Digitizing Art History

by Anita Zia, Curatorial Intern

technology meme

Digital humanities is an increasingly popular field for many historians and art historians. As a student at VCU I was granted the opportunity to engage in digital humanities in terms of research and presentation. So, what exactly is digital humanities? To be quite clear it can mean anything from using a PowerPoint presentation, to creating virtual worlds. The real point of using digital humanities in my perspective is simply a tool to help us learn and teach and experience the viewing of art in new ways. It’s exciting, although there is some push back (with technology there always is).

It's that easy mem

It’s important to note that these tools open doors to the way we understand art history. We can now move through buildings, zoom in on paintings and navigate ancient ruins all through the use of digital humanities. This also gives historians the opportunity to foster international communities and allow the sharing of research at a faster pace.

So now that we’ve defined digital humanities, what are some examples of this kind of work? Well, a good place to look is the Getty Research Institute. The Getty has been digitizing their collections for years now making content open to the public, publishing online and using linked open data, reaching a global audience, (we love you Getty).

At the Hermitage we can see how new digital technology has been implemented such as a convenient app for an audio tour to enhance visitors’ experience. These digital experiences give visitors a sense of agency in looking at art and provides a new way to engage with the museum.

Digital humanities also allows for innovative ways in researching and presenting scholarship. For example, at the University of Virginia, Professor Jerome J. McGann has been creating an interactive archive of the Pre- Raphaelite painter and writer, Gabriel Rossetti. Viewers can zoom in on pictures, read manuscripts, and have access to tons of letters by the artist all at their fingertips. This makes research a lot more efficient and allows anyone to have access to primary source material making it easier for scholarship and teaching.

Another great example of digital humanities is a project done by Sally Webster and David Schwittek in their recreation of the Lenox Library Gallery. Once owned by art collector Robert Lenox this digital recreation of the space allows viewers to see the gallery in a 3-D construction. This is on the border of what I would call augmented reality. Just like the video games, the viewer can move around in the space and click images for more information. Webster and Schwittek mainly used this as tool to present research conducted and to acknowledge the role of digital humanities in projects such as this one.

Inspired by this I created something similar for the Helen M. Turner collection at The Hermitage Museum by using a free virtual exhibit tool called ArtSteps. Just like the Lenox Library the viewer is able to move through the space and interact with the paintings. Although this is a basic software (and seriously crashes so much, ugh) a lot can be done with it, including adding 3D objects such as chairs, interactive labels, and even creating a guided tour. This was a tool introduced to me in one of my classes at VCU by Tracy Hamilton. Instead of writing a paper we were asked to create an exhibit on some of the objects we had discussed. This gave us a chance to use a different set of skills, and because a lot of scholarship and museums are headed in a digital direction, I think it’s important that we can add skills like this to our experiences as young art historians. It’s the future and there’s no stopping it!

The future meme

If you’d like to learn more about digital humanities, I have some links below that can be helpful, and if you can check out some of my other virtual exhibits on ArtSteps!







Anita Zia is a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and is majoring with a BA in Art History. In Anita’s sophomore year of high school, she took an AP Art History class which would inspire her to major in the field. Anita believes that Art History combines everything there is to love about the humanities including areas of study such as; philosophy, psychology, literature and art. Anita is very much interested in the research aspects of Art History and wishes to study up to the Doctorate level. Anita’s research interests are mainly 19th European Art including artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites and Sargent. Anita is also interested in the digital humanities and the use of innovative pedagogical methods in Art History. She also hopes to become a professor and contribute to university scholarship in these areas.

**Artsteps tends to work better if you download and view from the app**


Summer Shenanigans

Hey all,

I hope the summer is treating you well so far. First things first, we have a summer exhibit up at the Hermitage, Conversations: Contemporary Asian Art. It is an ambitious exhibit that features the work of 10 international artists, from Zhang Huan to Richmond-based fiber artist Kiyomi Iwata.

