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November 16, 2006


Contemporary Female Artists in BMC Collections Get a Boost from NEH Curatorial Intern

Lesley Shekitka

Bryn Mawr's William and Uytendale Scott Memorial Study Collection of Women Artists came to Bryn Mawr over the course of the 1990s as several large batches of gifts, and the collection grew rapidly. College Curator Carol Campbell accessioned each piece and did basic cataloging work as the collection arrived and worked with donor Bill Scott to mount three exhibitions in which more than half the works were shown. But the size of the collection exceeded the capacity of the collections staff to do further work on it. So the staff was delighted when Lesley Shekitka, a graduate student in art history who was seeking a project for her NEH-funded curatorial internship, identified herself as a developing scholar of modern and contemporary art with an interest in feminism. The Scott Collection, which consists primarily of works on paper by contemporary female artists, was a perfect fit. Now, thanks to Shekitka, the collection of more than 320 works is fully cataloged.

"The collection began in 1991 when Bill Scott, a Philadelphia artist and art critic and the nephew of a Bryn Mawr alumna, donated some works by women to the College in memory of his parents," Shekitka explains. "Carol Campbell, the curator of the College's collections, accepted the gift and remarked that it helped to fill a gap in the College's art holdings. "At that time, we had an uneven collection of modern and contemporary art — mostly male artists, except for the College's famous Mary Cassatt prints.  But works by female artists after World War II were relatively scarce.

"Scott began to solicit works on paper from artists whose work he thought would be appropriate for the collection. Artists' families donated as well, and the collection quickly developed a broad range. Although it's strongest in Delaware Valley artists — Scott is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — it contains work from artists around the world: etchings, aquatints, collages, paintings on paper, drawings, sketchbooks and sketchbook pages are among the media represented."

Shekitka's work, as well as that of several other curatorial interns, was funded by a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences; Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics and History of Art. The $441,600 grant requires the College to raise matching funds of $1.76 million.

To Tamara Johnston, registrar of the College's collections, the curatorial interns and fellows funded by the grant have been a godsend, and Shekitka's work is a case in point.

"There is a lot of interest among students in this kind of work, and we had identified it as a priority long ago," Johnston says, "but organizing all of the information associated with it was an enormous task that required a concentrated effort by someone focused on it exclusively. It's our largest collection of contemporary work."

The database asks for 40 separate pieces of information for each work cataloged, Shekitka says: "Looking back on it, it's almost hard to believe I finished it."

Shekitka, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in painting from American University, enjoyed the opportunity to work with the art at close range.

"As a graduate student in art history, I'm so engrossed in theory now. I liked being able to handle the work physically, and especially learning about art conservation — how to mat the works, store them and display them in ways that protect them from damage. Carol and Tamara did a great job of showing us what it's like to work as a collections professional."

In addition to cataloging the collection and investigating ways of storing it to enhance its accessibility to students and teachers, Shekitka began photographing it. She hopes to continue that process eventually, with the ultimate goal of creating an online resource for students and scholars.

"Now that Lesley has gathered all of this information and organized it in a searchable database, the collection is much more accessible for teaching and exhibitions," Johnston says, "and it gives us an overview of the collection that will inform the way we add to it in the future. Once we have images in a digital format, the possibilities really start to explode."


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