The Museum in Color
–Grace Martin, 2021 Education Intern
Becoming a practicing artist has always been my goal. Recently, my passion for art history led me to consider museum work as a career. At Virginia Commonwealth University, I am pursuing a degree in painting and printmaking with a minor in art history. After taking a museum history course, my curiosity about museum work grew exponentially. Inspired to gain real-world experience in a museum setting and learn more about the jobs in the field, I searched for internships and volunteer opportunities with my local museums. This led me to the Chrysler summer internships.
As an intern in the education department at the Chrysler, I worked on many exciting projects. My work mainly focused on the Museum’s activities for children, such as Tickle My Ears, Rainy Day Crafts for the Chrysler website, Family Day, and Camp Chrysler. One of the most exciting aspects was knowing that my work would actually be used in the Museum. Being able to help the next generation of Museum visitors foster a love of art and history was a wonderful opportunity.
One of my most notable projects was Tickle My Ears. This program uses books to connect preschool-aged children with the art at Chrysler. For this program, I was tasked to pick artworks from the Chrysler’s collection, pair these pieces with a relevant children’s book, and create a craft that applies to the overall themes of both the art and book. Through art, the possibilities of interpretation and expression of a piece are seemingly endless. Because of this, I was able to get creative with my choices. One very important factor I wanted to focus on with this project was diversity. If an artwork only features a certain demographic, it can be hard for people, especially children, to truly connect with. When this problem arose with a work of art, I created diversity through my choice of story.
One of the Tickle My Ears programs I worked on was inspired by Edward Steichen: In Exaltation of Flowers. This exhibition features an elaborate series of murals Steichen painted of his friends. The panels of the murals depict his peers, each of which is assigned a flower. These flowers embody the personalities, characteristics, and passions of each friend. Now, how do you make an exhibition about a group of rich, white socialites relatable to the wide variety of children who visit the Chrysler? First, I had to find a theme that was palatable for the younger audience. I chose to focus on the themes of self-love and acceptance. Steichen’s friends were truly themselves, and the works in the show fully express their individuality. I chose to highlight Steichen’s portrait of Katherine Rhodes. Katherine was a painter and photographer, and her chosen flower was the geranium to match her flamboyant personality and love of vivid color.
Going along with the themes of self-love and acceptance, I chose the book I Am Enough by Grace Byers. The story highlights a diverse group of children and teaches kids to love themselves and those around them. With this book, young museum visitors can embrace who they are and express themselves like Steichen used flowers to express his friend’s uniqueness in his murals.
The final step was putting together a craft to wrap the whole experience up with a tactile activity. For the Steichen exhibition, I chose paper flowers. This craft involves using coffee filters, pipe cleaners, markers, and a spray bottle to create colorful and expressive floral masterpieces. With this craft, the program participants can continue to express themselves and celebrate their individuality by personalizing a paper flower. The craft allows creative freedom for kids to make whatever color choices and designs feel right to them. At the end of the program, the children will know some awesome facts about Steichen and his work, be able to recognize extraordinary things about themselves, and have a personalized flower to show off (and maybe some marker-stained fingers as well). This is the model I used for the rest of the Tickle My Ears programs. It has been such a rewarding experience to find ways to build the confidence of our little museum adventurers, foster their creativity, and celebrate the differences that make them beautiful.
My internship at Chrysler gave me so many opportunities to learn about how an art museum functions and the many jobs that help the Chrysler run smoothly. I also used my skills as an artist during my internship by painting the puppet house for Alma W. Thomas: Everything Is Beautiful. This project allowed me to analyze the work of Alma Thomas and gave me the opportunity to contribute my own artwork to the Chrysler’s program. I appreciate that my supervisors were so willing to let me take charge and put my ideas into action. I also created unique crafts for Chrysler’s themed Family Day events.
Assisting with Camp Chrysler also allowed me to work closely with the demographic for which I am creating programs. I was able to see what children are capable of creating and the artistic themes that are of interest to them. Helping with the campers’ artistic growth in person was such a fun experience.
This experience working at the Chrysler has given me important insight into what it means to work at a museum. I now have important knowledge of the many departments that make up the museum staff as well as the work they do. By working with the education department at the Chrysler, I have seen that you can be both a practicing artist and a museum professional, which is very important for me. I’ve learned that being an artist can actually greatly benefit the work you do in museums. I now know that I want to pursue a career in museums and feel better prepared to take the next steps in reaching my goals.