Our summer curatorial intern, Anita, joined our team in May, just before the installation of this exhibit. And she got to see and help out with a range of interesting logistics during that time. Please enjoy the following write-up by her as she shares her perspective during the installation period! Also, come see the show and swing by for one of our evening exhibit-related programs, too. 🙂

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By Anita Zia, Curatorial Intern Summer 2019

About Anita: Anita Zia is a junior at Virginia Commonwealth University and is majoring with a BA in Art History. In Anita’s sophomore year of high school, she took an AP Art History class which would inspire her to major in the field. Anita believes that Art History combines everything there is to love about the humanities including areas of study such as; philosophy, psychology, literature and art. Anita is very much interested in the research aspects of Art History and wishes to study up to the Doctorate level. Anita’s research interests are mainly 19th European Art including artists such as the Pre-Raphaelites and Sargent. Anita is also interested in the digital humanities and the use of innovative pedagogical methods in Art History. She also hopes to become a professor and contribute to university scholarship in these areas.

Throughout this Internship I keep coming across a certain theme. That lingering theme is and probably always will be, creative problem solving. Thinking outside the box and logically solving problems under pressure, is one of the largest aspects of work in the Hermitage Museum. Installing in exhibition at the Hermitage is no easy task, but with the innovative and adaptable staff and board any exhibit large or small is in good hands. Over the course of this blog entry I will be examining some of the events and work I have done here at the Hermitage, and sharing with you all the perspectives of a very naïve intern.

At first arriving to the Hermitage, Lindsay Neal, Curator of Collections began to demonstrate how to handle large scale paintings. I was shocked she was allowing me to handle such large objects, but I was even more surprised that it was up to us, not art handlers to do so. The Hermitage is a smaller museum with a staff ranging in the amount of the teens. Upon asking Lindsay “Where are the art handlers?” She responded, “We all wear many hats here at the Hermitage”. This was during the deinstalling of the Douglas Volk exhibit, to which I thought how did such a small staff pull this off?

I quickly realized that The Hermitage was an ambitious museum, with exhibits ranging from the smaller permanent collection to huge such as the Art of Burning Man. The museums next exhibit, Conversations: Contemporary Asian Art would have its own challenges.

As far as planning, that had been done before I had begun my internship and so my experiences of this exhibit are largely the arrival and movement of the larger works of art. Luckily there were a few art handlers for the larger objects. Willis, a freelancing art handler and maker, was the main source of help bringing along a couple of other men and tools such as a crane and truck to move the works as they were arriving (Figure 1). Willis was also the lead in determining transportation of the pedestals for work such as Fortune Dragon by Hung Yi.

Figure 1

(Figure 1)

The work the museum was receiving was from Pace Gallery and it was very interesting to see the concepts of security and cautiousness in the transportation of art work. The objects we were receiving would be held in large wooden crates, and as the trucks were opening I noticed the loud ringing of an alarm (Figure 2). I realized the art world was more than archives and research but can include physical and stressful activity. For example, moving works of art especially large sculptures like these, needs to be done slowly and with a plan of execution. Everyone holding on to the object needs to have a sense of communication. I noticed how there was a sense of team and unity within the staff and art handlers to accomplish this.

Figure 2

(Figure 2)

Not only was the moving of the objects problematic but the placement and assemblage of the pieces were challenging. There are two specific objects that I will mention particularly the taxidermy deer and coyote by artist Kōhei Nawa. The deer downstairs, was to be placed on the wall, The Hermitage (or the “Herm” as the staff calls it lovingly) is too weak to support something so heavy. The staff had to brainstorm a way to present this the way it was meant to be seen. The decision to place the deer head onto a fake wall attached to the Herm was an innovative one. The decision to make this wall a bright vibrant purple was even better.

The taxidermy coyote was scary enough but imagine having to lift it and put it on a pedestal. As the pedestal was being moved up the stairs of the Herm, four staff members would hold on to the platform supporting the coyote and gently place it onto the pedestal. Did I mention this coyote was covered in bubbles of glass? There are no handles on this platform and it gave the feeling of a slippery cold metal. Placing the platform would require the staff members to remove their fingers from the bottom of the platform right before placing it on the pedestal. A stressful situation but Team Herm did it again. The coyote is safely placed and on view.

