This blog post was written by Molly Wilson and edited by Rosemary Krill, Academic Programs. In the summer of 2011, Molly was an intern at Winterthur, learning about scholarly publishing in the office of Winterthur Portfolio. She is now completing her senior year at Lawrence University, Appleton, Wisconsin, where she has had experience with student publications.
What’s there to do for a museum intern? Most students might think, “It’s a job that doesn’t sound terribly exciting, working in a museum all day.”
Winterthur offers interns lots of diverse experiences in the museum. For instance, when Nalleli Guillen came to Winterthur, she wasn’t expecting to apprentice as a woodworker. She arrived in August 2009 as a first-year graduate student in the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. Originally from Monterey, Mexico, she grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated from New York University with B.A. in history and anthropology with a minor in art history. Not typical training for a woodworker, yet apprentice she did. Nalleli ended up being a collection-reaper, a treasure-seeker, a fifth-grade teacher.
Nalleli is interested in how visitors enjoy museums. So she sought an internship in Winterthur’s Public Programs Division, working with Lois Dietz Stoehr, associate curator of education for school and family programs, and Deborah Harper, curator of education for tour interpretation.
Nalleli took on fun and interesting jobs that linked her into several museum projects. She worked on the Hands on History Cart, a family activity for the exhibition Paint, Pattern & People: Furniture of Southeastern Pennsylvania, 1725–1850. (Come see the cart any Saturday from 1:00 to 3:00 pm until the exhibition closes on January 8, 2012. Try your hand at the wooden puzzle!)
Nalleli and the other staff working on the exhibition wanted to develop an activity to emphasize some typical decorative motifs. They settled on a wooden puzzle, focusing on a star pattern. In order to make a mock-up puzzle-box for a display, Nalleli fashioned the wooden pieces herself learning woodworking from the Winterthur staff responsible for the conservation of furniture and other wooden objects.
In preparation for a July 2011 special showing of Delaware’s official copy of the Declaration of Independence, Nalleli became Winterthur’s equivalent of Indiana Jones. She searched the collection for items related to the Founding Fathers for a children’s treasure hunt activity.
Nalleli also worked on the 2011 Yuletide tour. It is a program that takes months of effort. She spent days looking at the collections, working with Lisa Minardi, assistant curator for Paint, Pattern & People, and Catherine Westbrook, collections and research assistant for the Yuletide tour. They wanted to give a festive air to the Pennsylvania German rooms that are part of this season’s special small-group tour, called “Antiques & Architecture of Southeastern Pennsylvania.” Nalleli even researched what soup looks like simmering on a hearth.
She also did other types of work. When students wrote for help with their own research, she did her best to supply ample information. Fifth-grader Jamie was studying tourism in Delaware, so Nalleli sent along fliers and brochures about Winterthur.
Nalleli’s goal as an intern is essentially the same as the rest of the staff: to make sure that visiting Winterthur Museum is an experience worth doing again. It’s just her luck that this job involves arts and crafts, treasure hunts, and Yuletide exhibitions. She says, “I had a lot of help with my projects. For example, Stephanie Auffret (associate conservator of furniture), Mark Anderson (head of the furniture conservation lab), and Mary McGinn (conservator of paintings) were there with me every step of the way with the Hands on History Cart. Heather Hansen (exhibitions technician) was my “Indiana Jones” partner-in-crime for the scavenger hunt. The unique nature of this learning experience introduced me to so many brilliant people, which was one of the highlights of my experience at the museum.
If an intern can enjoy Winterthur, what kind of experience must it be for a returning visitor? So you, blog-reader, mystery-seeker, knowledge-reaper . . . you may have visited Winterthur before, but drop by again. History’s always changing, and so are we.