical canvas and capture a smaller area in nature from top to bottom; possibly another technique for adding in details. Durand believed that anyone could find benefits from being in nature: whether it be mental or physical. He believed this so much so that he painted his self portrait, The Sketcher, in the third person perspective of himself: sitting and painting in nature.

John Frederick Kensett, also like Durand, was an engraver although we don’t see much similarity in landscape styles. Kensett’s landscapes often included large bodies of water with relatively low horizon lines. He used asymmetrical composition in order to attract our attention to certain areas around the canvas. We can see these techniques come into play when looking at his work entitled On the Connecticut Shore. There are interesting reflections that are depicted in the water’s surface, the sky hanging low, taking up over two thirds of the canvas and we can see the scale of the world compared to mankind when glancing at the boat in the far left as compared to the mountain on the right. All of these elements come together to make up a subtle landscape scene.

“Trying to paint water is like trying to paint a soul,” – Ruskin

American Landscapes in the 1870’s

Landscapes continued to grow in the American art market and with that; they began to change. Painters began to look for scenes on the west coast as the United States started it’s expansion and some artists took it as far as traveling across the ocean to Europe. It was in doing this that Americans started to realize that American culture does not have to be isolated from European culture. We as a society had finally gotten over the feeling of being culturally inferior to Europe.

Thomas Moran was one of these painters that took on the stylistic techniques of European painters. Unlike the Hudson River School, Moran used photographs to create his finished paintings rather than pulling from nature itself. His brush strokes were much looser than that of his predecessors and was often bolder in terms of color choices. His landscapes did not offer a sense of moral or religious meaning, but rather became a simplified narrative as their was more attention focused onto the subject of the painting as it was in space. These strategies are especially true in his work, View of Venice .

George Inness was essentially the same as Moran. He developed a looser brush technique, did not focus on details and was inspired by the European landscapes; all of which can be seen in his work, Perugia and the Valley. Although he still shared some similarities still with the Hudson River School. His pallet was often muted tones and, in a way like Cole, he created his own imagery of landscapes based off of what he could remember. He was not interested in the literal depiction of nature as some artists were, but rather he strives to create works that show an almost mystical connection to all living beings and nature; a link between spiritual and material worlds.

Painting in the 21st Century

Looking further into the years our landscapes have changed, yet again, this time even more drastically so than through the 70’s. Our landscapes are depicted with a more industrial vibe as mankind has taken over nature. An artist that offers us insight to this would be Rackstraw Downes and his paintings of the Salt Piles where industrialization is depicted as a mountainous beauty.

Downes deliberately picks neglected areas to paint. He finds that this is the most undisturbed way to still practice en plein air techniques as well as depicting the resiliency of nature against human beings. He often paints areas that are surrounded with weeds and overgrowth as a symbol of nature’s reclaim to the world and the neglect that humans have for certain areas in the United States. The shift for landscape painting now becomes a matter of warning instead of patriotism in the effects that humans have on mankind. Hopefully with the showcasing of 21st century landscapes we will make a motion to rekindle our relationship with nature and take better care of our surroundings.

A Critique of the Monticello Tours

The Maier Museum of Art has a tradition of taking their interns to visit other museums throughout Virginia to help enhance their museum education. Last week, Laura (my internship adviser) and I went to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This was my second visit, but I did not really remember anything from my first visit eight years ago.* We chose to visit Monticello because, even though I enjoy art, I prefer the history side of museums. So, our day was spent learning about the life of Thomas Jefferson and the history behind Monticello through various tours and interactive exhibitions. We also practiced our quill writing and got a better view of the Blue Ridge Mountains!

*Here is a throwback to my first visit when I was 11 years old! As you can see, my style hasn’t changed 😉


I am fortunate to live in a region of Virginia where so many museums and historical sites can be accessed within a couple of hours. Monticello is located only an hour and fifteen minutes away, right outside of Charlottesville. We arrived at 11 a.m. and stayed until about 3:30 p.m. Four and a half hours does not seem like a lot of time, but we got to see everything Monticello has to offer.