These are just two instances of hundreds of challenges that the Hermitage staff overcame to present this exhibit. From this experience, I can say that some of the most important skills a museum staff should have is to be resourceful and calm in times of pressure. I would also say from this experience that I could never go into art handling.

A Curatorial Conundrum

Okay, interwebs world, you all get to vote on something rather pressing.

We have had the large painting, Abraham Lincoln Breasting the Wind (1926) by artist Douglas Volk on view in our museum’s stairwell for many years. As lovely and charming as the museum galleries are, the stairwell is a truly terrible and annoying display area to contend with. So I was very excited for the rare opportunity to take the painting down, temporarily feature it in the Douglas Volk exhibit this winter/spring, and give it the attention it deserves. I mean, look how lovely it is on view right now:

However, the time has come to start planning for the de-installation of the exhibit after May 12, and therefore, I need some public opinion to help resolve this latest curatorial conundrum:

Do I put the Lincoln painting back on view in the stairwell where it usually hangs?  

Pros Cons
  • It is always on view and accessible to the public.
  • This reduces the amount of handling of the object, which can be a good thing for an artwork. Conservators say that generally the less handling, the better as it reduces some likelihood of damage in frequent transit.
  • It is displayed in a less than ideal area where most visitors can easily miss seeing it and it is difficult to fully appreciate it. You can barely even read the title plate when it is displayed there.
  • It is also very difficult to move it into and from this location as it requires scaffolding and very brave handlers, hence its current once-a-decade movement schedule.
  • It is also constantly subject to environmental factors such as visible light, dust/pollutants, and higher humidity levels in this placement. This is really not ideal for the object’s long-term preservation.

Or, do I put the painting into object storage while we install our next exhibit, and wait for brief moments in between exhibits when I can properly feature it?

Pros Cons
  • I can display it in a better viewing, lighting, and installation area.
  • It will be kept in low-light and humidity level area, which is better for its long-term preservation.
  • It is less accessible to daily visitors. Display of the painting would be brief and dependent on temporary exhibits schedule.

Please take a moment to cast your vote by commenting either 1. “Stay” or 2. “Go”:

  1. Leave on display in stairwell (Stay)
  2. Put it in object storage for now, bring out periodically for display (Go, for now)

Feel free to add additional comments or questions if you’re so inclined. I’d love to hear from you!

Much love and many thanks,

Roman Glass Vessels in the Hermitage Museum Collection

By Sarah Bulger, Curatorial Intern

Sarah Bulger is a senior at Old Dominion University and will be graduating in the Fall of 2019 with her BA in Art History. Though she came to ODU as a chemistry major, when she took Introduction to the Visual Arts in her second semester, she realized that her passion was the study of art history. She is currently the President of the Student Art History Association and the Treasurer of the German Club at ODU. Sarah aspires to continue her education by earning a Master’s in Art History and Library Science, followed by a Doctorate in Medieval Studies and hopes to one day work as an archivist of medieval manuscripts.


The Hermitage Museum and Gardens contains an impressive collection of arts spanning from ancient Chinese tomb goods to contemporary American paintings. While a majority of the pieces in the collection are Asian sculptures, pottery, religious pieces, and glass snuff bottles, there are also paintings from the 20th century and earlier, furniture pieces from the European Baroque era, and a small collection of Roman glass vessels. These glass vessels may catch the eye briefly with their tiny stature and varied colors and patinas, but they beg the question of how they may have been originally used, and how they ended up here among statues of the Buddha, elegant figurines of court ladies from China, and paintings of the Sloane family. This report will discuss the history of Roman glass molding and blowing, those characteristics of Roman glass vessels in the Hermitage Museum which identify origins and uses, and a brief history of the Hammer Galleries where these vessels were purchased by Florence Sloane.

