Hello from Winterthur!

This summer I am lucky enough to be spending ten weeks at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library as William & Mary’s Woody Intern in Museum Studies. My name is Lydia Heaton, and am a rising senior majoring in History with a (soon-to-be-declared) minor in French & Francophone Studies. Countless childhood trips to museums and historical sites sparked my history obsession, and history (and public history) classes at William & Mary have only fed the flames. Despite my love of museums I had not worked at one before I arrived at Winterthur.

I plan to spend this internship observing as much as possible about the way museums operate and the responsibilities of different staff members as I try to decide which career path to pursue going into graduate school. Acquiring practical experience in object handling, object research, and public program development are additional goals that my responsibilities here at Winterthur are perfectly tailored to meet.

Although this is a late start to my summer blogging, I have posts planned about the first few weeks that will be coming soon and I’m more than ready to start documenting my museum-related adventures! It has certainly been a whirlwind, and I’ve already learned a lot.

A bit of background…

Turned into a museum by Henry Francis du Pont (or “H.F.” as he is affectionately referred to around here) in 1951, the oldest rooms in the sprawling main house date to the 1830s.  A horticulturalist and collector from the fabulously wealthy du Pont family,  Winterthur displays H.F.’s extraordinary collection of American decorative arts within his former home as well as in traditional gallery space. The arrangement of rooms and decor is eclectic. Turn a corner and you might find antique firefighting equipment, a room of miniature furniture, an elegant bedroom, or a bowling alley converted into a lane of shop windows. Even though I’ve been here for weeks, I still find a new part of the property almost every day. I probably telegraph my intern status pretty clearly, wandering around while frowning at my 9-page map. There are also three elevators, and just to confuse you, none of them run to every floor in the house. Only the 5th floor is part of the regular tour, which gives you a sense of the collection’s size!

The White and Gold Room on the 6th Floor, which I think is my favorite bedroom in the house (even though the furniture looks like it might break if you sat in it. If I took ownership, I think I would add an armchair...)
The White and Gold Room on the 6th Floor, which I think is my favorite bedroom in the house (even though the furniture looks like it might break if you sat in it. If I took ownership, I think I would add an armchair…)

As its official title suggests, Winterthur is more than just a museum. Its library and conservation labs support museum staff, visiting scholars, and graduate programs in American Material Culture and Art Conservation taught in partnership with the University of Delaware. Rolling fields and extensive gardens surround the house itself. An avid gardener, DuPont paid meticulous personal attention to the design and maintenance of his grounds. My next blog posts will go into more detail about my first few weeks and regular duties, but I will finish with a few highlights from my time here so far…

-Care and Handling: To my mild amazement, I am now allowed to touch the objects in the collection. Getting certified in Care & Handling was something I was very excited about. After watching a series of videos and filling out a worksheet, I walked through the house with one of Winterthur’s staff members and moved a teapot in Mrs. Dupont’s bedroom from one table to another. Certification does not imply expertise, however – the real learning process is ongoing, as I watch and help the curators and other staff members work with objects.

-Enchanted Summer Day: I volunteered at a Saturday event for kids celebrating the beginning of summer. The program was centered in Winterthur’s Enchanted Forest garden, but I manned one of the craft stations in the main entry hall. The grounds were full of families, and the event was a big success! I, meanwhile, have a new addition to my resume: making paper butterfly necklaces. Potential employers reading this, I don’t mean to brag when I say that I am now capable of making a pretty fabulous butterfly out of accordion-folded paper and beads. In all seriousness, the children were absolutely adorable (so much glitter! And pink! And fairy wings!), and I had a lot of fun.

– My office: My office is tucked away in the curatorial department on the 6th floor, full of an eclectic mix of postcards and printouts left by previous occupants (cataloguers formerly occupied the space). I am already thinking about what I want to add to the collage. Nothing will be as impressive as my personal favorite, though. Above the ceramic medallion of San Pietro in Rome, a cookie tin from Rainbow Row in Charleston, four mariachi rubber ducks, and two empty wine bottles, a two-foot-long wooden pig sculpture sits on the top shelf. Why is it here? Who decided that this pig was necessary office decoration? I have absolutely no idea, and no one else seems to know either!

The office pig...
The office pig…