Matthew Ridley ’19 Jumps from Graduation to the Archives

The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s West Entrance.

Not even having a full two weeks to process my status as a college graduate, I began my 9-week summer internship at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Museum Studies Internship Program.

The polychrome temple with its intricate pediments was all too familiar as I recalled the days I spent observing the museum’s galleries and making memes about them (thank you Chesick program). Now, the only difference is that I ignore the crowds of visitors on the Rocky steps at the main entrance to access the West Entrance.

The Perelman Building.

However, I only spend 60% of my week at the Main Building of the museum; I spend the other 40% in the Perelman Building, located across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway from the museum itself. This building, constructed in 1928 for a life insurance company became one of the museum’s several annexes in 1999 (which now include the main building, the Rodin Museum, and the historical colonial-era Cedar Grove and Mount Pleasant houses in Fairmount Park).

The first week was an orientation; the 28 interns got to know each other and their departments through a combination of icebreakers, tours, and presentations. The programs that gave insight into the museum’s history, its present exhibitions, and its future plans only energized the interns’ resolve to get the most of their experiences. Afterward, there are weekly tours and presentations on Monday and Thursday afternoons, complementing and enriching the work that the interns are tasked with during the rest of the week.

A tour of the conservation labs in the Perelman Building. In this photo, we are examining how particular strokes and additions to a painting can reveal stories about its creation.

Specifically, I divide my time between the Library and Archives Department and the Conservation Department. Although I am an intern for Library and Archives, my summer project focuses on the latter; the current Conservation Department’s library has little to no room for growth due to an overflowing collection of books. It needs a better method of tracking their materials, while also having their labels and sub-locations formalized and reflected in the museum catalog.

Anything can be art if you try hard enough…

As such, I am helping my supervisor run an inventory of the books in the Conservation Department, update their locations in the catalog under clearer subject categories, and eventually generate new spine labels for these materials while boxing and shipping the leftover, uncatalogued books to the museum’s off-site location.

In my spare time, I take inventory of other collections in the Library and Archives Department, file away some older exhibition catalogues by name, and shift columns of books between shelves in the department’s holding basement.

For my work, I can definitely see where my previous internships have come into play; my work at DataArts last year through the Hurford Center’s Philly Partners program, and my internship working at Magill Library’s (or is it Lutnick now?) Quaker and Special Collections have given me stone cold nerves for data observation. When I glanced at the spreadsheet document that contained entries of over 2,000 objects in Conservation that I would look over, I barely flinched!

Data for decades…

In sum, I am definitely looking forward to seeing  more behind-the-scenes mechanisms of a large-scale museum, as well as more on the upcoming presentations and tours that will be delivered throughout the next couple of weeks!


Written by Matthew Ridley ’19, history major, Latin American, Iberian, and Latina/o studies concentrator

Edited by Emily Dombrovskaya ’19