The earliest method for producing small glass vessels for cosmetics was core-forming, encountered in the second millennium BC in Western Asia.[1] The Hellenistic age saw a transition away from core-forming to casting glass, and by the first century AD the Roman glass industry made rapid technical advances which brought about glassblowing, the method that would have been used for the majority of the glass vessels, or unguentarium, in the Hermitage collection. This introduction of glassblowing also coincides with the establishment of the Roman Empire, and the availability of glassware made by glassblowing technology grew to include crude formed affordable vessels for common use, and luxuriously decorated glass containers for patricians and elites alike.[2]

One common misuse of the term “Roman glass” is in describing glasses made in the provinces of the Roman Empire and not actually in Rome, as blown glass starting in the Christian era is often called simply “Roman glass.”[3] As the technology of glassblowing advanced in the age of the Empire, so too did different styles evolve throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Egypt separate from Rome with influence from their own respective pasts in glass making. In this circumstance it is important to be able to identify individual characteristics in form, shape, size, and color of glass vessels to identify what function they served and attempt to identify which region of the Roman Empire they may have been produced in, though this can be difficult.

Unguentaria can range in sizes from miniscule 4 cm vessels to “giants” at 30 cm high.[4] The size of the vessel likely has more to do with what it was used to contain, rather than the relative cost of the vessel since the quality of the glass plays a much larger role in that. It has been believed that unguentaria were used to collect tears of mourners which is where the term lacrimarium and lacrimatorium come from, but this has been dismissed as unlikely by most scholars.[5] It is more likely that unguentaria were used to contain perfumes and unguents in liquid form, or cosmetics in powdered form. “One thing that had stayed constant through the centuries was the Roman love of cosmetics and perfumery.”[6]

One example of cosmetic uses of glass vessels available in both research and the Hermitage Museum’s collection is that of a double-chambered glass vessel with a handle looping over the top and connecting either side at the rim. A vessel just like the one described, possibly made in Tell Nimrin, Israel, was found to contain residue of galena.[7] Galena, with its subtle silvery luster, was used as an eye makeup but was made of toxic lead-based mineral powder. The aesthetic of galena as eye makeup must have outweighed the health risks since in the fourth and fifth centuries it was more popular than ever.[8]

Small glass unguentaria would have likely been used to contain liquids and possibly even transport those liquids in small distances as they are carried around on the body throughout the day. “It is possible that these vessels were suspended from the individual’s wrist or from a hook by means of a strap or cord tied around the neck of the vessel.”[9] The narrow mouths and closed shapes of many of the unguentaria found, including those in the Hermitage, are appropriate for a container of liquids, such as wine or water, for the time.[10] They could also hold more viscous substances like oil or honey. The term balsamarium has also been used by archaeologists to indicate probable contents.[11] Liquid perfumes would also easily fall into the list of items that unguentaria contained, both in the “giant” vessels for storage and in smaller vessels for application and travel.

The Hermitage Museum’s collection of Roman glasses come with their own backstory. Collection archival records show that each glass vessel was purchased by Mrs. Florence Sloane from one Hammer Galleries out of New York City.[12] The dates of purchase for many of them are close, falling in the mid 1940s, with a couple more purchased in the 1950s. The Hammer Galleries still exists today, though their focus is in Impressionist and Modern Masters. There are no records available online or to the public (as can be easily found) to indicate a history in the dealing of antiquities, or even specifically glass. It is possible that the Hammer Galleries still hold a ledger showing Mrs. Sloane’s purchase of ancient glass in the mid 20th century.

The Roman glass unguentaria in the Hermitage Museum and Garden’s collection delight the eyes with their ranging iridescent colors and their fascinating forms. Glass blowing is an age-old practice having formed out of earlier traditions of glassmaking. The various shapes and sizes of unguentaria found in the Hermitage’s collection provide a brief glimpse into the cosmetic practices of ancient Rome. The double-chambered vessel may have held the makeup of a wealthy Roman citizen, and the small bodied long-necked vessels may have transported perfumes, oils, or even honey. The unguentaria in this collection at one point may have delighted many senses and they continue to do the same today for patrons of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.



[1] H.E.M. Cool, The Small Finds and Vessel Glass from Insula VI.1 Pompeii: Excavations 1995-2006, Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing Limited, 2016. 58.

[2] Virginia R. Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology and Function of Ceramic Unguentaria,” American Journal of Archaeology 91 (1):106.

