Johns Hopkins University

Spring 2008
Vol. 5, No.2

TEACHING

[Those Who Can, Teach] A Conversation with Claude Guillemard

[Tech Tools] The Bronze Age Goes Digital

[Classroom Encounters] Giving voice to Stories That Matter

Great Books and Great Opera

>Great Year for Student Curators

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Great Year for Student Curators

The Program in Museums and Society, launched in 2006 and led by associate director Elizabeth Rodini, has had a prolific year. Among its course offerings were three that culminated in student-curated art exhibits at area museums, presenting centuries-old European prints, gorgeous Hubble Space Telescope images, and the story of pregnancy and childbirth in early America.

How People Really Lived

The exhibit was small, fitting into the entry hall of Homewood House, with a few additional items placed in other rooms. But for the students who put together "Welcome Little Stranger: Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Family in Early Maryland," on display from January through March, it was monumental.

 

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Pincushions with sayings such as "Welcome Little Stranger," were popular gifts after the arrival of a little one. Superstition held that giving one of these should be reserved till after delivery--for every pin a pain--so as not to increase the pain of childbirth. PHOTO: WILL KIRK


 

"It was so exciting to see something we've been discussing and planning finally come together in the flesh," says junior history major Nora Krinitsky.

The eight students who took Catherine Rogers Arthur's course, Introduction to Material Culture, participated in all aspects of the exhibit—reading diaries and studying census records for evidence of family size, composing caption material, writing press releases, and planning special events for donors.

Students worked to re-create elements of pregnancy and childbirth during the time of Harriet Chew Carroll, who spent summers at Homewood House between 1802 and 1809, and most likely gave birth to four of her seven children there. Reproductions of maternity clothes and children's play clothes were on display. There were feeding vessels with elongated spouts used before the advent of commercial baby bottles, and sterling silver "nipples" that could be attached to cups. There were newspaper ads and text describing the use of birth control during the period, as well as excerpts from journals and letters written by members of the Carroll family. In one bedroom, a three-sided crib adjacent to the bed resembled a modern "co-sleeper," and there was an upholstered bolster, used to support a mother giving birth, as well as a backrest for sitting up in bed to feed her baby.

"Museums like Homewood House can sometimes be seen as static," says Arthur, who is the museum's curator and a lecturer in the Department of History. "This kind of exhibit brings it to life by showing how people really lived back then."


 

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Undergraduates Julia Klofas, Liberty Tilleman-Dick, and Whitney Shaffer join Elizabeth Rodini at the "Mapping of the Cosmos" exhibit they curated. At right, "Orion Nebula Star Birth" from the exhibit. PHOTO: WILL KIRK

Astrophysics as Art

The dark stillness in the small gallery is broken only by the ethereal, swirling images from the Hubble Space Telescope, which seem suspended in outer space. Just outside the exhibit room, bright Byzantine icons and an ancient Roman sarcophagus greet visitors to the Walters Art Museum.

The exhibit, "Mapping the Cosmos: Images from the Hubble Space Telescope," on view through July 27, started with an idea from William Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters and an adjunct professor in the School of Arts and Sciences. Looking at a photo of Earth taken from Apollo 17 that is included in the Walters' current Maps exhibition, Noel considered the artistic value in images of space and realized they had a place among the maps exhibit. Mario Livio, head of public outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), also recognized that the aesthetic component of the Hubble images "makes them very powerful works of art."

The project took off when Elizabeth Rodini contacted the pair in search of an exhibit her students could curate. Last fall, her class, Behind the Scenes at the Walters Art Museum, set to work designing every aspect of the exhibit. After receiving lectures on astrophysics from Livio and presentations on the intricacies of curating an art exhibit from staff at the Walters, the students had to decide which of the Hubble's thousands of images they would feature. Launched aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1990, the telescope completes a full orbit of Earth every 97 minutes, sending back some 20,000 images each year for scientists at STScI to analyze.

Co-instructor Ben Tilghman, a graduate student in art history, says the goal of the exhibit was to create "a deeper understanding of how the Hubble gets at how we fit into the universe." Ultimately, students compiled 14 images they felt best represented the beauty of the cosmos. Their final task was to write the labels accompanying each image and to design the physical layout of the exhibit.

"One of the great roles and functions of art is to help people work through things that are scary and ineffable," says Tilghman. "The Hubble images do exactly that."


 

 

Drawing on Sculpture

graphicLast spring, 10 Krieger School undergraduates spent their Monday afternoons poring over the Baltimore Museum of Art's extensive collection of Renaissance and Baroque prints. Their work for the course Paper Museums: Exhibiting Prints at the BMA included planning, researching, and designing, as well as writing accompanying text and promotional materials—and culminated in the Printed Sculpture/Sculpted Prints exhibit at the BMA, on display from November 2007 through March 2008. The exhibit explored how sculpture was represented in European prints from the mid-16th century through the 18th century and included about 28 works from the BMA's print collection, as well as two related, small-scale statues.

Above: In a detail from Pierre-Charles Baquoy's The Printmaker's Studio, an apprentice studies a bust before translating it to paper.