The visitor center, where we bought our tickets, has a theater showing a powerful introductory film, a small museum with four exhibitions highlighting various aspects of Jefferson’s life, a gift shop, and a nice café, but the main attractions are located at the house. After buying our tickets, we rode the five minute shuttle up to the house on the mountain top.

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Critique Based on Museum Education Experience:

For the house tour, we had a nice sized group of about ten or so. Our tour guide was great, but he was hard to hear at points, either due to the various noises echoing throughout the room or his fluctuating volume at which he spoke to us. At the very interesting parts of his talk, he would bring his voice down to a whisper, which made it very hard to hear. He also talked so fast that it was hard to ask a question or make a comment. Even though at the end of each speech he would make in each room, he would ask for “questions, comments, or queries,” but the next tour group would be pounding at the door waiting to come in. So, it felt like there was absolutely no time to ask questions or have a brief conversation with the tour guide pertaining to an object in the specific room.

The house tours were scheduled in fifteen-minute intervals. This allotted amount of time did not feel like enough to me. Before our guide could finish talking to us about a room, the 11:45 tour group would start to come in, which meant that we had to leave. I just felt rushed throughout the entire house tour. Maybe if the tours were spread out to twenty to thirty minute intervals, the visitors would not feel so rushed and they would have more time to ask questions. I understand that they are trying to get as many people as possible through the house, but I will remember the feeling of being rushed more than I will about the fancy clock sitting on the mantel. Also, with longer time intervals comes larger groups of people for each tour. The ten or so in our group already felt like too much in the smaller rooms. Overall, I learned a lot on the house tour and I know our tour guide was doing the best he could, which is all anyone can ask.

I think the most interesting thing I learned while on the house tour was that Jefferson liked to sleep propped up in his bed. He slept like this mostly because his bed was too short for him, but also because of health reasons. This is also where he passed away (not the exact mattress and bed spread, but the location).

His library still contains some of his original books, protected behind glass, of course.


Jefferson used various contraptions to help his research go smoothly. One example is the polygraph invented by John Isaac Hawkins (1772-1855) and Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) in 1806. With this machine, Jefferson could physically write with one of its pens, while the other pen, attached by levers and joints, would transcribe the exact same thing Jefferson was writing.



My favorite part of the day was the “Slavery at Monticello” tour. Throughout my education, I have always loved learning about history, whether it was American or European. I have developed my favorite eras in world history, such as the Civil War era in America and the World War II era in Europe. At the start of our tour, our guide was upfront about the misconceptions of slavery and how people think that Jefferson was a benevolent master. She had no difficulty explaining to us that the enslaved African Americans who built Monticello were property and that was all Jefferson saw them as, even his children he had with Sally Hemings. I appreciate that she came right out and said this. The 200+ years of the Institution of Slavery was one of the darkest, if not the darkest, chapter in American history. We as a society need to acknowledge our past and learn from it, so nothing like this will ever happen again.

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After our slavery tour, Laura and I went to view the new Sally Hemings exhibition, The Life of Sally Hemings, which opened June 16th. Before our trip, I saw countless articles and videos about this new exhibition that made me want to go and see it. I have to be honest, the exhibit was not what I was expecting. I imagined a bigger room with more interactive aspects, wall panels, and pictures explaining the life of Sally Hemings. The exhibition is located in one of the rooms historians believed Sally would have lived in. Being an enslaved person, the room is very small, with brick floor and a plaster wall. On the far right, there are about five huge panels that line the wall, with a manikin dressed in what is believed Sally would have worn. The manikin does not have a head because no one knows exactly what she looked like. There were never any pictures taken of her. There is a projector and a sound system attached to the ceiling that projects the video of Sally’s life in the quotes from her son, Madison. The music follows the video and patterned projections on the manikin of Sally. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed the exhibition, but it was definitely not what I was expecting.

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The only really disappointing thing for me was that the buildings featured on the Slavery at Monticello tour were replicas or they just did not exist at all. The slave house was a replica, which I understand is better than nothing, but I still would have liked to see the real house. For the ones that were non-existent except for the foundation, a replica would have been nice. Erecting replicas of the structures that are non-existent might be Monticello’s next project.


