Olivia Mann at The Frick

I spent the summer as an Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern at The Frick Collection. During the month of June, I prepared two fifteen-minute gallery talks, to be delivered to the public throughout July; A Home for Art operated as a foreword to The Frick Collection and Closer Look discussed an object of choice from the permanent collection. For my Closer Look talk, I chose Miss Mary Edwards, a 1742 portrait by eighteenth-century British artist William Hogarth.

Preparation required hours of poring over historical books and exhibition catalogs in the Frick Art Reference Library (lovingly abbreviated as FARL). I worked through several drafts of my A Home for Art and Closer Look talks with Education Assistant Rachel Himes and Associate Museum Educator for Academic Programs Caitlin Henningsen. Miss Mary Edwards upset widely held beliefs in eighteenth-century Britain about a women’s place in the world. The status quo was that men—fathers of daughters or husbands of wives—commissioned portraits of women; portraiture was a means to commemorate milestones in womanhood, such as marriage or giving birth. In stark contrast, Miss Mary Edwards—of Miss Mary Edwards commissioned by Miss Mary Edwards—represents female agency. In Miss Mary Edwards, Miss Mary Edwards is found accompanied by the accouterments of white male power. Through Miss Mary Edwards, I found a way to incorporate The Frick Collection’s permanent collection into contemporary discussions about women’s rights. For my A Home for Art talk, I had to negotiate between Henry Clay Frick’s identity as a ruthless tycoon whose opposition to labor unions precipitated the Homestead Strike of 1892 and a philanthropist who brought The Frick Collection into existence.

This kind of negotiation was facilitated by the Museum Education Reading Group. The Museum Education Reading Group—curated and guided by Education—met once a week on the Penthouse Terrace to discuss “institutional critique,” Rika Burnham’s gallery dialogues, Visual Thinking Strategies, and decolonizing museums. Lastly, I worked with the Summer Institute for High School Students. The Summer Institute drew on the special exhibition Canova’s George Washington and The Frick Collection’s celebrated portrait holdings, engaging with the visual language of memorialization. Professor Bellion’s Iconoclasm seminar’s field trip focusing on the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers proved invaluable throughout the summer. At the Samuel H. Kress Lecture in Museum Education, I even met President of the Ford Foundation Darren Walker! Darren Walker co-chaired the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers.

I have always believed that being a museum educator is not without civic responsibility. Authentically engaging with The Frick Collection-going public and critically negotiating Henry Clay Frick’s past in 2018 has only strengthened this conviction; museum education has a civic purpose. Having held a summer 2017 internship in Major Gifts at the Whitney Museum of American Art, being an Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern at The Frick Collection reaffirmed my passion for museum education. With Rika Burnham, co-author of the groundbreaking book Teaching in the Art Museum: Interpretation as Experience, at the helm of Education, The Frick Collection truly operates as an arena for engaged pedagogical exploration. It’s a kind of evolving laboratory for museum education. With Education at The Frick Collection’s emphasis on the concept of narrative in European paintings and decorative arts, being an Ayesha Bulchandani Undergraduate Education Intern at The Frick Collection has afforded me the building blocks for becoming the kind of museum educator I aspire to be. Education at The Frick Collection’s focus on visual analysis and interpretation was well welcomed following a theory-heavy course load.

One of the highlights of my time at The Frick Collection was going bowling in Henry Clay Frick’s bowling alley. It was finished in 1916. Henry Clay Frick’s bowling alley has pine-and-maple lane beds, a gravity-driven ball return, and antique balls themselves, which strangely have two holes instead of the standard three. And, as I am sure my co-interns—Isabelle Fernandez (Hunter College), Habiba Hopson (Occidental College), and Jenn Tham (Bryn Mawr College)—will attest, bowling in an authentic early-twentieth-century bowling alley is a great bonding opportunity.

Neither a name nor a New York art museum has meant so much to me, because neither a name nor a New York art museum has opened so much to me; the life-changing generosity of Ayesha Bulchandani—The Frick Collection trustee who financed my internship—opened me up to the warmth of Education at The Frick Collection.

~Olivia Mann, ’19