Bailey McKeon ’22
Day Whaley ’20, an American Studies major at Trinity, has been wrapped up in the unseen history of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art this semester. Interning in the museum’s archives, Whaley has been looking through different exhibition catalogs, which are full of various pieces of artwork that belong to particular collections, evaluating this artwork, and ultimately deciding where to store these historically significant pieces within the museum’s archives. In coming across an art piece, Whaley will investigate what the piece is, who left it, and what time period it’s from. Whaley’s background in decluttering has proved helpful in sorting through the archives.
Prior to her internship at the Wadsworth Museum, Whaley has worked as a professional organizer, helping her clients in New York City to locate and showcase their artwork and turning spaces like a storage closet into a full-blown office. Her knack for organization appealed to the Wadsworth, who brought Whaley on board into their intense task of sorting through the archives.
Although she has always been interested in working at a museum one day, Whaley’s time abroad in Rome evoked her passion for ancient art that, when combined with her interest in American Studies, led her right into the archives of the Wadsworth. Whaley spent her junior fall abroad in Rome, where she learned about the sciences behind preserving art by studying pieces of ancient artwork.
While Whaley’s trip abroad certainly sparked her interest in historically significant art, leading her to the Wadsworth, her experience interning at the museum has only strengthened that passion.
“Being able to be in that atmosphere where it’s just people who genuinely love art [and] genuinely love the archives has strengthened my interest [in] and my relationship with art.”
Through her work sorting these significant pieces of artwork, Whaley has also become appreciative of the power the archives have in preserving these marvelous works for the sake of history. “These artists make really powerful and influential pieces, but if you’re unable to find it, because it was never cataloged and never placed in the archives, then history is lost” Whaley explained.
Currently, Whaley has been working on a display case for the Afrocosmologies exhibit. Searching through works in the Wadsworth’s library and archives to collect pieces for the display, Whaley found a photography book called “Hair Stories” that spoke to the African-American experience. Showcasing various different textures of hair, the book communicates “how African American hair has evolved over time” and celebrates “embracing natural hair,” Whaley said. This powerful piece Whaley found within the depths of the Wadsworth’s archives demonstrates how the artwork stored in the archives do not only have a monumental role in preserving history, but also in impacting and speaking to generations today, Whaley believes.
Whaley is excited to see what she can accomplish working at the Wadsworth for the next few months. Although her time at the Wadsworth appears short compared to the enormous project her colleagues have undertook in sorting through the archives entirely, Whaley is leaving her mark on history. “Without archival work,” Whaley said, “all of the things that we consider to be history would be completely lost.” Although the process of sorting through the archives and cataloging the artwork is “time-consuming, it definitely feels worthwhile” in making a difference for the future, added Whaley.
Whaley’s time at the Wadsworth feels so incredibly rewarding, not only because archival work is incredibly significant to history and art, but additionally because her archival work has been significant to her. “In doing something that I truly feel passionate about,” Whaley stated, “each day feels so filling. That’s the beauty of finding an internship that really [speaks to] you.”
For students interested in finding an internship or other opportunity in Hartford, Whaley advises to “apply where you feel called,” and, like Whaley’s meaningful experience interning in the archives of the Wadsworth Museum, you might just find “an opportunity to truly discover where your destiny is.”