All in all, I had a very nice day trip with Laura to Monticello. I got to know her more as a person outside of the museum atmosphere, which I enjoyed very much!

Enjoy the slideshow of our funny selfies and pics!

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Intern Selfie ;)


As you see in the picture above, I took a selfie with Louise Jordan Smith. She was Randolph-Macon Woman’s College’s first professor of art. Smith was a woman of revolutionary ideas and a fervent believer that firsthand study of art was central to a liberal arts education. As an artist herself, she trained in New York and in Paris, France, at the Académie Julian. Her paintings consisted mostly of landscape depicting her favorite scenes from the local countryside.

Smith played a crucial role in developing the fine art collection at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (R-MWC). After acquiring the College’s fist work of art, William Merritt Chase’s Portrait of William Waugh Smith, in 1907, she thought the College should invest in more than presidential portraits. So, Smith established an annual exhibition of contemporary art on campus in 1911. Louise Jordan Smith stipulated that the College would acquire at least one work of art from each exhibition to ensure the continued growth of the collection for future students. Each artwork acquired from the annual contemporary exhibitions would represent the best of that artist’s work.

Before her death in 1928, Smith established an acquisition fund to help support the College and later, the Maier Museum of Art, to purchase works of art. She also donated her artwork to the College’s permanent collection.

I took a selfie with her because I am grateful for her many contributions to R-MWC, Randolph College, and the Maier Museum of Art. Because of her dedication to her students, I am able to participate in various experiential learning opportunities. I can take multiple Art, Art History, and Museum and Heritage Studies classes, intern at the Maier Museum of Art, and learn about the forever changing world of American Art through the annual contemporary exhibitions.

I am honoring her legacy by interning at the Maier Museum of Art and sharing with others about her dedication to the art world and her students. Even though I possess no artistic ability what so ever, I admire Smith’s passion for her work. I want to be a museum professional someday, and I hope that my passion and love for my work shines through and inspires others. I wish I could meet her!

Her self-portrait is on view in the Maier Museum of Art’s lobby, behind the Reception Desk. So, the next time you are visiting the Museum, stop by and say hello to Louise Jordan Smith!

Best of the Week

As the Museum Education intern at the Maier Museum of Art, there are a lot of tasks and projects I need to complete before my eight weeks are up. Most are one to two days projects, such as making dated calendars for the docents and receptionists or creating large text gallery guides for visitors who have a little trouble reading the text on the extended wall labels. A couple of the projects will take one to two weeks due to large amounts of planning, researching, implementing, and revisions that are needed to produce the final product. This past week, I was assigned an interactive timeline to complete for the Maier’s website.

The Maier staff had already selected a website to generate a timeline of their Annual Exhibitions of Contemporary Art, but they were not entirely sure if the website could accommodate their design ideas. So, I researched other museum web-based timelines for additional content, design, and layout ideas. It was interesting to see the different timeline layouts other museums used to convey important events in history and art history. Most were basic outlines, but a couple had interactive components. It was also interesting to see which historical events they found important enough to add to their timeline. They all had the big events, like the American Civil War and World War II, but some museums recorded events that were important at their specific time, but maybe not so important now, such as the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

Even though the Maier is an art museum, the staff thought it would be necessary to add the important historical events that were happening when their annual exhibitions were open to provide context for their audience. For example, the 47th Annual Exhibition of Contemporary provided a view into the 1930s: the Great Depression, social significance, and the American scene. Adding the Great Depression to the timeline would provide the audience with contextual information about what occurred during the 1930s. Another example is when the Maier’s 3rd Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art opened in 1913, the Armory Show simultaneously opened in New York. This meant I had to research both the art and history aspects of the timeline, which, being a History major and Art History minor, I LOVED!

While inserting data into a timeline maker might become tedious after a while, I enjoy learning about the history of the Maier Museum of Art, broadening my knowledge of American history through the extensive research, and finding new, intriguing ways to educate the public.


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Sara P.


Something Surprising

I have just completed my first week of interning at the Maier and the most surprising thing I learned is that EVERYONE involved is committed to the museum. I only worked three hours my very first day, and even then I realized that this internship will be one of the best museum work-related experiences I will ever have.