[3] Frederic Neuburg, Ancient Glass, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1962, 64.

[4] Virginia R. Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology and Function of Ceramic Unguentaria,” American Journal of Archaeology 91 (1):106.

[5] Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology”, 106.

[6] Stuart J. Fleming, Roman Glass: Reflections on Cultural Change, Piladelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology, 1999, 103.

[7] Fleming, Roman Glass, 106.

[8] Fleming, Roman Glass, 104.

[9] Virginia R. Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology and Function of Ceramic Unguentaria,” American Journal of Archaeology 91 (1): 114.

[10] Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology”, 115.

[11] Anderson-Stojanović, “The Chronology”, 106.

[12] Exhibit-E.com. “About.” Hammer Galleries. Accessed March 13, 2019. http://www.hammergalleries.com/about.





Come one, come all. The Douglas Volk exhibit is up through May 12!

Taking some time today for a little Throwback Thursday.

On February 7th we held a special “first look” gallery talk and tour of our winter/spring exhibit, Rediscovering Douglas Volk: the life and legacy of an American portraitist, to guests at our February Nightcap event.  Fittingly, that evening was also the 84th anniversary of artist Douglas Volk’s death.  We had a great turn out and were especially honored to have a special guest with us to debut the exhibit, Dr. Christine Isabelle Oaklander from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Oaklander is an integral part of the story of how the development for a Douglas Volk exhibit came about.  She and I were able to share with guests how the Hermitage acquired seven drawings in 2018 and go through each gallery, highlighting the combination of new and existing, as well as two loaned artworks on view in the exhibit.

It all started for me in late 2017, when I was contacted by Dr. Oaklander about a beloved work in our collection: Abraham Lincoln Breasting the Winds (1926). She contacted me about a drawing she had just acquired in 2016 that resembled our painting of Abraham Lincoln by the artist Douglas Volk. As she explained, she had recently purchased a large collection of materials from an art dealer who had purchased these from the 2006 estate sale of the deceased artist’s family estate (Hewnoaks). Once she sent me an image of the drawing she had described, I was intrigued, and personally very interested to see what else she had in her own private collection.

So I made a trip to her home in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

When I met with her, she was very nice and extremely knowledgeable. Turns out she has been a scholar and art historian of American art for the past 30 years and formerly the curator of the Allentown Art Museum. She has also been  involved with a variety of national and local arts organizations, museums and fairs.

She allowed me and my co-worker to go through the stacks of material she had on Douglas Volk for the entire afternoon. I was astounded by the breadth of her collection. Knowing that I had to be very focused in what I was looking through (which is very hard when you’re in an amazing treasure trove!), I pulled out seven drawings that I felt would add significantly to our existing collection of Douglas Volk materials.


I did not know if my collections committee or the Hermitage board would be interested in 1, let alone 7 drawings from this collection. But through Dr. Oaklander’s generosity, I was able to make a strong case for acquisition. After a careful decision-making process, the collections committee recommended that this move on to the Board and the Board of Trustees voted to acquire these works last year.

I was extremely excited to be able to bring these rare treasures to the collection.

The Hermitage does not acquire works very frequently. There is a very strict set of criteria for what makes an object(s) a candidate for the collection. Limitations of exhibit and storage space are also a primary concern when deciding on items to accept into the collection, which is why we simply cannot accept everyone’s lovely antique sofa or grandmother’s Victorian chair (Antique stores are great alternatives for things like this).

Part of the decision process involves determining what kind of value or significance an object(s) has. Is it related to something that is already in the collection? Is it in better condition or does it add to our interpretation of that work, or is it redundant?  Is it related to the Sloane family? Is it in good, museum-quality condition, or is it in serious need of conservation work? After asking such questions and examining the works, the collections committee approved the acquisition!

The next step: get the artworks framed and start planning to unveil them in a special way.

