In Memory of Thelma Williams Lovette: Advocate, Activist, and Mentor


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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Thelma Lovette, Andrea Williams, and Nadine Woodward, gathered at table for Sequoires Tri Hi-Y Club meeting in Centre Avenue YMCA, February 1962, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14910 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

Another icon of civil rights, equality, women’s advancements, and a mentor of youth has left us in death: Mrs. Thelma Williams Lovette. Born on February 28, 1916, and raised as one of 11 children on Wylie Avenue in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Lovette was modest and demure, but quite spunky, which surprisingly offset her outstanding moral strength and civic duty. She never was one to take the spotlight, which is most evident in the Teenie Harris Archive photos of her (only in several instances did she look directly into his lens), but rather she gave focus to the others with her and to the occasion at which she was being photographed. This subtle observance denotes one of her most honorable qualities—humility. I say one of her qualities, because Mrs. Lovette had many.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Judge Homer S. Brown swearing in Jake Williams, with Robert “Pappy” Williams third from left, and Thelma Lovette on left, in office, c. 1946-1965, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.11594 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Two women, including Sara Schemmer, on left, Thelma Lovette, on right, standing with KDKA’s “Mouth from the South,” possibly in Hilton Hotel, 1972, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.16159 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

She came from a family of reserved yet stoic political workers. Graduating from Schenley High School in 1934, she worked full time while attending the University of Pittsburgh to earn both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in social work. She was an elevator operator at Bell Telephone, taught in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, served for 35 years as a Democratic Committee woman, and became the first black social worker at Mercy Hospital. Having grown up spending much time at her local YMCA at the corner of Centre and Herron Avenues, it was only natural that she became an avid YMCA board member as an adult. She was a member of virtually every local and many national civic organizations, and attended the 1963 March on Washington. Her name lies on Freedom Corner in the Hill District with those of other local leaders who played a key role in the struggle for social justice during the civil rights movement in Pittsburgh. She was married (to William J. Lovette), had a daughter (Thelma), and was a pillar in her church. Amazingly, at the age of 80 years old, she ran in the Western Pennsylvania leg of the torch relay for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. For all of these reasons, and so many more, Mrs. Lovette was honored in 2012 when the new Hill District YMCA was named after her.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Thelma Lovette presenting winners of baby contest, from left: Vashti Moreland and Baby Monique; Larue Davis and Baby Stephanie Marie; and Francine Myers standing behind Baby Casandra; sponsors Sarah McCaskill and Lena Davis standing in center back row, gathered in John Wesley AME Zion Church, another version, May 1969, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.16932 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait, seated from left: Linda Wilkins, Marcia Ruffin, Marlene Harris, Janet Moore, Jo Ellen Ely, Rosalyn or Rosalind Rivers, Nancy Primus, Gloria Harper, and Carolyn Kimes; standing: Marlene Scott, Thelma Lovette, and Sharon Gloster, posed in Ammon Center, July 1962, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.20442 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

Personally, I knew Mrs. Lovette my entire life, and like everyone else, I admired and loved her gentle nature and loving attitude. Her cheerful quips of, “Hi sweetie, what have you been up to lately?” or wry comments about how she was feeling (“not bad for an old lady”) and always leaving you with “Thanks for everything” and “I love you too!” will echo in my head and heart forever. It’s nice when someone so dynamic takes a personal interest in you. Once, to my great surprise, she helped me in a business matter like no one else could have. I was the president of an organization that had to come before the Pittsburgh Planning Commission. I was quite nervous, because my opponent was a major entity, and I felt like a little David to the marauding Goliath that I faced. As the members of the council filed in, I heard a soft and familiar voice—a more than 80-year-old Thelma Lovette’s cheerful “good morning” to her fellow council members. I rushed up to her as she placed her notepads down, and asked her, “Are you on this commission?” She said, “Yes dear, what are you here for?” Hurriedly, I explained my plight, and she assured me she’d make certain that my issues were heard. As the meeting progressed and it came to my portion, Goliath roared and I did my best to counter his arguments. But just when I thought the battle was lost, the true David (Mrs. Lovette) firmly and distinctly asked so many direct questions and demanded responses, that not only was my issue on the official record, but it was regarded with respect because she had come to bat for me. She saved the day.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Thelma Williams Lovette, Thelma Lovette (Morris), Betty Jean Williams, Andrea Williams, Jacob “Jake” H. Williams, Alice M. Williams, Alberta Williams, Alice Williams Scott, and Bernard Scott posed behind desk in office, 1968, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.22523 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, cast of NAACP pageant “Milestones of Democracy,” with Roberta Ratcliffe and Selma Gilmore with teapot in front; and standing: Thelma Lovette wearing Native American style costume, David Haines, Martha Moore, Willa Mae Rice holding fan, Florence Washington, and Carol Adams, at Wesley Center AME Zion Church, May 1, 1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.43880 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

