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College museum interns curate local landscapes

MIDDLEBURY — Matthew Gillis held a ruler up to the wall, meticulously marking a line that he and his fellow interns would later use to hang up the photographs in their art exhibition. If the line were to be even slightly crooked, the photograph would hang clearly at an angle unacceptable to the team.
Gillis is part of a group of six interns that make up Middlebury College’s second annual MuseumWorks summer internship. During the eight-week internship, the students worked in curatorial and educational positions at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, the Vermont Folklife Center, the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History and the Special Collections and Archives at the college’s Davis Family Library.
Throughout the program, the six interns also worked as a team to assemble their own exhibition. They titled it “Landscaped: Altered Environments in the Photography of Timothy Case.” The project culminated in an opening reception last Wednesday and an exhibition in the Center Gallery at Middlebury College’s McCullough Student Center, also marking the end of the program.
The day before the exhibition opening, Gillis spent the day on the finishing touches in the exhibition. After he and the other interns edited and correctly formatted the vinyl text that would accompany the photographs, they spent the bulk of the day pasting them and the object labels precisely on the wall and peeling them off.
“It was a lot more work than we thought it would be,” Gillis said with a laugh.
To assemble the exhibition, students were in charge of all steps of the curatorial process. As a team, they first met to interpret the artist’s work and decided on a theme for the exhibition. Then they pored through Case’s portfolio to choose which of his works to include, wrote the explanatory texts and then formatted and printed the labels. They also organized the gallery, from the spacing on the walls to the presentation of the artwork. They even had the walls of the gallery repainted so that they would better match the frames they were using.
“The interns really get to see a project from start to finish,” said Jason Vrooman, co-leader of the internship program and curator of education and academic outreach. “There’s big ideas, like what are we doing, but the interns are learning that smaller things like formatting the label really matters because that’s an entrance point into the work and the story that they’re helping to tell.”
The program is part of an effort at the college to provide students with more opportunities in practical learning. While students have the opportunity to learn how museums and archives work and their roles in society, they also walk away with a practical skill set, according to Vrooman.
Vrooman and Emmie Donadio, the other co-leader of the program, chose Timothy Case’s work for the students to showcase. Vrooman has found Case’s work intriguing and said that the students had hundreds of photographs to choose from the prolific artist’s portfolio.
“The students had to whittle down (the artwork) very quickly,” Vrooman said. “We picked (Case) because he is someone whose work I think is interesting, and it’s good that he’s a local artist. He also taught a course at the college this past January, so I know that he works well with students and that he really enjoys it.”
MEET TIMOTHY CASE
Timothy Case is a Middlebury-based photographer who specializes in landscape photography. As a retired geographer, Case approaches his art with an interest in how human beings interact with and alter their environment and the landscape, especially within the context of climate change.
“My intent with my photography is to keep the dialogue open so we’re always thinking about the impact we might have and our decisions that we do in our daily lives,” Case explained.
When he met with the MuseumWorks interns for the first time, Case instructed them to work from a concept that would be at the center of the exhibition. Beyond that, he gave the students free rein to interpret his work as they saw fit and to arrange his photos to best showcase their own interpretation.
The students spent hours studying Case’s portfolio and discussing their own interpretations of his work, but Gillis, a rising junior, acknowledged that their interpretation is necessarily different from Case’s as the artist is the one who understands the full magnitude of the work.
“Wanting to represent his voice as well as ours in the curatorial process was difficult,” Gillis said. “There’s been a lot of back and forth, but Tim has been wonderful in giving us our creative liberty in interpreting his work while providing his opinion and guidance. It’s been a highly collaborative process.”
The interns decided to build the exhibition around the concept of “unassuming landscapes.” According to Gillis, the goal was to examine manufactured or altered landscapes that may or may not be immediately obvious.
“You would never know that even landscapes like cornfields that look naturally beautiful is a landscape severely altered by human activity,” Gillis said. “We want to discuss why none of (these landscapes) are an entirely natural environment to look at.”
Both the students and Case were pleased with how the exhibition turned out.
“It’s amazing that a group of six students can come together so quickly, work so effectively, make all of these decisions and do it on time,” Case said. “I feel privileged to be able to work with them and get to know them through this exhibition.”
For Gillis, curating the exhibition from start to finish has also been an important experience as he begins to think about his career path.
“It’s been wonderful to work with both the curatorial and educational side of museum work with “Landscaped,” and I especially find myself drawn to the art handling curatorial process,” he said. “I was unsure if I would want a position in the museum world, but now, after the internship, I can most definitely see myself in an environment like that.”
The public can view the exhibit “Landscaped: Altered Environments in the Photography of Timothy Case” at Center Gallery in McCullough Student Center the through mid-October.

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