When we open ourselves to art, we open ourselves to the world – to beauty, craft, to different cultures, to pain and pleasure, expression and emotion.

Intern Insights: Connor Smith

Summer 2022 intern Connor Smith holding a framed photograph in collection storage.

Interning at the Gibbes this summer has definitely been the most exciting experience I’ve had as a rising third year Art History student at the University of Virginia. This museum and its wonderful staff have offered me many opportunities to learn hands-on through a variety of exciting projects, including curating my own small-scale exhibition for a new series titled Out of the Vault and into the Spotlight. Many thanks go to Sara Arnold, the Gibbes Director of Curatorial Affairs, for starting this series and for allowing me the freedom to explore curatorial work while also being so supportive. I also enjoyed learning this summer from Deborah Nobles-McDaniel, the Gibbes Collections Manager and Registrar, about how museums manage and care for thousands of works of art at a time. Together, her and I undertook inventory of the Gibbes works on paper collection, condition reported incoming and outgoing loans, and generally cared for the Gibbes permanent collection. Christopher Pelletier, the Gibbes Head Preparator, was also wonderful to work with, and had lots of experience in art handling and care that he shared with me as we received shipments of artworks, inventoried paintings, and prepared other works for display. Even outside of the Collections and Exhibitions Department, each and every staff member of the Gibbes has been so welcoming, kind, and educational for my entire two-month stay here. There was always something to learn from each of them.

Although I didn’t know exactly what I would be getting into before coming to the Gibbes Collections and Exhibitions Department this summer, I always knew that my interests were in researching and interpreting historical works of art. As it turns out, my curatorial dreams soon came true with the opportunity to work on the Out of the Vault series. The idea of the project was to select any of the thousands of works from the Gibbes permanent collection storage to be put on view, in an effort to highlight important pieces that otherwise haven’t been regularly seen on the museum walls. As I browsed through the Gibbes collection database for ideas, I was struck by some of our photographs by the famous photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White. As one of the earliest pioneers in a field which dominates our culture today, her place in history seemed too valuable not to include for this project, and so I was excited to share more about her and her work with the Gibbes’ audience. My hope is that viewers who see Bourke-White’s photography and learn her story at the Gibbes, will come to admire and appreciate her as not only one of the most ambitious and accomplished women in early photojournalism, but as arguably the most impactful photojournalist in the field’s history.

Connor Smith in front of Gibbes
Summer 2022 intern Connor Smith standing in front of the Gibbes Museum.

Bourke-White’s photographs will be on view for six months, at which point they will be replaced by two prints by Prentiss Taylor, which I also selected. The story of Taylor and his two artworks which I’ve chosen for display are just as compelling to me as Bourke-White’s, as they symbolize his sensitive interest in art as a tool for promoting social advocacy and for healing our humanity in times of deep struggle. I hope that viewers will be able to appreciate those values as they view Taylor’s works, especially because I believe them to be present throughout many of the most important works of art throughout history.

All along the process of creating my two entries to the Out of the Vault series, I had so much support from our curator, Sara Arnold, who taught me the fundamentals of curating an exhibition that is meaningful to museums and their visitors. The project would also not be possible without Christopher Pelletier, who has been so willing and helpful to locate the works in storage, frame them, and hang them for viewers to see. After all is said and done, my biggest hope for the project is that visitors enjoy looking and learning about the works in Out of the Vault as much as I enjoyed researching them.

-Guest post by Connor Smith, August 2022

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