Throughout the summer months in 2018, I worked with the fabulous local framing magician, Wiley Francisco of Calvin & Lloyd, located in Norfolk’s Ghent neighborhood. He graciously met with me several times to go through matting and framing options. And to talk about how this shade of off-white had too much of a tinge of yellow or gray compared to that, etc. Basically, he was very patient with me. 🙂

I also dove deep into our archives at the Hermitage to pull out materials relating to what we already knew about Douglas Volk.  Through a bit more research, I came into contact with several very kind and generous individuals at the Lovell Historical Society and the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections at the University of Illinois, who were extremely helpful in tracking down additional information.

The end result is our current exhibition, Rediscovering Douglas Volk: The life and legacy of an American Portraitist. It will be on view through May 12 this year and I hope that as the weather finally warms a bit and the annual parade of spring foliage brings you to the Hermitage, that you take a minute to see the exhibit upstairs.

Teaser photos below:

View the Facebook album of the opening: https://www.facebook.com/pg/HermitageMuseum/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10156957922358905




The museum is still here…and we are still doing things…I promise!

So, I must apologize for the embarrassingly long hiatus from posting anything nearly all year. The lovely Trudy Gaba, who was an excellent curatorial intern last spring, has since moved to my hometown of Cincinnati where she has been working since April as a curatorial assistant at the Cincinnati Art Museum.  If you are in that area, please do check out the beautiful exhibit she helped to put together there: Collecting Calligraphy: Arts of The Islamic World.

2018 has been bonkers ….which is probably why it seems to have flown by so quickly.   We’ve been working on some pretty cool things around here, I assure you. I’d love to give you a highlights reel and share what I’ve been up to:

First and foremost, if I have not yet mentioned this in earlier posts, I need to: We received some VERY exciting news in November of 2017….. we are officially an AAM- accredited institution!

What does this mean: it means that all staff, both past and present, have worked their butts off and passed a really big exam. Yay team!

This has been a goal for our museum for several years.  In 2012, the museum embarked on a Museum Assessment that basically told us how feasible it would be for us to even apply to go through the accreditation process.  But the goal of accreditation has been part of our board’s strategic plan for many, many years leading up to this point.

Like accreditation of a major university, accreditation for a museum is a tremendous accomplishment. It is a high profile, peer-based validation of your museum’s operations and impact- an indicator of how well you are serving the community and how well you operate. It means that you hold yourself and the organization accountable and that you operate to the highest professional standards as set forth by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM).

The accreditation process is a series of policy and procedural review, self-study (written essay questions and answers with supporting documentation and record-keeping), and a pretty invasive and nerve-wracking site visit by two accreditation officers who are usually high-ranking, extremely respected professionals from various national museums. They have a lengthy list of criteria against which they determine how well you meet museum standards.  Every department is evaluated and the staff as a whole is evaluated for how well we work together and communicate with each other.

In collections, they assess how well we as an institution do the following:

  •  Collections Stewardship: that we own, exhibit and use collections that are appropriate to our mission; that we legally, ethically and effectively manage the collection, documents; that we care for the collection; that we conduct collections-related research appropriate to appropriate scholarly standards; that we strategically plan for the use and development of our collections; that we are guided by our mission and provide public access to the collections while ensuring their preservation.
  • Professional Practices: That we plan strategically and act ethically as stewards; That we know what we have, where they came from, why we have them, their current conditions and locations and provide regular, reasonable access to them; That we have a current, board-approved collections management policy that guides the stewardship of our collection; That we have and maintain a system of documentation and record-keeping; That we monitor environmental conditions and use appropriate methods for display; That we have safety and security procedures in place.

Anyway, all of this to say that we passed the test and we will be going through re-accreditation again in 5 years (2022) to continually renew our status as an accredited museum.

I hope those who follow this blog who may have worked here in years past are pleased with this news!  And I hope you know that we couldn’t have done it without your leg work.

In other news, we recently acquired some new collection items this year!  This is also a HUGE accomplishment for the museum. We do not usually acquire new artworks because 1. we strategically focus our energy and funds on caring for the collection we have and 2. we are so limited on storage and exhibit space that it is usually not feasible to acquire many more.

