Tell us a little bit about yourself
This is my last year in the program, and I am now working on my thesis. I came to the US from Russia in 2007, holding an MA degree in journalism from the Moscow State University, and entered the Art History program at George Mason in 2011. I am interested, broadly, in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European art. More specifically, I am interested in the Russian angle of the rediscovery of antiquity and the Grand tour. In my thesis, I am writing about two Russian artists who lived and worked in Italy in the 1820s and then returned home, and how through their work the ancient art of the Bay of Naples resonated in nineteenth-century Russia.
How did you come to be an intern at the National Gallery of Art?
In the spring of 2012, during one of our seminars in the “Museum” class Professor Carol Mattusch announced that a curator from the National Gallery of Art’s Department of Sculpture and Decorative Arts was in need of an intern to work on the collection-to-come. I wrote to Prof. Mattusch that same day saying I was interested, and then contacted the curator, and went on an interview which I thought went disastrously. I had no hope of hearing back from the curator again, but weeks later, to my surprise and joy, I got an e-mail informing me of the necessary paperwork and inviting me to a next visit.
What are/were your responsibilities as an intern?
I was assigned to start the preparation of a catalog for a collection of portrait medals. In the first step of creating a real catalog entry for each object, I had to find references to the object in the existing catalogs with an image and a description. The reference sources were sometimes very hard to find and included very old and rare catalogs that had to be borrowed through interlibrary loan (ILL) from libraries from all over the country. For each object, I created a folder where the data would be gradually accumulated. This was an interesting task, almost like detective work, deciphering the notes of a collector and hunting down rare books for references. I also did some extra work and gathered some information about the historical context for the use and display of these medals.
What surprised you about the experience?
The whole experience was illuminating. I was surprised at how truly and deeply NGA cares about its interns. I was very pleased with the respect, attention, and help that I got. The interns are supervised and cherished by their curators but also by the Division of Education, which is run by the remarkable Faya Causey.
Every other Friday, we would have an intern session either at the gallery or on a field trip, organized in the form of a walk-through and a lecture/conversation about the work of a particular department of the gallery or other institution. The goal of these sessions was to enlighten us on the various aspects of the work in different museum departments. These sessions expanded our understanding of the complexity of the museum backstage and of the many intricacies involved, and opened our minds up to a variety of jobs that one can do with an art history degree (way more than teaching or curating!)
What are your future plans?
I’m planning to finish my thesis in spring and apply for a PhD next year, that’s far enough to think for now.
What advice would you give to other students looking for an internship?
Be curious, talk to your professors, and don’t be afraid. Out of the NGA experience, I have taken with me encouragement, for I met so many wonderful, knowledgable people willing to help. I also feel that I have grown professionally, having the opportunity to learn and make mistakes on the job. I’m also taking away some great letters of recommendation for future internships, but that will be a topic of a next blog post.