Hello, my name is Stephanie Allen, and it is my honor to write the very first post for the Old Collections, New Managers series. I am a member of the Emerging Professionals Group (EPG) of SPNHC as well as one of the editors for this illustrious blog. In this post, I would like to give a brief background of who I am and how I meandered my way into the wonderful world of museum collections management.
I received my undergraduate degree from Trinity University in San Antonio, TX, where I double majored in Anthropology and Art History. At the time, I was absolutely convinced I wanted to be a field archaeologist. Well, after my 20-year-old self had a trial run at doing actual fieldwork, I came to realize it really wasn’t a good fit for me. But, the anthropologist in me still wanted desperately to find a way to study people and material culture. I am a very hands-on sort of person, so my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Jennifer Mathews, suggested I try my hand at an internship in a museum. And that is exactly what I did. I interned for the Latin American Art Collection at the San Antonio Museum of Art. This was my first real experience with a museum outside of being just a museum visitor, and I couldn’t believe how amazing it was! I was actually allowed “behind the scenes,” and even better, they let me TOUCH things! With gloves, of course. Well, with an appetite well whetted, I set off to get more museum experience and ended up interning for the collections departments of the Dallas Historical Society in Dallas, TX and the Heritage Farmstead Museum in Plano, Texas. Both of these institutions familiarized me with the realities of collection management in smaller institutions. After these experiences, I decided to continue pursing my museum education by heading to grad school.
So, I picked up and moved to Washington DC, where I attended the Museum Studies Program at the George Washington University. While in grad school, I took advantage of my residence in DC to explore the surrounding museums, which are many and varied. I ended up interning for Catherine Hawks, one of my professors and a conservator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) as well as for Paul Nasca, a city archaeologist and curator for the Alexandria Archaeology Museum in Alexandria, VA. These internships proved invaluable to me not only because of the multitude of opportunities and experiences they afforded, but also because of the connections I made while working there. As a result of these connections, I ended up getting a job as a collections care contractor for both the NMNH and the Alexandria Archaeology Museum in my last year of grad school. This was a great lesson for me in the importance of networking and maintaining professional connections. I finally received my MA with a focus in Collections Management and Material Culture in May of 2012.
Right before I graduated, I accepted my current job as the Collection Manager of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History with the University of Oklahoma, in Norman, OK. The Sam Noble is a mid-to-large size museum and is, in fact, the only natural history museum in the state of Oklahoma. In this position, I am responsible for the care of the objects in the Ethnology Department including the Ethnology, Native American Fine Art, and Classical Archaeology collections. This includes data and records management, collection photography, documentation of outgoing and incoming loans, processing and preparation of new and existing collections, doing research on objects in the collection, helping with exhibits, and pretty much doing whatever else needs doing. This position has offered me some truly amazing opportunities to learn and grow as an emerging museum professional. Whether it’s traveling to VA to pack up a donation of objects, learning how to make proper storage supports for everything from a feather headdress to a 9 ft mural, attending and presenting at professional conferences, or teaching an intern class, I’ve learned that life is never dull working in collections!
Throughout my journey so far, I have learned a huge amount about museums, collections management, the importance of internships and networking, and a whole host of other items. But, the learning never stops, and I can’t wait to see what other fun and exciting experiences come along!
Next time on Cracking the Collections:
April 10 – Our very first Natural History Notes post by guest blogger Ben Miller!