Meet Tim McCall, a chemistry student, who has been hard at work applying his chemistry studies to conservation work here at the UMFA.
Tim has been hard at work in the basement building microclimates. “This is important, especially for metals in the collection which require a relative humidity of 25-30%,” Tim explains. He goes on to describe a process of sealing containers, then adding a desiccate and bringing down the humidity. “I’m actually doing a lot of math,” he adds.
He’s also been working with silica gels, situation reports, and building his portfolio.
Tim is an intern at the UMFA–one of many–who is hard at work gaining real-world experience in his chosen field. The museum loves working with interns, and have had some who, like Tim, are in the basement learning about conservation, while others are learning about arts education in the museum, or public relations and marketing, or curatorial duties, or accounting.
This past summer, an article in the Wall Street Journal stated that internships are playing an increasing role in helping young people secure jobs. With such a competitive job market, individuals interested in working in museums may find an advantage gaining first-hand experience and insight into the daily life of a museum.
Tim’s primary work has been on the sculpture The Moods of Time: Morning by Paul Manship.
“One of the challenges is the weird pattern of corrosion on the piece from water dripping down over time,” says Tim. “There’s a strange, uneven distribution, so it’s hard to swab evenly without sacrificing the patina.”
This particular sculpture has had a rich life even before coming into the UMFA’s collection, enjoying time inside as well as time outside, and the result is a pattern of dripping water and other hazards of the outside environment. What the museum really wants to do is reduce the distracting corrosion caused by the object being outside and not maintained without destroying the original patina or completely removing the signs of aging visible in the green weathered appearance. It’s a delicate balance, and a conversation that much of the museum staff took part in.
To help clean this sculpture, Tim has been using a combination of mechanical cleaning with a scalpel, and a chemical solution.
There is a lot of reading with this internship, Tim tells me. Robyn provided articles to enhance Tim’s understanding of the work, providing a chance to double-check his approach. Tim says his work as a chemistry student has been very helpful with this process because there’s a lot of reading and applying and double checking in Chemistry labs.
When I ask how his experience here is enriching his studies in chemistry, Tim says: “Every day is a learning experience. I would say 3/4ths of what I say to Robyn is me asking questions.”
The ability to look a process and make sense of how it works is important to Tim. This is, in large part, why he is drawn to chemistry, and why seeing it in action has such an appeal. There’s a lot of freedom in Tim’s assignment to grow, learn, and explore, which is something he was not expecting. “It’s excited to be handed an object and asked to figure out what to do with it.”
Tim, like all of the museum’s wonderful interns, is ambitious and thoughtful. When I ask him about his goals, or where he sees himself going in this field, he says: “I would love to get to a point where I could indicate new treatments for an object.”
Rather than move the large sculpture downstairs, Tim has been working upstairs, as natural sunlight streams in through the windows, in full view of all of the museum visitors. “Working upstairs in a mask,” Tim begins, laughing, “kids will come up to me and ask if I’m robbing the place.”
The UMFA has just listed its Summer internship needs, and that information can be found on the internship section of our website: here. I ask Tim if he has any advice for potential applicants, and he says to “Just go for it.”
Tim’s first job in a museum was volunteering and handing out fliers.
“I really wanted to see what it was like day to day in a museum. I mean, I’ve seen Night at the Museum, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be like that.”
If you, or someone you know, might make a fantastic intern at the UMFA, be sure to tell them to apply for our summer internships!