Category Archives: Art Intern

Hite/KMAC Summer Fellow Explores the Permanent Collection

By Hunter Kissel, Hite/KMAC Curatorial Fellow for Summer 2015

Hunter has completed his first year in graduate school pursing a dual Master in Public Administration/Master of Arts in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville; he is a native Louisvillian.

I received my undergraduate degree from Transylvania University in Studio Art last May and now am pursuing a Master degree in Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Hite Art Institute, University of Louisville. The shift from amateur art-maker to aspiring exhibition producer has provided its share of challenges, namely in the language and art historical methods I now use. My personal appetite for participation in the broader arts community, however, has remained the same. The school year ended in the early weeks of May, and I began researching summer opportunities. I was soon offered a fellowship at KMAC.

Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.
Denzil Goodpaster. Selected works.

As part of the Fellowship, I was given the chance to use KMAC’s permanent collection to display a selection of works in their Brown Forman Gallery. Director Aldy Milliken and Associate Curator Joey Yates often use the summer months to present works from the collection in a gallery setting, and this was sure to be a great chance to practice some of the curatorial methods I had been learning in school. KMAC begins planning their exhibitions as far as two years out in some cases, so completing the show in little over one month seemed like a tall order.

KMAC’s permanent collection contains works by acclaimed regional and national folk artists. Artists from Eastern Kentucky and Appalachia are heavily represented in the collection, and as a result themes of economic agriculture, religion, American identity, and wildlife are all very present. After browsing the catalogue of KMAC’s permanent collection and inspecting some of these artworks in person, I was able to narrow down my selection for the exhibition to about twenty pieces. I selected many of these Appalachian artists as well as some contemporary local artists working in glass, photography, or patchwork.

The selection process was not an easy one. While many of these artworks deserve to be shown, a number of constraints surfaced and I was unable to include objects I really admire. My conversations with Joey Yates were emphasized with the notion that “less is more.” The idea of a cluttered gallery made us uneasy, and subsequently space had to be compromised in order to include a diversity of artists as well as multiple works by the same artist when their breadth required it. Each object needed “room to breathe” (as the popular saying goes), and my selections were heavily influenced by the gallery space itself.

Marvin Finn, Crane 1980
Marvin Finn, Crane 1980

The final title of the exhibition was simple—Highlights from the Permanent Collection. There was no need to contextualize these works. The collection speaks for itself. The final display includes artists like Earnest Patton, one of the most renowned artists in KMAC’s collection, who carves human figures with precision and clean technique. His depiction of Adam and Eve is as topical as that of his mermaid or woman in a swimsuit. Minnie Adkins’ use of a fox motif translates fluidly from woodcarving to quilt, demonstrating the artist’s ability to execute in a variety of mediums. Carl McKenzie’s figures stand as anomalies, distanced from the comparable work produced by Patton, Denzil Goodpaster, and Junior Lewis. His splotched Lady Liberty and Red Cross Nurse are vibrant takes on popular subjects. Finally, Marvin Finn and his flock of familiar birds are at hand within KMAC’s collection.

The resulting exhibition advocates for the importance of collecting. Under Milliken and Yates, KMAC is transforming from an artist-represented gallery into an archival museum. KMAC’s current collection is a solid foundation for a more expansive holding of artworks. Highlights marks a checkpoint for an evolving institution.

Highlights from the Permanent Collection, curated by Hunter Kissel, will be on display in the Brown Forman Gallery at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft until mid-September. To see more from the exhibition, visit http://www.kmacmuseum.org. 

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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.

Eyes On KMAC Interns: Oh Cecilia!

On Friday (Jan 4), a new exhibit, Home Away Home, opened on the 3rd Floor Brown-Forman gallery, which counts as the third exhibition curated by a KMAC intern. It just so happens it is the second exhibit at KMAC curated by Miss Cecilia Adwell. You could say, she likes it here.

Cecilia is a vibrant person from her violet dipped platinum blonde hair to her cheetah print stockings, which serves her well as a student passionate about the creative and vivid world of folk art. Her way of thinking about curating a show and bringing together pieces from KMAC’s permanent collection is quite interesting and it has brought a lively energy to the third floor gallery space. Even though the recent Home Away Home has been “in the works” for some time, it didn’t become a reality until her winter break from the California College of the Arts – San Francisco when she could come to Louisville to organize the exhibit.

I caught up with Miss Cecilia to ask her about her experience as an intern at KMAC.

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KMAC Curatorial Intern Miss Cecilia Adwell

Tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I’m originally from Oldham County, KY. My father worked in the prisons there. Being surrounded by artwork from inmates is really what peaked my interest and appreciation for self-taught or “outsider artists”. In high school, I moved to the city (Louisville) and received undergraduate degrees from Jefferson Community College and Bellarmine University. While at Bellarmine, I spent a summer in London working for a commercial gallery. I decided then that exhibition making was what I wanted to pursue so upon my acceptance to the California College of the Arts, I moved to San Francisco where I am currently studying for my MA in Curatorial Practice.

Tell us something you’ve learned from your experience here.
Being a part of this museum has been an invaluable experience. I worked as an education intern before Aldy was hired and to see the direction the museum is moving is really exciting as a student curator focused on craft and folk. The integration of folk and craft within the larger fine arts world has been happening for decades now and to see it in action on the museum level is really encouraging.

You’ve curated two exhibits at KMAC. Which would you deem more successful and why? This is a tough question. “Success” is a problematic term for me because there are so many levels of “success” that can be achieved. Hollers And Harvests and Home Away Home are two very different exhibitions. Both succeeded in bringing local, young artists into the conversation with Kentucky’s historical folk artists. Hollers and Harvests was very straight forward and didactic in approach, which is great for museum visitors. Home Away Home has a more complex curatorial approach, which was more difficult to explain to the public, but overcoming those difficulties was more satisfying. All in all, if the museum is happy, the visitors are engaged, and the artist I’m working with is happy, then I feel the exhibition was successful.

How did you choose Derrick Snodgrass to be a part of your recent exhibition Home Away Home?
Derrick has a very magnetic personality. I was first introduced to him at ACME Ink Tattoos in the Highlands I then went online to look at his tattoo portfolio and came across his paintings. I was hooked. I was looking for an artist to choose pieces from the KMAC collection in order to find inspiration for producing new work and I felt he would do a good job with interpreting some of the darker themes present within the collection with his own work. I am so happy with the work that came out of this process. He did such an amazing job.

You’ve worked with KMAC’s folk art permanent collection quite a bit, do you have a favorite folk artist or story from working with these pieces?
Through organizing and researching the collection I have grown an attachment to the artworks and the people who have made them. I love the overall story of Kentucky’s folk art history, learning about how artists are connected through familial ties and how artists arrived at a career in art through hard financial times or as a result of emotional or physical trauma is really a beautiful thing. I love that most of these artists don’t explain a lot of their work, when you learn about their personal life, it just makes sense.

Strangest comment you’ve heard at one of your exhibition openings?
Well, I’m pretty strange myself so nothing really surprises me.

What are your plans after your internship at KMAC?
I graduate in May and I’m terrified. I don’t know what my plans are yet, but I do know that I want to work with a museum that contains objects and artworks that I am personally passionate about. My goal was to leave Louisville and eventually return home to share what I’ve learned with the community, but I don’t know when this will happen. I just want a museum job that makes me happy and allows me to flex my creativity. Making a little money wouldn’t be so bad either.

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Home Away Home Exhibit Opening
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Miss Cecilia Adwell, Curator Intern