She also was of prime support in helping the Teenie Harris archivists identify a barrage of people from his photographs. I held a “ladies’ luncheon” at my home, so that some of the senior ladies could go over the archive images in a comfortable setting. Thelma knew absolutely everyone in the photos, and she was so excited to tell us stories about each person she recognized, that she stood on her feet like a teacher, the whole time!

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait of six women, possibly including Thelma Lovette in center, and one woman standing on left holding sword, in interior with coffee table, books, leaf-patterned sofa, light-colored walls, and windows with light-colored blinds and geometrically patterned curtains, c. 1957, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.46375 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, Clarence Young, Ted Brown, Mrs. Young, James F. Clarke holding “Playhouse” pamphlet, Mac Simpson, Thelma Lovette, and K. Leroy Irvis, gathered in domestic interior, March-April 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.47716 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

I was also privileged to be one of her “party” friends. No one loved to dance more than Ms. Thelma, and she was known far and wide to be the official “electric slide” starter at most recent events. Once she got started, you couldn’t make her sit down—she could out-dance me! Though her body began to falter in recent years, her mind and spirit were as sharp as a tack to the end. Her daughter, Thelma, and I attended an event together this past June, and she took back photos for her mother to see. When daughter Thelma showed mother Thelma the pictures from the event, she said to her, “Oh look, there’s Charlene!” She still knew every face and could recall every story she ever shared. She was made of durable stock.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group of Fifth Ward committee members including five men, including Paul F. Jones, seated in center of banquette, and six women, possibly including Thelma Lovette on right, seated in the Terrace Room of the Hotel Terrace Hall celebrating primary election victory, June-July 1958, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.50527 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

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Charles “Teenie” Harris, group portrait of fourteen women, possibly including Thelma Lovette wearing light-colored striped blouse and dark grid-patterned coat standing behind them, in interior with two-toned walls and linoleum floor, c. 1962, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.57110 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive.

A few years ago Mrs. Lovette was asked by WQED television what advice she thought a good life should include, she said: “Stay in school—get an education. Do what your parents tell you. Go to church—be part of something, and join organizations like the YMCA.”

Though her funeral was recently held in Arizona, a local memorial service for Mrs. Lovette is being held on August 1 at the Thelma Lovette YMCA on Centre Avenue in her beloved Hill District.

Mrs. Lovette’s spirit reminds me of a quote by another woman of distinction we recently lost: author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou, who once said: “I can do anything—any good thing—and do it well because God loves me and I am amazed and humbled at it.” That was truly Thelma Lovette—she did good things with great humility. And she did them well—a lesson for us all.

What Does It Mean for a Museum To Be Truly Experimental?


Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014.

Screenshot of the Hillman Photography Initiative website, launched April 2014

Ever since Carnegie Museum of Art launched the Hillman Photography Initiative earlier this year, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what it means for a museum to be truly experimental. When I began my research three years ago, the major premise of the Initiative was to create something totally new in the field of photography. On the other side of a successful launch, I now realize just how ambitious our goal was. But at the time, it felt more like an amorphous challenge, albeit one that had all my problem-solving neurons firing. As with any experiment, we didn’t have a clear understanding of how the Initiative would manifest or what form it would take. Now that the project is up and running, I find myself looking back at how the Initiative was realized and some of the things we’ve learned so far.

