The Apprentices

by Pauline Nash

The apprentice is one of the most enduring icons. Whether it’s 14-year-old Leonardo da Vinci mixing colors in a Florentine workshop or young Benjamin Franklin assisting at his elder brother’s press in Boston, history is filled with tales of young artisans seeking the tutelage of masters from the previous generation. And last August four interns at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery added their summer to this long history.They spent 10 weeks writing conservation grants, framing woodblock prints from Meiji-era Japan, and accompanying Williamson Gallery director Mary Davis MacNaughton ’70 on meetings with veterans of the art world.

Reflecting on her experience, Megan Avalos ’09 said that before her internship she marveled at the jumbo-sized exhibit titles and explanations plastered across gallery walls.While assisting the Williamson Gallery collections manager, Kirk Delman, she solved the wall text mystery while learning the tools needed to organize and install an exhibition. As her first career-focused internship, the sophomore said it helped her find direction. “It dawned on me that I only have two more summers before I have to figure it out.” For 14 years the Williamson Gallery has helped students interested in art conservation or curatorial careers figure it out. Each summer, the interns observe and participate in the conservation, storage, and exhibition of the College’s art collection. Leaving the sweltering heat of summer behind, they enter the cool rooms that house the paintings, textiles, and ceramics of the Scripps collection and begin to understand the responsibilities of gallery operations. In addition to gaining hands-on experience, the interns interviewed art writers, archivists, and museum directors. Among them were Scripps alumnae Joanne Heyler ’86, director of The Broad Art Foundation in Santa Monica, and Suzanne Muchnic ’62, art critic for the Los Angeles Times.

The four paid internships are funded by a grant from The Getty Foundation and an endowment established by Jane Hurley Wilson ’64 and Michael Wilson. Mary MacNaughton calls the internships “one of the most successful diversity programs at The Claremont Colleges.” Although students eligible for the three Getty multicultural internships can be enrolled from any college in Los Angeles County, this summer all three were enrolled at The Claremont Colleges—Scripps students Megan Avalos and Kelly Sinnott and Harvey Mudd student Chris Yoo.This summer’s Wilson intern was Ilsa Falis.

For some, a summer with the gallery provides their first handson experience with art. Kelly Sinnott ’08 said,”As a science major, I had little art experience and this internship broadened my horizons.” Kelly, who is studying neuroscience at Scripps, spent her summer poring over images from the collection as she prepared them for the Williamson’s electronic catalogue.Over 6,000 art objects from the collection are on continuous exhibition on the gallery’s website.

For others, a gallery internship advances a chosen career path.
Ilsa Falis ’06, who spent her junior year studying art conservation in Florence, worked side-by-side with Getty conservators restoring one of Scripps’ Shakespearean bas-reliefs.The intern mapped and flagged the relief panel which enabled the conservator to repair minute damage such as specks of latex paint or nail polish. Sure to bolster all of their resumes, for Ilsa the value of this experience has already paid off. During one of the field trips, Ilsa met and subsequently accepted an internship with the renowned Santa Monica conservator Aneta Zebala.

Like others who have gone before them, the interns were introduced to collection management at the Williamson Gallery and have continued their art education at renowned institutions where the gallery left off. After her tour as a gallery intern, Valerie Whitacre ’08 spent the summer combing the treasures of the Louvre, researching 18th and 20th century artists for the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. She said her experience at the gallery made the difference in getting the Parisian internship. “I sent out a lot of applications and got a lot of ‘no’s’ but just as I accepted a marketing internship I received a ‘yes’ from the Musée d’Orsay.They were looking for experience and the gallery experience was key in my acceptance.”

“Through every aspect of my internship, Professor MacNaughton remained an incredible teacher, mentor, and friend,” said Caitlin Silberman ’06. One of the many talented Scripps alumnae to attend London’s Courtauld Institute of Art, the renowned establishment for teaching and research in art history and conservation, Silberman started an M.A. in art history at Courtauld this fall. Appreciating the contributions Scripps women have made in her education, Silberman said,”As the Wilson family so generously made my internship possible, my study at the Courtauld is made possible by a scholarship from the Jungels-Winkler Foundation, founded by Scripps alumna Gabrielle Jungels-Winker ’72.”