Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial Exhibitions

Being an Intern: It’s not only Makin’ Copies

Prancing Horse with Head Turned, Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE), detail.
Prancing Horse with Head Turned, Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 CE), detail. James E. Conley, Jr. Collection. Photo by the author.

In 2005, as a senior Art History major at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I worked as an intern for the Museum’s Curatorial Department in Earlier European Art. Working under the expert intern-wrangling leadership of Catherine Sawinski, Assistant Curator of Earlier European Art, I industriously contributed my research (compiling artist biographies for the 2006 Biedermeier: The Invention of Simplicity exhibition) and customer service (answering public inquiries) skills to the greater cause of making the Milwaukee Art Museum run.

Breaking my daily routine, Laurie Winters (now the Museum’s Director of Exhibitions) and Mary Weaver Chapin (now the Museum’s Associate Curator of Prints & Drawings) asked me if I could go to Chicago with Mary for the day to help with a cataloging project.  We would be visiting an Asian art collection to inventory, measure, and photograph all the objects.

As an intern, I was thrilled with this great opportunity, but I had no idea that this material would reappear in my life 6 years later!

Behind the Scenes Curatorial

We Couldn’t Do It Without Interns

In 2004, interns helped put new labels out in the collection galleries.

So much of what we do at the Milwaukee Art Museum depends on volunteers. In the Curatorial department, most of my volunteers are college interns. These dedicated students are willing to give their time and energy to us in exchange for the experience of working at the Museum.

Over the past ten years, I have supervised over 100 interns. At times I have had as many as eleven interns at once! Their enthusiasm and intelligence are invigorating. Most interns commit to working 10-15 hours a week for a semester. Sometimes they intern for college credit, but just as often not. I have had interns stay and help me for years after their coursework is done—which is wonderful, because they can work on long-term projects and mentor new interns.