BEGINNINGS

For the initial concept phase, the goal was to be nimble and flexible, and to see what would happen when that nimbleness and flexibility confronted the complex workflow of the museum. You can read about those first two years here, in a post I wrote when we first announced the Initiative as a living laboratory for exploring the rapidly changing field of photography and its impact on the world. In it, I provide a window into the innovative process that required me to think unconventionally on a daily basis, and which led me to create a spiderlike concept map that reflected the dozens of (often opposing) paths I followed to explore the expansive world of photographic production, distribution, and consumption.

L to R: Hillman Photography initiative "agents" Alex Klein, Arthur Ou, and Marvin Heiferman meeting with CMOA staff to discuss the current state and future of photography and to begin planning for the project.

L to R: Hillman Photography initiative “agents” Alex Klein, Arthur Ou, and Marvin Heiferman meeting with CMOA staff to discuss the current state and future of photography and to begin planning for the project

When I wrote that post last year, we were preparing to embark upon an intensive four-month planning process that gathered five internationally known experts (aka “agents”) together in a far-ranging conversation about photography. The agents include Tina Kukielski (our internal CMOA agent and co-curator of the 2013 Carnegie International), Marvin Heiferman (independent curator and writer), Illah Nourbakhsh (professor of robotics and director of the CREATE Lab, Carnegie Mellon University), Alex Klein (the Dorothy and Stephen R. Weber Program Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia), and Arthur Ou (assistant professor of photography at Parsons The New School for Design). We asked them to consider what the most exciting issues and questions were in field in which billions of images were shared daily and on a global basis. For teachers, what made their students sit up and listen? For curators, how did their research connect with the person on the street? For artists, how did the digital revolution affect their practice? What aspects of photography did they—the experts—discuss around the kitchen table with their partners, friends, and kids?

This Picture explores what photographic images can say and do by tracking the responses and feedback a single image can trigger and generate. The public is invited to submit responses to a carefully selected photograph each month. Image: Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

This Picture explores what photographic images can say and do by tracking the responses and feedback a single image can trigger and generate. The public is invited to submit responses to a carefully selected photograph each month. Image: Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits, 1960 © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

As a result of those incredibly stimulating conversations we came to the realization that the most interesting aspect of photography today is how it travels. From creation through transmission, distribution, circulation, appropriation, and (at times) even death, the photograph follows a lifecycle that can be physical or virtual (or both). The projects that emerged from these discussions—This Picture, The Invisible Photograph, The Sandbox, A People’s History of Pittsburgh, and Orphaned Images—all explore the concept of this lifecycle and speak to each other as much as they do to that central concept.

A People’s History of Pittsburgh compiles family-owned, found, and anonymous photographs from the city’s residents to create an online archive that unearths and reconstructs narratives through the lives of Pittsburghers. Image: The Baron family's Croatian tamburitza band, Braddock, PA, January 23, 1930, Submitted by Jennifer Baron.

A People’s History of Pittsburgh compiles family-owned, found, and anonymous photographs from the city’s residents to create an online archive that unearths and reconstructs narratives through the lives of Pittsburghers. Image: The Baron family’s Croatian tamburitza band, Braddock, PA, January 23, 1930, Submitted by Jennifer Baron

As the researcher who spent a year analyzing the state of the field, benchmarking other museums and photography centers, and reaching out to international experts in photography, I can confidently say that the process we followed to create the structure behind the Initiative was truly unique. And as the program manager who spent the following two years developing and implementing the process that gave our agents carte blanche to come up with the projects you see on our website today, I can just as confidently say that the Initiative’s engagement with photography’s various manifestations is similarly unique.

The Sandbox: At Play with the Photobook includes a temporary reading room and event space at the museum, with programming investigating the many ways that photobooks present and interpret images. Photographers Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar of Spaces Corners, a Pittsburgh bookshop specializing in photography books, staff the reading room.

The Sandbox: At Play with the Photobook includes a temporary reading room and event space at the museum, with programming investigating the many ways that photobooks present and interpret images. Photographers Melissa Catanese and Ed Panar of Spaces Corners, a Pittsburgh bookshop specializing in photography books, staff the reading room.

