Adventures of a Museum Intern

My name is Hannah Ensign-George and for the month of January I have been interning at the museum with Director Aldy Milliken. As a junior art history and religion double major at Centre College in Danville, having an opportunity to work at KMAC has been wonderful. Because of KMAC’s smaller size my internship has encapsulated multiple facets of museum life from being the public face of the museum down at the front desk to solving the puzzle of packing the materials from the Eero Saarinen show for shipment.

Putting My Best Face Forward- sitting at the front desk is an opportunity to interact with the public and get a sense for why people visit the museum. Some visit because they were walking past and the exhibit caught their eye. Others have been planning to come to the exhibit since hearing about it. Another duty of the desk is to answer the telephone, which is always interesting. Telephone calls are another form of interaction just as important as greeting someone when they come in the front door. I found the first few calls to be nerve-wracking, but once I figured out a system that worked for me, they were a breeze. Still that didn’t stop me from nearly jumping out of my skin when the phone rang; it rings really loudly.

Valuable Research- when preparing for a new exhibit: research begins months in advance and doesn’t end until the exhibit is over. Each piece a curator plans to show has to have extensive background information to explain how it fits into the central idea or theme. Sometimes connections between pieces don’t become clear until more is known about their history and their creators. When I was researching for an upcoming show, Press, I found a wealth of information about the printing industry here in Kentucky. There is a remarkable printing press community in this state, from Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky to King’s Library Press at the University of Kentucky. Connections can then be made from these press businesses to William Morris’ Baskerville Press in late 19th responsible for initiating the private press movement. Without research these types of connections wouldn’t be made.

It Pays to Get Out- museums depend on generous grants from a variety of government organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts. In order to keep museums funded elected officials must be kept aware of issues regarded the arts. This is done by bringing them into the museum and developing strong relationships. Part of my work was contacting state senators and representatives in preparation for 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky. Arts Day in KY is organized by the Kentucky Arts Council to bring together people with their political leaders. Awareness days like this help to foster a community between the elected officials and the organizations whose interests they work to promote. On the national level museums must strongly advocate for their importance with members of Congress, to ensure funding continues, but also to help promote museums as a vitally important industry.

KY Arts day
KMAC Director Aldy Milliken and KMAC intern Hannah E. Ensign-George in Frankfort to attend 2014 Arts Day in Kentucky

Pack it Up, Ship it Out- one of the most exciting times in my internship was packing a closed exhibit for shipment. It was also the most exhausting part because of the manual labor and planning involved, but handling art that you have only looked at is an exhilarating experience. After the pieces have been taken down they have to be carefully wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap. Bubble wrap is the unsung hero of the wrapping process. Then the tricky part arrives: arranging the carefully packaged pieces into their crates. This part becomes an intense Tetris game, with very expensive and fragile blocks. All of the difficulty is forgotten when you look at a well packed crate and know that you solved the puzzle; those pieces are not moving an inch. Though the best part is probably when the crates have been picked up and sent on their way to the next museum, and everyone revels in the calm before setting up the next show.

I came to KMAC in an effort to determine if I wanted to pursue museum work as a career. As annoying as the “What are you going to do after college?” questions are, they remind me to think about myself and what I want to do next. After four weeks at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, this seems like a possibility. Museums combine scholarly research with outreach and working with people.And it doesn’t hurt that I get to spend all day surrounded by art; that is definitely awesome!

Read Hannah’s spotlight feature of being an intern on Centre’s Blog.

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Folk Art Stories

Folk art and folk music are kindred spirits. Though different in medium, they each  tell the personal and expressive stories of the self-taught artist.

The upcoming exhibit at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft will feature the folk artist and one of the most important American wood carvers of the twentieth century, Elijah Pierce. The exhibition The Essential Elijah Pierce was organized by the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio and will open to the public on February 1st, which is also the beginning of Black History Month.

Pierce was a renowned African-American wood carver, lay minster and barber whose work was, as Pierce believed, directed by God and his pieces were used to tell various stories of the Bible to all who entered his barber shop.

Pierce also carved secular subjects that were historical in theme. Pictured above is his  work,  Martin Luther King Jr. and the Kennedy Brothers (1977). This piece was purposely chosen today in recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Huddie William Ledbetter (d.1949) or Lead Belly from Mooringsport, Louisiana was an American folk and blues musician, and multi-instrumentalist, notable for his strong vocals, his twelve-string guitar, and for introducing the songbook of folk standards.

Featured Lead Belly songs:
Where Did You Sleep Last Night?
Jim Crow Blues

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 turns 50 this year. The Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  The passage of the Act ended the application of the racial segregation laws or “Jim Crow” laws that were enacted between 1876 and 1965 in the United States.

The Civil Rights Act was championed by John Kennedy and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson after JFK’s assassination. JFK’s brother, Robert Kennedy was also a strong supporter of civil rights. On May 25, 1961, Robert F. Kennedy delivered an idealistic radio broadcast for Voice of America, defending America’s record on race relations to the rest of the world, insisting that “there is no reason that in the near or the foreseeable future, a Negro could [not] become President of the United States.”

Alan Lomax (1915 – 2002) was one of the great American field collectors of folk music of the 20th century. During the New Deal, he and his father, famed folklorist and collector John A. Lomax recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress on aluminum and acetate discs.