In February of 2018 I was able to secure the acquisition of 7 drawings by American portrait artist Douglas Volk (1856-1935).  Volk was a close, personal friend of the Sloane family and we have several of his finished oil paintings in our permanent collection.  One of which is a very unique depiction of Abraham Lincoln. In fact during his lifetime, Volk was best known as the “painter of Lincoln” and completed three official portraits of the president which are in collections at the National Gallery, the White House, and the Portland Museum of Art.

By the early 1900s, Volk spent most of his time in Maine with his wife and children on a large piece of land in an incredible estate that they lovingly named Hewnoaks. It was a sprawling Arts and Crafts-inspired home situated on Kezar Lake in Center Lovell, Maine that functions today as an artist in residency program.

Hewnoaks History

Imagine this with mountain and lake views. Dreamy, right!????

After Volk’s death, the home passed from one family member to the next until the last living relative passed away in 2005.  In her will, the relative bequeathed the estate and all of its contents to the University of Maine.  Not quite knowing what to do with all of the materials, the University sold most of the items at auction in 2006.  Materials included stacks of Douglas Volk’s art portfolios, his wife and daughters hand-woven and dyed Sabatos rugs and many personal family letters, papers and various effects.

In 2016, an independent art historian and collector acquired some of the items from the sale.  Among the items she acquired were rare drawings and studies done by the artist.

By February, 2018, I had the board’s approval to acquire some of these rare drawings  and welcome them to the Hermitage Museum.  These new drawings, which were purchased in part with funds from the Lela Marshall Hine Trust, will be on view with our additional completed oil paintings by the artist this winter/spring, February-May.

I’ll try and remember to snap some photos of us installing the exhibit as a teaser. And I will probably share a bit more about some of the archival things I’ve been digging through in preparation for the display. But I do hope you come and see what we have this winter/spring.

Now on to 2019! Let’s hope it’s a good one!  Happy holidays, everyone.




Remembering Our Summer Burn at the Herm

This week feels like the perfect opportunity to recap some major things that happened at the Hermitage in 2017, for one reason in particular– this weekend is the anticipated opening of our friends at the Renwick’s No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man exhibit in Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2018-January 21, 2019).  For those of you who visited recently or follow the Hermitage’s social media, you may recall that we hosted an out of the ordinary exhibit last summer called, The Art of Burning Man.  And guys, it was EPIC.

The exhibit certainly left its impact on the community here, well after the lingering days of the Virginia summer.  Whenever I meet someone new and tell them where I work, their first reaction is, “Oh! I wish I had/I attended that Burning Man opening/closing party!”   It was and continues to be the talk of the town and we all still feel so proud to have been part of bringing that special magic of Burning Man to Norfolk, in a setting like the Hermitage.  And we’re excited that even afterwards, some of artists we befriended will be featured at the Renwick’s own exhibit this year.

If you would love a hard-copy record of the exhibit with stunning professional photos, we do still have the exhibit catalog available from our museum gift shop! They are $25 + tax and museum members get a 10% discount!

And now, a brief write-up about the exhibit by colleague Carrie Spencer:

Exhibit photos captured by Yuzhu Zheng

What I learned about the art of Burning Man:

At first glance, the Hermitage Museum & Gardens, a small Arts and Crafts-style estate located in Norfolk, Virginia, is an unlikely venue to host artwork once displayed at Burning Man; however, ‘out-of the-ordinary’ ideas are what drive Hermitage programming and exhibitions. We are known for the unusual and for offering unique arts and cultural experiences in the region, making Burning Man a perfect fit. As we wrap up The Art of Burning Man exhibition at the Hermitage Museum & Gardens I begin to reflect on our accomplishments and all that we have learned. We were optimistic about how the show would be received but have been blown away by the incredible response and are thrilled with how the exhibition and its programming evolved. Being a small and nimble museum allowed us the necessary flexibility in curating a community driven, collaborative exhibition.

Our Executive Director, along with staff, began developing the exhibition idea in early 2016. During this process, I was fortunate enough to attend Burning Man and a regional Burning Man event which helped me gain a much better understanding of the culture and community of Burning Man; something I could never have gained simply by researching the artists and artwork. Through this invaluable experience that I brought back to the museum we realized that the art from Burning Man cannot be separate from the culture of Burning Man. It became important to us to incorporate aspects of the culture and the event in our nearly 5-month long exhibition.