LEAP HEADFIRST (& RALLY THE TROOPS)

Since that first meeting of the agents last April, we’ve gone from a completely blank slate to an intricate set of online and onsite projects that explore complex issues. Reflecting back on the initial stages of our process, I’d say true experimentation in a museum setting requires a willingness to leap headfirst into the unknown (relevant research and benchmarking in tow, of course). It also requires some high-level buy-in to the idea that the outcome will most likely challenge some established museum processes. For example, most of our internal processes revolve around the development, approval, and implementation of exhibitions and events. Typically an exhibition is proposed by a curator and is then reviewed and approved by an internal group of departmental directors. However, the Initiative was developed and implemented outside of that normal workflow.  The point was to ask outside voices (the agents) to propose the projects that the museum would then implement and build. Maybe true experimentation happens when you ask not only how to pull off an experiment in the face of established processes, but how that experiment can change those traditional systems and expectations, challenging a museum to reexamine its own assumptions, benchmarks, and even its metrics of success.

Caveat: the process we’ve gone through to launch the Initiative has been, on one hand, in-depth, well-researched, and methodical. But that’s no surprise. Museums do those three adjectives pretty well. On the other hand, it’s been totally new, without precedent and, at times, frankly terrifying in a make-it-up-as-you-go kind of way. I’ve had to pull strings and sweet-talk colleagues into doing things that weren’t even remotely noted in their job descriptions. The months leading up to the website launch were also the craziest of my professional life. Nothing we were doing was customary, usual, or practiced. Every path we were carving to make the Initiative happen was a new one that needed its own customized road crew, made up of exceptionally generous and hard-working colleagues—I couldn’t have been luckier to have had them as partners in this endeavor.

Trapped: Andy Warhol's Amiga Experiments (Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph documentary series) investigates how a team of computer scientists, archivists, artists, and curators teamed up to unearth Warhol’s lost digital works. Image: Andy Warhol, Andy1, 1985, digital image, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; From disk 1998.3.2129.3.4

Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments (Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph documentary series) investigates how a team of computer scientists, archivists, artists, and curators teamed up to unearth Warhol’s lost digital works. Image: Andy Warhol, Andy1, 1985, digital image, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; From disk 1998.3.2129.3.4

GAUGING SUCCESS

At some point during those crazy months, we realized that the process was so experimental that none of our standard benchmarking procedures would suffice as evaluation metrics. And then came the secondary epiphany: we honestly didn’t even know how to define that success, let alone measure it.

I remember the first time we convened the 15-person meeting, full of the department and division heads who had banded together to implement the Initiative, to collaboratively develop the Initiative’s metrics of success. I opened the meeting with this question: “So, how have we as a museum developed metrics of success in the past?” There was a moment of silence and then the answer: “We’ve never actually had to do that from scratch before.” Wait a minute. You mean to tell me that this program I’m managing is not only completely experimental, but the process of evaluating it is too? (This is when my problem-solving neurons got another jump start.)

So we dove in. Our director of education asked key questions like, “How does being interested in what our visitors think change the museum?” And: “Does the Initiative change the way we establish online engagement with audiences in other exhibition or collection areas?” Our web and digital media manager got us thinking when he told us he could not only track how people were navigating or clicking through the website, but where they were coming from and how long they spent on any given page. Our director of publications ruminated on whether we could use the Initiative as a model for developing standards for online writing for all museum projects, not only for content but also for tone and approach. Our marketing team discussed extending audience engagement from the typical art scene to the sciences, social sciences, and technology. From a curatorial point of view, we’re just as interested in assessing the less tangible metrics of success, such as how the Initiative shapes ideas about photography locally and internationally. How great would it be if some future program manager of another burgeoning experimental project at some hypothetical institution reached out to benchmark us?

And thus was born the “Goals and Metrics of Success” document that I find myself referring to on a regular basis. Because, like any strategic plan (or democratic constitution), you never want to be policing a dead or irrelevant document. Within days of launching the Initiative, we began gathering statistics to figure out what was going on. Were people coming to our website? Were they accessing our content? No, more: were they engaging with our content? Did we have to shift our marketing strategies? The hierarchy of content on our website? The types of demographic content we were gathering at events?

