Archives Intern Gabriel Maldonado writes about his experiences at the Burchfield Penney Art Center

Monday, August 11, 2014

As an avid museum goer, I have always been drawn to art, immersing myself in the wealth of artist’s rich inspirations. I emerge always looking to finding more connections. I leave the museum but I do not want to stop there—I want to know what it takes to interpret and exhibit art from people who want to share their life experiences.  Taking my interest and eagerness to explore the realm of the art, I became a museum studies student at Buffalo State College. Here, I developed another passion, a passion I have vigorously dedicated my studies to as a college student, learning about not only its history, culture, but its art: a passion for Latin American Art and anything in regard to Modernism.

 In fact, I will never forget the day when I got to see an array of different Modern Art painters, especially Latin American, right here in Buffalo, with no more than a few steps away from my disposal. It was indeed at the famous, Albright-Knox Art Gallery where I got to view with my own two eyes artists like Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Roberto Matta. Though, I particularly fell in love with one artist, Joan Miró, although a Spanish artist he was still considerably a beautiful expressionist in Modern Art. Moreover, as I gazed upon Miró’s painting, Le Carnaval d’Arequin for the first time I immediately knew museum studies was something I wanted to move forward with as a life-time career.

 Thereupon, continuing my studies as a museum studies student my everlasting passion for art only grew stronger as I began to discover more museums here in Buffalo. One particular museum I became very close to academically and visually was the Burchfield Penney Art Center. It was here I became more comfortable as a museum goer because this museum did not overwhelm me as an intellectual institution for only high class people; it felt accessible to everyone. The Burchfield Penney Art Center is small, yet it presents itself with hominess and a welcoming atmosphere for those who just want to view captivating art, something we all can share in common. Due to its green technological structure, the building itself paves the way for museum efficiency at its best. Therefore, upon developing a taste for Burchfield’s naturalistic art in its most poetic form I knew I wanted to intern at the Burchfield Penney Art Center.

 However, what truly drove me to intern at the Burchfield Penney Art Center was working alongside with the Charles Cary Rumsey Curator, Nancy Weekly, who was teaching a course in Curatorship. From her experiences I opened myself to a whole new perspective into the world of curating and understanding art. I had the opportunity to help curate the Marion Faller: It’s a Wonderful Display in the Neighborhood exhibit at the Burchfield Penney Art Center with my fellow students. Thus it was at that moment, while dipping into the photogenic mind of Faller I realized I wanted to pursue an internship at this amazing institution.

 Since day one of working at the Burchfield Penney I have been provided with a broad array of different projects. But surely every task I engaged with was designed to fit my needs as a museum studies student; whether in the archive or in the galleries I was persistently challenged by the diverse and nuanced tasks at hand. Thankfully, through the support of my peers in the archives and supervisors it was always a positive experience. One of the first tasks I was given was to index of books out from the archive, ultimately preparing them to be then cataloged by the E.H. Butler Library for future public library availability. In addition, I also spent time re-filing institutional files as well as artist files, ensuring a well doctored archive for future exhibitions at the Burchfield Penney. Yet while these tasks did seem tedious, they were extremely necessary for the development of the museum. This kind work alone opens the door to an understanding of the focused contributions of an archivist, especially due to the amounts of detail-oriented work involved.

 I had many fabulous opportunities as a museum studies student during my time at the Burchfield Penney Art Center. I had the pleasure of obtaining curatorial insight from Curator and Manager of Archives, Tullis Johnson. As we worked on the preparation stage of the Burchfield Botanicals exhibition, I was open to do whatever needed to happen, even if it meant getting my hands dirty. Tullis’ focus and passion for the layout of the exhibition was obvious, and I wanted to help however possible. I wanted to do it all, painting, touch-ups, plastering and, especially any heavy lifting. These were types of opportunities I wanted to do because after curating an exhibition with your own bare hands is definitely a fulfilling accomplishment. 

 Being an archives intern at the Burchfield Penney Art Center was my first experience working in an actual archive. As intrigued as I was, I did not have too much experience with archival studies, but I knew this was a fantastic chance for me to expand my horizons as a museum studies student. I made it known that I was interested in working with Milton and Anne Rogovin’s archival collection, and for the rest of my internship I was to take on the task of re-housing the Milton Rogovin Archive, which leads to talk about the life of this photogenic individual.

 Certainly, I carry a great appreciation for photography and his documentation of the extraordinary in Buffalo, but ironically what caught my eye was his work across certain areas of Latin America. Traveling to places like: Cuba, Chile, and Mexico his photography captured the lives of ordinary working people, people who I consider to be the salt of the earth. His work, to anyone viewing his photography for the first time would agree he was surly a remarkable contribution to the beauties of human existence.

 Having the opportunity of working alongside archivist, Heather Gring, with the Milton Rogovin Archive has been an unbelievably fulfilling experience. As a guiding mentor, Heather Gring has exposed me to the duties of an archivist with immense amounts of experience. More importantly, as an archivist what I have come to understand was that we too can become close with our artist’s work; I personally have developed a dear relationship with Rogovin’s work. His passion to learn and experience new things is something we both share dearly, especially his experimentation with poetry. While Rogovin spent time in Chile he created a sincere friendship with notable poet, Pablo Neruda, a man who had the powerful capabilities of transcending his poetic forms by means of love and tranquility, the very same two qualities Militon Rogovin demonstrated in his social documentary skills.

Every time I rehoused and organized one of the Rogovin’s boxes within the archive, I was discovering a little piece of history, discovering something once part of Rogovin’s life. Everything from bills, tax returns, passport books, letters, awards they all belonged to him, but it goes much more beyond than these objects just belonging to Rogovin. In many ways by wielding his belongings, for an archivist or even a curator I believe we become interconnected with their life, as if a piece of the artist’s soul has been sealed away in his life’s work. This emotional feeling was also held true when I discovered photographs for Anne Rogovin’s special education book project. The photographs taken were by Milton Rogovin, but nonetheless belonged to his wife, showing their everlasting dueled spirit molded together forever in the archive.

 As a result, taking all which I have learned and experienced there is definitely an emotional feeling of wanting more, taking on any task ahead of me in the future of museums. I know this is something I want to do and be part of as I move forward in museum studies. I have had incredible and detailed experiences while I have worked at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, experiences I know I will most definitely take with me as I continue on my path toward museum studies.

In closing, all I can say is thank you for the wonderful experiences of this magnificent internship and the welcoming staff of this phenomenal museum: The Burchfield Penney Art Center.              



Gabriel J. Maldonado grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He will be graduating from SUNY Buffalo State College in the December of 2014 with a B.A. in History and a minor in Museum Studies. His internship at the Burchfield Penney Art Center focused on helping with the installation of the Burchfield Botanicals exhibit and working on the Milton Rogovin Archive.