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A story-driven approach: Emilie Bryant ’22 connects communities through museum work

Emilie Bryant '21

Emilie Bryant ’21 is a museum and heritage studies major—and a regular fixture at the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College. 

Emilie Bryant ’22 works in Randolph’s Ancient Collections Room.

Emilie Bryant ’22 recently had a front row seat to what she called an exciting new frontier for many museums.

“Museums are changing in a fascinating way,” she said, noting how many have previously relied on labels alone to inform visitors. “Online or digital features have become a necessary component for exhibits, especially since the onset of COVID-19. Museums needed to make their exhibits and objects available online due to closures, and they needed to do it quickly.”

Bryant, a museum and heritage studies major, saw that firsthand when she interned virtually with the New Mexico History Museum. The experience, which will most likely be offered in person moving forward, is a new opportunity for Randolph students, sponsored by Lauren Eaton Prescott ’69.

The museum already offered online components prior to the pandemic, including an interactive 3D walkthrough of the entire museum.

“They believe that options are essential and that in-depth information about an object should always be available for visitors if they want it,” Bryant said. “That’s exciting for a student like me because I love to research, and I love making a labyrinth of connections within multiple disciplines.”

During her internship, Bryant was tasked with researching the Santa Fe Indian Market, which celebrates its 100th year in 2022. She also curated an online, interactive timeline that will be included in a larger exhibition that opens in July 2022.

“Emilie was an absolute joy to work with,” said Cathy Notarnicola, the museum’s curator of southwest history. “She is an extremely bright, talented, and self-motivated intern and was able to hit the ground running. She was instrumental in moving the project forward and has a very promising future in the field of academics and in the museum profession.”

Bryant is also gaining valuable experience at Randolph, where she’s a regular fixture at The Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College.

In addition to volunteering, she organized the public art project, Yarning for Unity, last year.

More recently, she created interpretive materials for the Maier exhibition Beyond the Sound: In Memory of Sandra Whitehead. Currently on display in the front lobby, it features work on loan from the collection of the Honorable Paul Whitehead, Jr.

Whitehead supports an annual Maier lecture series in memory of his late wife, Sandra Whitehead, who was one of the first docents at the Maier.

The work tapped into Bryant’s passion for storytelling. She consulted an extensive collection of art books donated by the Whiteheads to the College, sought outside sources when necessary, and also interviewed Whitehead by phone, talking about both the art and his late wife.

“It was clear how much the exhibit would mean to him to have it in her name,” said Bryant, who also designed a website for the exhibition. “I had to make sure that the focus was not just on the art but also the history of the artwork and, most importantly, the history of its owners. Approaching my research with story-driven and person-centered perspectives has always been my desire.”

Bryant has also spent time working in the College’s Ancient Collections Room. She photographed and catalogued the collection’s ancient metals over the summer before moving on to Roman coins, frescoes, and marbles this fall.

Even though she stays busy, Bryant realizes the breadth of her experience is a testament to the opportunities Randolph offers to students.

“Randolph College provides students internships in a wide range of museum fields and museum-related skills,” she said. “Hands-on experience is essential. Sometimes there are lessons you need to learn through trial and error. Mistakes are powerful memory makers. Internships provide students with valuable mentors who are there to teach them while also allowing them to make those mistakes and learn from them.”

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