The first two installments of The Invisible Photograph documentary series (premiered online at nowseethis.org) reached a large number of viewers worldwide despite being longer-format films.

The first two installments of The Invisible Photograph documentary series (premiered online at nowseethis.org) reached a large number of viewers worldwide despite being longer-format films.

Here are some findings from our first full month of evaluation:

  • We surpassed our wildest dreams in terms of video views for Part 1 and Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph. In terms of geographical distribution, our top views outside the United States have come, in order, from the UK, Argentina, Germany, Canada, Spain, and Russia. Our videos have had truly global viewership, reaching six continents. Now, if only we could get those people in Antarctica…
  • Our two 20-minute videos had over 60,000 complete views and over 300,000 loads. This runs counter to the popular consensus that says shorter videos perform better and shows that there is significant appetite for more substantive content online. This is also double the total number of views we had of all CMOA-produced videos in 2013.
  • The Initiative’s web activity equaled the activity on all other museum sites combined, including main site, blogs, and microsites. In terms of web campaigns, nowseethis.org is on par with other high-profile web campaigns such as the 2013 Carnegie International.
  • The earned media value for the Initiative in the first month alone was approximately $4 million. To put that in perspective, in all of 2013 our earned media was $8 million, which was itself a record year for us thanks to the 2013 Carnegie International.  

From the beginning of our social media campaign on March 16, Initiative-related content more than tripled the museum’s reach of Facebook posts through user sharing and liking, with May’s This Picture having the highest level of engagement of all posts and A People’s History of Pittsburgh coming in second. We tracked a significant upward trend in people “liking” CMOA that corresponded to the launch of the Initiative, with an average increase of over 1000. On Twitter, of the top 15 posts from the museum’s account @cmoa, more than half were HPI-related. These posts saw increased reach that was sometimes three to five times greater than the average museum tweet.

A sobering statistic, however, was the relatively modest onsite attendance for the Initiative’s related programs. We think this is in large part due to the fact that, in the experimental spirit of the Initiative, we did not prioritize onsite attendance when asking the agents to propose projects. We have since realized the tension this has created with our institution’s larger mission to encourage onsite attendance. So, we’re trying to make some changes that might address this issue, such as softening the price structure to enable people to pay as much as they can, so that no one is excluded who is interested in deeply exploring our content. We’re also discovering that promoting an onsite–online connection, which is at the heart of the Initiative, is one of the harder goals to accomplish. One of the best suggestions from our last meeting, made by our associate editor, was to encourage online submissions by increasing onsite payoff. We could print submissions, post them in the gallery, and then announce the “featured submissions” on our website. We think that this onsite payoff is one of the main reasons that Oh Snap!: Your Take on Our Photographs, another experimental museum project and an important precedent for the Initiative, was such a success last year. I’ll have to keep you posted on the results of all of this self-evaluation.

GOING FORWARD

So—what have we learned? For a museum to be truly experimental it has to approach the problem in an unconventional way, challenge established processes, and take some real risks. It needs to actively evaluate and reevaluate itself to help the project stay ahead of the curve. (And most importantly, it needs the tools, knowledgeable staff, and a willingness to openly evaluate itself in the first place.) It needs to foster communication and trust among the participants. It has to ask: How does what we’ve done transform the museum? How does it shift our processes and internal working strategies? What works about the experimental method we’ve chosen and what requires some further tinkering? In the wake of articles like “Museums… So What?” by Robert Stein, deputy director of the Dallas Museum of Art, or “Lessons from a Year of Pop-Up Museums,” a guest post on the Museums 2.0 blog by Nora Grant, I think it’s even more important for museums to consider alternative means of reaching offsite audiences and engaging onsite visitors.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. But one thing is for sure: the more experimental the process, the more progressive you need to be to evaluate the outcome. Because as the old saying goes, if you don’t evaluate, you’ve already failed (or something like that). For any project that’s even remotely experimental, the need for unconventional thinking never ends, not after process development, not after implementation, and not even after evaluation. But, I would argue, therein lies the fun. And I think your problem-solving neurons would agree.

