We believe art is the difference between merely existing and being truly alive.

Intern Insights: Hailey Robbins

Hailey and Maggie in collection storage

If you had asked me a year ago where I would be interning this summer, I most certainly would not have told you it would be an art museum in Charleston, South Carolina. As a lifelong New Englander who moved to Virginia for college, Charleston wasn’t on my radar beyond knowing that a few of my friends vacationed here. And aside from that, I was unaware of the cultural and artistic richness of Charleston that would allow me to work at a place I now consider to be so crucial in my educational experience. It was fairly recently that I realized I wanted to work in the museum industry, and even then I assumed I would be working in a history museum rather than art. But through my time at the Gibbes, I’ve learned that the kind of storytelling that drew me to my English and History majors at the University of Virginia is incredibly applicable to the art museum environment. I’ve been able to experience firsthand the unique ways in which art and history interact, and how visual art can be appreciated aesthetically at the same time as grounding its viewer in the zeitgeist of a time period. Through the various projects I’ve undertaken, I’ve learned the importance of art for art’s sake while also developing a skill set I am excited to take with me into a museum career.

Hailey examining a matted photograph
Hailey looking at images for “Out of the Vault.”

One of the major projects I worked on this summer was planning for the upcoming exhibition The Bitter Years (opening September 2023) which features photographs from Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans, as well as six other photographers, from the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. For this project, I created a layout of the photographs in our upstairs galleries and crafted text panels to go throughout the exhibition. I also curated a selection of ten photographs from the Library of Congress archives that were specifically taken in South Carolina to tie the exhibition to the Gibbes’ mission of showcasing art that touches Charleston. The exciting part was that once the physical photographs arrived at the Gibbes, I had the opportunity to work with them hands-on to condition report them with Maggie Claytor, the Registrar Assistant. After working with this collection virtually for so long, it was incredibly rewarding to get to actually see the pieces. I truly got to work on this exhibition design process from beginning to end, and I can’t wait to come back to see the final finished product.

Another major project I worked on this summer was the curation of my mini-exhibition for the “Out of the Vault” series, which showcases pieces from our permanent collection that haven’t recently been displayed. While there are so many compelling pieces in our permanent collection, what fascinated me most was a group of more than one hundred old Hollywood glamour shots and pin-up pictures. I was struck immediately by the idea that female nudity and sexuality is common in classical art, but there seems to be a stigma surrounding pin-up photos, which are seen as taboo, risqué, and promiscuous. After doing a deep dive into research on the pin-up genre, I realized that I wanted to display these photos to reframe them not only as exquisite examples of female artistry, but as symbols of transgressive female sexuality. The women in these photos confidently expressed desire and confidence in a way that sparked the sexual revolution later in the twentieth century. Their power inspired everyday women to embrace their own sexualities, and even to create their own homemade pin-up pictures. I selected five photographs from the Robert W. Marks collection that I believe exemplify the artistry of the pin-up genre, and I cannot wait for them to be put on display. While it may be out of the box, I’m excited to take a traditionally taboo art form and reexamine it through this exhibition.

Besides these two larger projects, I got to experience so many other facets of life at the Gibbes. From sitting in on docent training, to cataloging reference library materials, to attending an interpretive charette discussing how to reimagine the exhibition of the Gibbes’ collection, I gained so much valuable experience. I was constantly blown away by how much trust and confidence was put in me from day one — the staff here not only allowed but encouraged me to explore any aspect of the museum’s day-to-day operations I was interested in, and I can genuinely say I am leaving with a well-rounded, holistic view of what goes into running a museum. While my heart will forever stay in the Curatorial department, I loved seeing how each branch of museum staff interacts to create an incredible visitor experience.

Hailey sharing at a group brainstorming session
Hailey sharing at content charettes surrounding the permanent collection. Photo by MCG Photography

I am immensely grateful for my time at the Gibbes and all those who have encouraged and supported me along the way. Sara Arnold, the Director of Curatorial Affairs, taught me so much about how to craft a successful exhibition and supported my exploration into many different topics and fields in the museum world. Deborah Nobles-McDaniel, the Collections Manager, was constantly kind and comforting and carefully taught me the best procedures for handling objects and maintaining the standards of documentation and organization needed for collections care. Maggie Claytor, the Registrar Assistant, and Teresa Muñoz, the Curatorial Assistant, were not only the most wonderful office mates but were generous enough to walk me through day-to-day operations of a museum, act as point people for my various questions, and serve as role models for the type of museum professional I hope to become. I can genuinely say I feel like I’ve become a part of a family here at the Gibbes, and I am so thankful for each and every person who has been a part of it.

Published July 2023

Top image: Hailey (left) and Maggie Claytor (right) in Collection Storage.

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