The Office Manager and Public Engagement Coordinator, Danni Schreffler, starts her day at 8 a.m. and is always deep in her to-do lists by the time I arrive at 9 a.m. When I look over my shoulder, she is continuously hard at work answering endless emails and phone calls, creating advertisement masterpieces on computer programs, such as Adobe and Microsoft Publisher, and making sure that everything is going as planned on the social media world. I plan to consult with her on some of her marketing and outreach projects to further expand my museum skills.

23875022734480Laura McManus, Curator of Education and my advisor for this summer, arrives with a coffee cup in one hand, various tote bags filled with her projects in the other, and a bright smile on her face every day. Laura’s office is filled with crafting supplies, binders/books full of education tips and theories, and knick-knacks of her favorite artists and sayings. Having only worked with Laura for a week or so, I can tell that she loves educating anyone and everyone about the Maier’s collection. Her passion shines through and, I am sure, inspires visitors to conduct their own research on art.

Debbie Spanich, the Maier’s Registrar, is in charge of managing and cataloging the collection. She gets to hang-out with the artwork, inspect it, and Rediscovery_Software_Webmake sure it is safe and cared for. To catalog the art collection, she uses a software database known as Proficio. It is not the easiest thing to use, but she is willing to help anyone who wants to learn how to manage it.

Martha Johnson is the Director of the Maier and is the glue that holds everyone together. She is responsible for what happens in every aspect of operation. Her main focus is deciding where the Maier’s priorities lie, so that process runs as smoothly as possible. Martha has many “jobs” under her title as director. She plans for every event/exhibit that occurs at the Maier or is associated with the Maier. Within her strategic planning, Ms. Johnson must make sure to look at the forever changing direction of Randolph and see if the Maier is able to adapt alongside it.

20171113_maier_student_tour_26The docents and volunteers are very committed to the Maier and what it provides to the community, as well. I attended my first docent training session this past week and it was full! This session consisted of a recognized art historian lecturing about the artwork and artists within the Maier’s collection. Most in attendance were taking detailed notes and were engaged the entire time. This shows that they are dedicated to giving the best tour filled with as much information as they can to visiting school groups and museum enthusiasts.


Even though we all have, what seems like, endless to-do lists, everyone comes in with a smile on their face, ready to conquer the day.

PSA! There is a New Museum Education Intern at the Maier!!


My name is Sara Primm and I am the 2018 MuseuMuseum Logom Education summer intern! I am a rising junior at Randolph College, double majoring in History and Museum and Heritage Studies and double minoring in Art History and Classics. When implementing these areas of studies, I have hopes of helping children and their families realize how important museums are when it comes to preserving history.

Since I was a child, I have loved visiting museums to learn about artifacts and their history. Learning about the historical information behind an object or a work of art is fascinating because it is a way for me to connect with the object and those who handled it before me. For my future career, I want to be associated with a museum, somehow, but I am not sure if I want be an educator, registrar, director, or a curator. I enjoy doing various aspects from each department, so it will be a hard choice for me to make in the future.

I originally applied for the Museum Generalist position because I like to do so many things. I now realize that I should have taken more time to reflect on my past museum experiences before applying for the internship. I would have realized that I had already interned at a museum where I learned about a variety of museum fields through my daily tasks. I also would have recognized that my interest in education was greatly developing due to a museum education class I was taking at the time. That class was my first experience in anything related to educating museum goers.

This internship is the perfect opportunity for me to delve deeper into the forever expanding world of museum education. I will assist with the development and planning of educational programs for family workshops and K-12 school tours. To help current Maier docents, I will assist in developing tour talking points and research materials to enhance their training. To help current volunteer receptionists, I will assist in updating resource materials. Planning for, hosting, and co-leading tours will also be a huge portion of my work. I have never led a museum tour before, so this is something that I am looking forward to!

I welcome the opportunity to intern at the Maier Museum of Art and become a part of the team that is fully committed to educating the public about art and art history. In my undergraduate career, I have not had the chance to work in an art museum, only history museums. So, this is THE perfect opportunity to further develop my skills and to become a competitive candidate in the museum field.

Maier Museum of Art Photograph