This is an expanded version of a post published on July 8, 2014, on the blog of the Center for the Future of Museums.

 

A Closer Look at the Technology Behind an Exhibition


"A Closer Look" iPads installed in the gallery.

“A Closer Look” iPads installed in the gallery

The museum recently opened Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque, a comprehensive exhibition that traces the development of prints across the centuries, explores the evolution of printmaking techniques, and unlocks the images’ hidden meanings. The works in the show are dynamic, striking, elaborately detailed, and quite beautiful. If you haven’t yet seen the exhibition, it runs throughout the summer and I highly recommend it.

On the surface, the prints included in the exhibition may seem devoid of technology, however it’s important to remember that these artifacts were state-of-the-art examples of the technology at the time. Woodcut, etching, and engraving were the photography and software development of centuries past. As a technologist, this notion creates an extra layer of intrigue for me.

To that end, I’d like to shine a light on some of the technology we employed to help tell the stories of these works and unlock deeper meaning for the exhibition visitor.

SURFACING KEY THEMES

During the exhibition development phase of the project, it quickly became clear that our curators and educators wanted to convey key themes that either impacted the artist’s inspiration or process. Through several months of workshopping and whiteboarding, a cross-departmental group of CMOA staffers explored various tactics that would best engage gallery visitors around the three focus themes: symbolism, reality and imagination, and altered states.

We didn’t start with technology solutions; we never do that. As an institution, we try to introduce technology-based solutions only when analog solutions do not achieve the desired goals. In this case, though, it was clear that technology was going to be the approach through which visitors could dive deeper into the ancillary components of the prints themselves.

The information architecture document developed for the interactive.

The information architecture document developed for the interactive

Our interpretive strategies team began investigating how visitors might explore this information. We started with content and intent before even thinking about design or devices we’d employ. What were the stories we wanted to tell? What objects best told them? We storyboarded the narrative in a hierarchical format. Designers and developers know this as information architecture.

Wireframe for one element of the iPad interactive

Wireframe for one element of the iPad interactive

Once the information architecture was solidified, we started thinking about how the stories would best be conveyed. We explored the possibilities and considered options for weeks. Ultimately, we landed on an overarching concept, A Closer Look, and the concept of a touch interface that would allow for the highlighting of certain aspects of artworks, the ability to comparatively juxtapose images and a way to see the immense detail possessed by the prints.

A way to explore these features without getting too bogged down in the detail of design is to iterate on low-fidelity wireframes. Evolving the information architecture into a loosely crafted user interface made it possible for the team to ask questions like “What would the user do?” and “Does this layout make sense in relation to our desired outcomes?”.

It was at this stage that we identified hardware—we would use iPads—and began working with the installation team so the interactive components could be seamlessly integrated into the gallery experience.

Screenshot of the iPad development environment

Screenshot of the iPad development environment

After the wireframes were solidified, we began building the interactives. We currently have no developers experienced with Objective-C (an object-oriented language for iOS touch devices) on staff here at the museum, so it made sense to utilize internal skill sets and develop in the HTML/CSS/JavaScript stack. Instead of a native iPad app, we built a web application that could be shown through our browser of choice, in this case the Kiosk Pro app that allows us to customize user permissions and lock the devices down into a public or kiosk mode. It was pretty straightforward from a development perspective.

REUSABILITY FTW!

The digital media department at CMOA is also producing quite a bit of original video content, much of which we desire to share with visitors in the gallery. In addition to the A Closer Look interactive described above, we developed a reusable HTML5 video player also optimized for iPad display. The idea here is that we can now start with this established code base for future exhibitions, make some small CSS changes, and quickly have a shiny new exhibition-branded media player. Keep your eyes peeled for this in Faked, Forgotten, Found, opening later this month.

OPENING UP OUR WORK

Realizing that other institutions might have similar needs and not have the resources required to develop custom solutions like these, we’ve open sourced the code that drives both A Closer Look and the video player over on our GitHub page. This code is free to use and modify, and it has been made available as an open resource. CMOA has utilized many open source resources over the years and it’s nice to be able to contribute back into the community when we can.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about how we’re doing. Did you visit the exhibition and explore some of the technology offered? What did you think? Let us know in the comments below.

