Kirsty Donald was the 2012-13 recipient of the Friends of York Art Gallery Research scholarship. She found that her experience at York Art Gallery built her confidence and provided a valuable insight in to the workings of a gallery. As she explained to Maria-Anna Aristova in 2013, her placement has been invaluable, providing a range of experiences which she feels have enhanced her job prospects.
What are you currently working on?
"Since October I have been working on a research project about the Dean Eric Milner-White collection of paintings at York City Art Gallery. Milner-White was made Dean of York in 1941 and was extremely generous in gifting 37 paintings to the gallery between 1946–1963. He was an exceptionally perceptive collector and the paintings he purchased reveal his astute eye and knowledge of art, especially late nineteenth and early twentieth-century British art. My research has focused on his buying style, his interest in art, where he was purchasing paintings from and the role he played (with the assistance of curator Hans Hess) in changing a collection of little distinction into a collection of international repute."
What experiences would you say have been most useful or unexpected?
"I have been very fortunate to assist in researching pieces for loan to the Hepworth Art Gallery in Wakefield, which is displaying thirteen pieces from Milner-White’s collection in their current exhibition. I helped by writing information for the labels for the paintings, as well as the information panel for the display. I also assisted in condition checking each painting before it was hung. Each of these experiences has given me a greater insight into how an exhibition is executed."
Who do you work with and how does the institution make use of you?
"I have predominantly been working with Laura Turner, the curator of York Art Gallery. Laura has been extremely supportive throughout my internship and we have regular meetings to discuss my research. My main role has been as a researcher, but I have also given three talks to the Friends of York Art Gallery, and written two articles for their magazine. I have been extremely lucky to collaborate with Sam Lackey (curator at the Hepworth) too, and gave a presentation to the Visitor Services Team to give them more of an insight into the Milner-White exhibition. My work for the partnership will provide the gallery with necessary information as this collection of paintings has not yet been the focus of academic research."
What do you value most about your experience with the institution?
"It has been fantastic to develop my research skills in a wider context, as well as acquiring curatorial experience. On a more personal level, the internship has given me so much confidence, including the ability to speak in front of large audiences, which I was very apprehensive about doing at the beginning of my placement."
How has your work with York Art Gallery enhanced your studies at York?
"It has enhanced my studies greatly as my research has now become the basis for my dissertation. I have been very lucky as the information I need for my primary research is predominantly located at York Art Gallery."
Do you feel it has been helpful with career planning or improved your job prospects, and if yes, how?
"This experience has most definitely enhanced my job prospects as I have developed curatorial skills, independent research skills, presented ideas to an audience, analysed visual imagery, and I have improved my formal writing."
Would you recommend it to future students?
"I would recommend the experience as it has provided me with so many opportunities to further my understanding of the workings of an art gallery and has allowed me to use my research to work in partnership with the Hepworth. Most of all it has formed the basis of my dissertation, which has been incredibly beneficial."
What happened next?
"Since completing my masters course and partnership studentship, I have completed a curatorial and research internship at Ben Uri, The Museum of Jewish Art. I provided administrative support by completing loan letters and forms for institutional loans, and also corresponded with private collectors. I assisted in researching for the upcoming exhibition, ‘Re-figuring the Fifties’, which will focus on five figurative artists working in 1950s Britain. I created timelines for the exhibition which demonstrate the impact of these artists upon the visual arts in London, and the specific locations in which these artists felt a strong connection. This involved researching at the British Library, V&A and at the archives held at Central St Martins. Whilst working closely with curator Sarah MacDougall, I assisted with her research on the artist Eva Frankfurther. This in particular has been an invaluable experience as it involved handling works, documenting works which were previously unrecorded and cataloging the paintings created by Eva Frankfurther. My research is also being used for the development of an online database, which will make Eva Frankfurther’s collection more accessible to a wider audience, which is crucial for improving the scholarship upon her work. The studentship partnership helped immensely in terms of the work I am completing now, as I was also working with primary sources which had not been the focus of academic research. The knowledge of how to document and catalogue this material efficiently has meant that I was able to contribute to the development of this collection."