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Skidmore College

Gaining confidence and geeking out at the Tang Museum

April 28, 2020
by Jess Lincoln '20

My first day at Skidmore started with frantically reapplying mascara, hoping the smudges under my eyes didn’t give away how much I missed home. 

Ready or not, I was bracing myself to leave my newly set-up dorm room for the first time. I was off to Pre-Orientation, the optional (though highly recommended) introduction before school starts that gives first-year students a chance to connect with like-minded friends.

I had signed up for a program called “Behind the scenes at the Tang Teaching Museum.” And while that day and the weekend that followed were a blur, one thing still stands out — how utterly impressed I was to be welcomed to Skidmore’s art community by three confident and well-spoken juniors and seniors. 

These wise Skidmore experts made college life look so easy. They made exploring a museum where I was afraid to even touch things seem entirely natural. They made me feel welcomed and comfortable. They made me realize I was exactly where I belonged.

And little did I know that four years later, I’d be just like them.

Creating my difference at Skidmore

Art has always been central to the way I see and exist in the world. And in my time at Skidmore as an art history major, I’ve learned to think critically, decode culture and appreciate just how central visual material is to the human experience.

But by the time senior year arrived, I was yearning for more. I wanted hands-on experience. I wanted career lessons. I wanted to learn and teach through art.

Luckily, Skidmore has a culture of “if you believe in yourself, and you ask for help, you can make it happen.” So, I went to my advisor, Associate Professor Katie Hauser, who connected me with the Tang Museum, and soon I was crafting a custom for-credit experience as a Collections and Engagement intern.  

Life as a museum professional

As an intern at the Tang, I have a front-row view of the inner workings of museum life, from curation and registration to exhibitions and more.

I spend a lot of time working with the museum’s registrars. We’re in charge of caring for the more than 16,000 objects in the Tang’s collection. Each day is like a thrilling investigation as art detectives.

With a magnifying glass in hand, we study, examine, track and record the conditions of valuable paintings, drawings and sculptures. Every time I get to handle a delicate piece — which I also learned how to properly do — my heart beats a little faster with wonder and awe. 

Jess Lincoln ’20 with the subject of her Nov. 12 Spotlight Series talk, Fred Stonehouse’s Your Question, 2015.

Fred Stonehouse's "Your Question" is one of the pieces I got to work with.

I’m also learning how to organize and care for an art collection, including finding the right materials and creative solutions for storing artwork.

I totally geeked out when I learned the difference between archival open- and closed-cell storage foam. (In case you’re curious, closed-cell foam prevents gasses from potentially leaking, which could mess with certain materials the art is composed of. It’s awesome.)  

Life as an art educator

While I’m gaining priceless technical skills behind the scenes, I’m also pushing my comfort level and growing my confidence in the art field.

One of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had is leading our “Spotlight Series,” guided discussions around a single object from the Tang collection that has never been exhibited or is rarely seen.

Spotlight Series with Jess Lincoln at the Tang Museum

One of my Spotlight Series discussions was about Professor Paul Sattler’s "ILL".

The idea for the series came from an alumna, Monica Andrews ’19, who saw an opportunity to bridge the private and public spheres of the museum, engage both students and visitors and remove a little bit of the mystery surrounding complex artwork.

Once a month, I choose and research an object and facilitate a one-hour discussion about it with Skidmore faculty, staff, students and Saratoga community members.

I recently led a discussion surrounding two pieces of jewelry made from human hair. Together we observed the structure of the pieces and ended up connecting them to a larger idea of remembrance rituals, both antiquated and contemporary.

There is something so magical about spending an entire hour just talking about one piece. It’s intimate and unusual.

And when you consider that on average a person spends only six seconds looking at an object in a museum, it’s an honor to be the person opening the door for others to engage in deeper connections and discoveries.

Janet Sorensen attends a Spotlight Series discussion at the Tang Teaching Museum

The Spotlight Series often leads to guests spending a lot of time digesting the works we discuss together, which is pretty unique.

Preparing for life after Skidmore

I won’t pretend to know precisely where I’ll be in a few months when I graduate, but I’m absolutely confident that this experience and the people who’ve guided and coached me along the way are one of a kind.

Skidmore and the Tang have shown me how to turn my passions into a career path. And when I think back to when I arrived at Skidmore, and the first time I stepped foot in the Tang, I’m filled with pride. I have infinitely grown in ways I never imagined, and it wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else.

About the Author

Jess Lincoln

Jess Lincoln is an art history major from Dallas, Texas. If she's not wandering the halls of the Art Department, you can probably find her at the Tang Teaching Museum working as a Collections and Engagement Intern or Digital Media Assistant.