How a Rembrandt Self-Portrait Made Me a Curator


Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume, 1638, etching,  Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume, 1638, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

I fell in love with prints by accident. As a college student, I was interested in medieval art, or, more specifically Byzantine art, especially manuscripts. I needed a part-time job to help with my living expenses, and I applied to work as a research assistant at a New York art gallery that specialized in manuscripts and early printed books. Unbeknownst to me, the gallery also specialized in old master prints and drawings, which I managed to ignore during my first few months at the gallery. I was thoroughly immersed in the world of medieval saints and philosophy.

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Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroqueincluding several self-portraits by Rembrandt, is open through September 15.
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One day, I was alone in the gallery with the secretarial assistant. An elderly gentleman walked in with a paper bag under his arm. He took out a small framed print, black and white, very unassuming looking, and said, “They tell me this may be a Rembrandt.” I glanced at the print briefly. It was a portrait, a man in an elaborate feathered cap (shown above). And, with all the arrogant self-confidence of youth, I said, “No, I’m sorry, I don’t think so.” The man packed up his picture and left, disappointed.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Raised Sabre, 1634, etching with touches of burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, by exchange

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait with Raised Sabre, 1634, etching with touches of burin, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom, by exchange

A little while later, I thought to myself, “Maybe I should just check on this.” The gallery had a wonderful library (this was long before the internet). I pulled out a book on Rembrandt’s etchings, and….there it was. The print WAS an original Rembrandt—Self-Portrait in a Velvet Cap with Plume (1638)—an impression of which is in Carnegie Museum of Art’s collection. I would later learn that Rembrandt made about 30 self-portrait etchings, some very sketchy and slight, some elaborate (examples below), as well as some 50 paintings and a few drawings.

Three of Rembrandt’s other etched self-portraits are included in Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque. In Self-Portrait with a Raised Sabre (above), the artist wears a fur cap and stole; in Self-Portrait with Saskia (below), he is sketching while looking into the mirror, as his new bride Saskia gazes at us in the background; and in Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill (below) he poses as a Renaissance courtier, in a velvet hat and opulent coat. The concept of the self-portrait as an exploration of one’s own psyche did not really exist in the 17th century. Most modern scholars believe that Rembrandt made the prints as models, or “tronies,” as they were then known. He was also producing works for sale and publicizing himself as an artist.

Rembrandt van Harmensz. Rijn, Self-Portrait with Saskia, 1636, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt van Harmensz. Rijn, Self-Portrait with Saskia, 1636, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

The experience at the art gallery and the unidentified print taught me a most valuable lesson. Never guess, never assume you know, always check to be certain. More importantly, I was embarrassed by how little I did know about prints, and curious to find out more. What followed was a wonderful adventure of learning—one artist at a time, one print at a time. I often wish I could thank the elderly gentleman for the lifetime of pleasure he gave me. I hope someone wiser than me identified his Rembrandt print as genuine!

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, 1639, etching, Bequest of Charles J. Rosenbloom

Bill Nunn Jr., 1924–2014: Newsman, Steelers Scout, Local Icon


Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball  players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948-1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of eight men, including Bill Nunn Sr., Brooklyn Dodgers baseball players Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella, Courier sports reporter Chester Washington, and Teddy Horne, c. 1948–1956, gelatin silver print, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 1997.34.3.3 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

On a sunny July afternoon in 2011, I had the privilege of going to the home of William G. Nunn Jr. and Frances Bell Nunn, to interview them for the Teenie Harris Archive’s oral histories. I had known them casually in my childhood, but as their front door opened two impressions hit me: 1) Here were some of Pittsburgh’s finest African American citizens, and (2) how much they seemed to still be in love. They greeted me, together, with big smiles and we shared a warm, informative afternoon full of both serious discussion and rich laughter.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., seated on table, c. 1960–1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.3596 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Goldwyn Nunn Jr. was born on Sept. 30, 1924, and lived an incredible life. At the time of our interview, he was still going strong, despite having “officially” retired over two decades prior. While analyzing college prospects for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 draft, he suffered a stroke, from which he would not recover. The Nunns had been married an impressive 63 years when “Bill” passed at age 89, on May 7, 2014.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950-1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Frank Bolden and Bill Nunn Jr. standing in Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office with portrait of Jessie Vann on wall, c. 1950–1970, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.19317 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

