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Journal of Visual Culture

Petra Williams-Lescht, English Undergrad, Summer 2003

In the summer of 2003, I did an internship with the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As one of three interns, I had a chance to see many different aspects of how the center was run and the library and archives are maintained. I primarily worked in the research library, which is devoted to the study of American Modernism, and has holdings related to art, architecture, design, music and literature as well as O'Keeffe's personal collection. Currently there are 5,000 holdings and it is rapidly growing. I spent a good deal of time inventorying, ordering new books and creating clip reports of all the Research Center's press coverage since its opening in July, 2001. I also began learning how to catalog, which is a much more complicated process than I ever imagined. The librarian of the Research Center tried to give me a taste of every part of her job from the mundane to the fascinating.

The highlight of my job involved working downstairs with the archives. I spent several days with the conservator, learning the appropriate ways to handle and preserve works of art and other materials. I helped to organize the archives of Maria Chabot, a good friend of Georgia O'Keeffe. At the same time, I got to look at the incredible pieces of art that do not get shown in the museum, like O'Keeffe's earliest sketches from when she was thirteen. Being behind the scenes and able to handle the works was very exciting.

During my two months at the Research Center, I also spent a couple of days inventorying books at Ghost Ranch, O'Keeffe's stunning rural home. The house is maintained by the O'Keeffe foundation and it is not open to the public, so it was a treat to visit. Everything is arranged in the way she left it and one gets a good sense of how the artist worked and how her surroundings influenced her painting. Overall, my internship greatly increased my understanding of the workings of a small, closely knit research center and I felt inspired by the focus of the staff and their dedication to preserving O'Keeffe's work and the study of American Modernism.