On Interns and Internships

Internships are a crucial component of becoming a museum professional. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You see, I had an internship once. I spent four months hand-sewing labels onto hundreds (perhaps thousands) of identical linens.  When that was done I moved on to picking 100-year-old fingernail clippings out of antique rugs. Sounds awful, but it ended up being transformative: when it was all over I knew I wanted to work in museums. I didn’t care if it meant tedious, solitary horrors; I had the preservation bug, and I had it bad.

Lauren as Intern: half a lifetime and twenty pounds ago.

Colin was an intern, too. On his first day the museum’s plumbing exploded. And by “exploded” we really do mean exploded. Lucky for us, his taste in sweaters hasn’t changed much.

Colin in his salad days

Internships are grueling, miserable experiences, but ultimately they are a right of passage. Reviewing my first internship applications here at the Hermitage quite honestly blew my mind. Now I was the one assigning bright-eyed college kids the sort of tasks that anyone over the age of 21 would take as a serious offense. What’s more, these kids were enthusiastic about it!

Our intern this semester, Rebecca, is no exception. In fact, she may be the bright-eyed-est of them all. As she prepares to leave us, I thought you might enjoy reading a bit about her experience here, in her own words:

Thumbs up for books!

Where are you from?: Burnsville, MN

How do you like Virginia?: It’s awesome, obviously.

What is the most interesting thing you have ever touched in a museum?: A hip bone in a catacomb in Peru. I got in trouble.

Tell us a little bit about what you’ve been working on at the Hermitage: Well, I’ve been helping you build a comprehensive database of all the books in the Sloane Collection. That means filling out, by hand, a condition report on each book. Then I photograph the book three different ways and move on to the next. Then I input all the information into a spreadsheet for eventual cataloging, and upload the photos to correspond with the spreadsheet. The next step is to clean and stabilize the books for future storage.

Do you see yourself cataloging books as a career?: I hope not [laughs]. I would last six months. Maybe.

What was the most interesting book you found during your work?: Definitely an old copy of Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. I also loved the first edition travel guides written and illustrated by George Wharton Edwards. The one for Constantinople is gorgeous. I’m a traveler at heart, even though I’m broke.

You’re leaving us for bigger and better things. (Rebecca: “Do you mean my job at Target?”) What will you miss the most about the Hermitage?: The fun people, dancing around, your strange hand gestures, Colin’s undershirts.

What have you learned at the Hermitage?: How to work in a professional museum environment [editor’s note: we are not always dancing around and gesticulating wildly]; I’ve been really excited to learn the key components of object handling. I’ve only ever done research at museums prior to working at the Hermitage.

What are your ultimate career goals?: Oh, lots of things! Eventually I’d like to own a gallery, go to grad school in museum studies, or work in a museum; I’m not too picky right now.

Ok, more importantly, can you get me a discount at Target: ABSOLUTELY and during the month of April I can get you an extra 10 percent.

We’ll miss you, Rebecca!

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3 thoughts on “On Interns and Internships

  1. I guess the point is that there is noplace but up from being an intern. Thanks Rebecca- you had a great team with which to work. And maybe you learned some new dance steps as a bonus.

  2. I completely and fully understand the pain of being an intern. It certainly is the only way to get connected in the art community. Unless you have wealthy parents that are fabulously well connected and can buy you in. I know this type as well. Chin up interns, eventually someone will want to pay you. Until then, I take my coffee with milk and one sugar.

  3. Pingback: Some Answers to your Questions | Hermitage Collection Connection

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