William Jr. was born to Maybelle and William G. Nunn—the managing editor of the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper. Bill Jr. had become an outstanding basketball player at West Virginia State University, and in his senior year led the team to an undefeated record. He played with two of the first three Black players to play in the NBA. Upon graduation in 1948, the Harlem Globetrotters tried to recruit him, and he found himself facing the tough choice of what to do with his life. He ultimately chose to take a job with the sports staff of the Courier, (the largest Black newspaper in the country at the time). Later, he became the sports editor, replacing the legendary Wendell Smith, and eventually became the managing editor for the paper.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles "Teenie" Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1960-1975, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Unknown man, Ralph Koger, Charles “Teenie” Harris, and Bill Nunn Jr. posed with trophies and 1968 National Newspaper Publishers Association Merit Award poster, posed in New Pittsburgh Courier newspaper office, c. 1968–1969, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.44744 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

In the late 60s, Mr. Nunn was dissatisfied by the NFL not drafting more African American players. He got the ear of Art Rooney Sr., and was thus lured to the Steelers organization because he felt he could make a real difference for Black athletes. Not everyone appreciated the idea of hiring a newspaperman to scout college players, but Bill proved himself fully worthy to be the first African American appointed to a front office position. As the years of discovering overlooked players who (for the most part) attended historically Black colleges, (such as L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Joe Greene, Dwight White, Glen Edwards, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth, and Donnie Shell), the Steelers continued to have winning seasons, and Bill’s participation was never questioned again. In fact, although he officially retired from the Steelers organization in 1987, he continued to be a part of the recruitment team for over 46 years, until his death.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier's Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Man filming Regis Bobonis, Mal Goode, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Joe Brown, and Bill Nunn Jr., during presentation of Pittsburgh Courier’s Humanitarian award to Brown on Forbes Field, with Cincinnati Reds baseball player in background, April 1963, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.14071 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Nunn never played nor coached football, but still he was nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, and was a 2010 inaugural member of the Black College Hall of Fame. He also was the recipient of six Super Bowl rings, because of his distinction as being one of the longest tenured employees of the Steelers. His name also lies in the West Virginia State University Sports Hall of Fame.

Charles "Teenie" Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940-1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Charles “Teenie” Harris, Group portrait of Bill Nunn Jr., and bride, wearing gown with lace overlay on bodice and sleeves, in church with large pipe organ, and carved altar in background, c. 1940–1955, black and white: Kodak Safety Film, Carnegie Museum of Art, Heinz Family Fund, 2001.35.23973 © 2006 Teenie Harris Archive

Mr. Nunn is survived by his lovely wife, Frances (whom he’d known since childhood), his daughter Lynell Nunn (an attorney), his son Bill Nunn III (a film/television/theatre actor), three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

I listened to our 2011 interview as I wrote this obituary. It made me wish I had spent even more time chatting with them about their accomplishments in helping other African Americans achieve new heights. Nunn also discussed working with Teenie Harris as both a colleague and his boss. He said Teenie, being older than Bill, taught him a lot about how to approach people favorably. However, when he became Teenie’s boss at the Courier, he asked Teenie to take more than “one shot,” just in case the first one didn’t turn out. Teenie refuted that would never happen, so that was a bit of a disagreement between them, and Teenie never missed the shot (to his knowledge, of course). The Nunns giggled almost like teenagers as they scanned the many photos Teenie had taken of them through the decades— including their wedding portraits. It was a real treat for me to share Teenie’s images of them, which they had never seen before, and to witness the joy it brought them. I’ll always remember fondly how they were linked with their arms around each other and waived to me as I drove away from their house. One of the last things Mr. Nunn said to me was that he “just wanted to make a difference in the lives of African Americans.” He did. They both did, and I left with a serene sense of pride and appreciation for the road they helped pave.