Over the summer, I interned with the Sheboygan County Historical Society and Museum in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. I was hired specifically to serve as the Museum Curator Tamara Lange’s summer intern. As well as assisting with everyday operations, I was assigned the project of writing, designing, and installing a new permanent exhibit for the museum. The Museum choose to remove an exhibit which had been in place since the 1990s, replacing it with one that featured the Sheboygan based, nationally known 1950s quartet, the Chordettes (most famously known for singing Mr. Sandman and Lollipop) called Harmonizing Heroines: Sheboygan’s Chordettes.
I greatly enjoyed my internship with the SheboyganCounty Historical Museum. The very best part of this experience was the freedom Tamara gave me to experiment with my own ideas and creations. She had complete confidence in my abilities as an aspiring professional and allowed me to make many of the final decisions pertaining to the exhibit. While at the same time Tamara was always present and happy to explain procedures, answer any questions, and serve as both a peer reviewer and a mentor. Overall the internship was engaging, educational, challenging and fun all at the same time.
Harmonizing Heroines Ribbon Cutting Celebration
The most rewarding experience of this summer was the official exhibit opening on September 7, 2019. The exhibit I wrote, designed, created, and installed opened during the 6th Annual History Hill Music Festival, an annual event including free music at the museum. Between musicians we held the ribbon cutting of the exhibit allowing me to address the audience and speak briefly about my experience creating the exhibit. This event allowed me to observe the general public’s initial reactions to the exhibit. As well as some of the family members of the people described within the exhibit material. Unlike in class where we might simulate creating public outreach, this internship allowed me to actually test my work out on the living breathing public, reinforcing my desire to become a professional exhibit designer and museum curator and/or collections manager.
Mr. Sandman, Meet Nancy… I mean Anne.
Some of the most enjoyable aspects of creating my exhibit was picking out the paint colors, trying to make the space feel like you were back in the 1950s. I knew I was on the right track when I found a color I liked only to later learn the name was Mr. Sandman Pink.
I also genuinely enjoyed learning about the nine women who made-up this quartet over their decade long career. Although uncovering all their various names, through divorces, nicknames, and stage names had me altering my data for weeks as we discovered yet another variation (like Nancy actually being named Anne, who knew?). In the end I came to appreciate all these talented women as individuals and I hope visitors to the Museum receive that same feeling through my displays. Last but certainly not least, was getting to be a part of the ribbon cutting ceremony. Although I was nervous to speak to the crowd everything about the short opening event made my work feel more professional and greatly valued by both the museum staff and by the public. As a student and young professional in this career this was quite the confidence building experience.
Exploring My Future Career
As a public historian there are so many options for my future career, but with my emphasis in museum studies I have been shifting through museum positions as potential career paths. This internship fit perfectly with my major interests of exhibit design, collection work, curation, and historical writing. With Tamara as my mentor I experienced the whole process of removing one exhibit and the delicate public relations involved, to planning out the space, the paint, what had to be built, and the information/objects to be displayed within the new exhibit. I was given certain constraints to follow, and then allowed to brainstorm my initial thoughts, which were eventually filtered through Tamara for approval.
This internship placed me in control; again I come back to the freedom and confidence Tamara placed in my skills. This allowed me to truly feel what it might be like to actually hold this position. This allowed me to further explore my strengths and weaknesses and my development as a professional. In the end this internship cemented my career goals of working in a museum. Thinking about the relevant skills and experiences I gained over the summer the largest was probably just confidence in myself.
More specifically I gained skills in exhibit design/installation, trying to spatially layout cases, posters and artifacts before physically doing it. I learned a lot about concise writing for the large general public instead of academics. I actually inadvertently learned a lot about management, delegation, and teamwork within a small nonprofit. As well as more technical based skills like using PastPerfect5 and publisher, posting on social media as an official organization, and creating condition reports and other cataloguing documents. I also experienced several public programming events for all different people from children to adults, those with disabilities, the general public, members only, new visitors all the way to lifelong museumgoers; I gained skills in public relations and customer service, as well as technological literacy. At the same time, a number of these new experiences also lead to some of my most trying challenges over the summer.
A Memorable Experience
My time at the Sheboygan County Historical Museum has been a phenomenal experience. I learned a number of skills from exhibit design, collection management, and overall daily museum tasks. All while facing a variety of challenges from label writing to digital design through the course of creating my first exhibition. I cannot thank the organization enough for allowing me to try my skills in real life, and being a part of my first official permanent museum exhibit.
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