African-American Ballads and Folk Songs

Sonny Terry (1911-1986) was a blind American harmonica blues musician from North Carolina. He was known for his energetic blues harmonica style, which frequently included vocal whoops and hollers.

Featured Sonny Terry songs:
Lost John 

The Sound of Saarinen

Arch from above by Connor Bell

On Friday January 10, 2014 KMAC will be host to AUDIOOPTICS #2, the second in an ongoing series of events occurring throughout Louisville that explore the spaces between our auditory and visual experiences of the world. This installment of AUDIOOPTICS consists of three sets of audio / visual pairings from a diverse array of artists. On the program for Friday evening are the Chicago based sound art duo Coppice (Noé Cuéllar and Joseph Kramer) presenting visuals prepared by Coppice.

The duo has produced original compositions for stage, fixed media, and performed installation settings since 2009. Drawing from their expanding glossary of study, the duo is currently focused on live repertoire with custom instruments, prepared pump organ, and  electronic processes.

Coppice
Coppice

The Louisville duo mAAs (Connor Bell and Tim Barnes) will play to a blueprint of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, the iconic monument to the westward expansion of the United States was built by Finnish American architect and designer Eero Saarinen, the subject of the current KMAC exhibition Eero Saarinen: Reputation for Innovation. When placed into this context Saarinen’s drawing takes on the quality of modern, experimental sheet music. It resembles a waveform, giving shape to the listener’s experience of the music.

Metastaseis (1953-54), mesures 317-333 : graphic by Iannis Xenakis
Metastaseis (1953-54), mesures 317-333 : graphic by Iannis Xenakis

Also performing is local musician, sound artist, and composer R Keenan Lawler with video by Louisville artist Mitchell Bradley. Bradley manipulates images and video from his trips through the outer limits of the city. He and his twin brother Matthew have also collaborated on a series of works that bring together overstocked toys from dollar stores and other items from the clutches of mass production. They have turned these materials into an unusual, yet playfully informed set of installations and sculptures that have been recently exhibited in shows at KMAC, The Speed Art Museum, and I.D.E.A.S. 40203. For over three decades Lawler has explored American Blues music, bluegrass, and rock all filtered through his extensive background in electro-acoustic improvisation. With an intensely focused technique utilizing western music tonalities Lawler works with masses of harmonic overtones and sustained textures using his trademark metal-bodied resonator guitar.

Mitchell Bradley color video still w/ R Keenan Lawler
Mitchell Bradley color video still w/ R Keenan Lawler

 

Bell and Barnes of mAAs sat in during the recent KMAC Hour on ArtFm Louisville to discuss the upcoming AUDIOOPTICS event, providing insight along the way into their creative drives and music making process. Connor Bell began the audiooptics series as a way to more closely examine the transferences that occur when image and sound makers are united. With the set goal of taking a more critical look at the interstices of musical creativity and visual art, these events are set at a distance from the production of typical synchronized music videos and more closely aligned with the intentions of artistic collaborations like the music and dance performances of John Cage and Merce Cunningham.

How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run was choreographed by Cunningham and accompanied by spoken text by Cage. Copyright:  Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike) Rights Held By:  University Musical Society
April 13, 1971, “How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run” choreographed by Cunningham with spoken word accompaniment by Cage.
Copyright: Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
Rights Held By: University Musical Society

Beginning in the mid 1950’s Cage and Cunningham set out to dismantle the narrative structures of choreographed dance music and introduced the element of chance between the movements of the dancers and the actions of the musicians, creating a new space for the viewing of performance related artwork that was less about the demonstration of memorization and more concerned with the discovery of uncharted connections between artistic practices.

Barnes has had previous experience combining experimental film and chance music as part of the group Text of Light. Formed in 2001 the group first set out to perform improvised music to the works of Stan Brakhage and other filmmakers. Their express intent was to, “improvise (not ‘illustrate’) to films from the American Avante-Garde (50s-60s etc), an under-known period of American filmic poetics.” Members of the group also include Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht (gtrs/devices), Christian Marclay and DJ Olive (turntables), William Hooker (drums/perc), and Ulrich Krieger (sax/electronics).

mAAs setup
mAAs setup

mAAs creates music using modular analog synthesizers. First developed in the early 1960’s this equipment revolutionized electronic music, allowing for greater ease and portability in combining, composing, performing, and manipulating electronically produced waveforms.  Earlier methods for making similar music required bigger machines and a process known as tape splicing. This was used in an early canonical piece of electronic music, Poème électronique, for tape (1957-1958)  composed by Edgard Varèse. As with the Gateway Arch and mAAs this was  likewise conceived of as a companion piece to the work of an architectural icon. Varèse wrote the piece for the Le Corbusier designed Phillips Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair.

As you prepare your senses for the AUDIOOPTICS experience take with you this quote by art philosopher Susan K. Langer:

“The assignment of meanings [in music] is a shifting, kaleidoscopic play, probably below the threshold of consciousness, certainly outside the pale of discursive thinking. The imagination that responds to music is personal and associative and logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged with dream, butconcerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling.”
― Susanne K. LangerPhilosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art

Event Details 

Friday, January 10th @ 6pm Doors, 7pm Performance

$6 General Admission | Free For Members

Purchase tickets at the door. Purchase tickets online.