Installing the large-scale artworks on our 12 acres of waterfront gardens and grounds was the easy part, relatively speaking. How we could incorporate the culture of Burning Man and convey that to the public was the greater challenge. Having the artwork simply sit on our property for 4.5 months would not truly embody Burning Man. We needed more. We asked ourselves “How can we convey Burning Man to our visitors? How can we integrate our community with the Burning Man community? How can we educate the public about this artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man?”

There were three things that were essential in our attempt to answer these questions.

  • Theme Camps: A big takeaway from my experience attending Burning Man were the community contributions that occur in the form of theme camps; whether the camp offers hair washing, omelets for breakfast, workshops, or art-making activities these camps each contribute to providing meaningful experiences to the community as their gift. I found, in my own experience, theme camps to be just as essential as the sculptures at Burning Man. Visiting various camps provided me opportunities to connect with others, collaborate, learn new things, and at times simply have fun. To integrate this aspect into the exhibition programming we invited community members, organizations, and Burners to offer contributions during our evening exhibition hours.

We hosted DJs, artist demonstrations, art-making activities, yoga lessons, improv comedy performers, dancers, and much more. All of these individuals and organizations donated their time and talents to our exhibition as a gift to the community, as a way of being a part of something much larger than themselves, and as a means of connecting with others. It allowed the community to become involved with the exhibition, take ownership of it, and share their gift with the public.

  • Volunteerism: We learned early on that volunteerism is heavily encouraged within the Burning

Man community. This aspect was easy for us, as the Hermitage is accustomed to working with volunteers on a regular basis. We recruited volunteers to help with the installation and deinstallation of the artwork, both inside the museum and outside on the grounds. We asked volunteers to serve as docents to help educate the public about the artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man. We created a volunteer group that we referred to as Burning Man Ambassadors and who helped us spread the word throughout the region about this experience coming to Norfolk.

  • The Principles: Incorporating the principles was an obvious aspect of Burning Man culture for us to include in our attempt to embody the ethos of Burning Man. Participation, Communal Effort, Self-Expression, and Inclusion were all emphasized in our programming efforts and aligned well with Hermitage practices.

Incorporating these important components into our exhibition and programming helped us to integrate our community with the Burning Man community. It allowed us to educate the public about the artwork, the artists, and about Burning Man more than museum labels or brochures could. And it enabled us to create interactive, participatory and shared experiences that created a lasting impression on our visitors. In this regard, we were successful. Through this we were able to establish community partnerships, gain community input, and build lasting relationships.

Throughout this experience I learned that Burning Man art is not limited to the art objects. Burning Man moves beyond the idea that there is an artist who creates art and an observer who enjoys it.  This is different from what usually occurs in the traditional museum setting. At Burning Man, the participants (referred to as visitors in the museum world) do not just admire the art, they become a part of it. The artworks are not just objects, they engage participants and demand interaction; they create specific environments and places to visit and pay homage to. Our visitors became participants. They attended our evening programs by gifting contributions to the community and the exhibition. They helped build the artwork alongside the artists during the installation and helped in breaking down the artwork. They continued to come back week after week to care for the artwork. They volunteered as educators and they interacted with the artwork as each artist intended.

At Burning Man and at the Art of Burning Man exhibition, the art objects and the participants play a role in a much larger art experience; an interactive performance between the artists who dedicate a great deal of effort creating the work, the objects that are interactive and engaging, and the participants. This performance between the artist, the object, and the participant is the real work of art, in progress, during the annual event, but also extends beyond the event creating a performance piece in which every aspect of Burning Man helps to shape the art. Burning Man art happens every day, all year long and it happened in Norfolk this summer.

Carrie head shot Eleise Theuer

Carrie Spencer
Curator of Education and Contemporary Art Exhibitions
The Hermitage Museum & Gardens                            Photo by Eleise Theuer












…..And yes, of course we had a burn at the closing party! Check it out