Studio art major’s printmaking expertise comes in handy during grant-funded Mercantile Library internship

by | Aug 21, 2016

Senior Brittany Taylor works primarily in film, but she’s also ventured into oil paints, watercolors, lithography – and now the art of curation.
Brittany Taylor at the Mercantile

As part of her summer internship at UMSL’s St. Louis Mercantile Library, graduating senior Brittany Taylor assesses the condition of a mid-20th-century etching plate and matching print. Depicting the Bell Telephone Building in St. Louis, the etching is one of many Gustav Goetsch works that Taylor has helped make accessible through the UMSL Digital Library. (Photos by August Jennewein)

When it comes to art, Brittany Taylor’s first love is analog photography. In fact, it was a photograph she took with a toy camera that landed her in her first juried exhibition years ago.

“It was an upwards view of a tree with a hand reaching up – sort of a surreal image,” recalls Taylor, now a graduating senior at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “There were around 500 Holga image entries, and they picked 30, so I was so excited.”

The studio art major still works primarily in film, but she’s also ventured into oil paints, watercolors, lithography – and now the art of curation. She just wrapped up a paid, eight-week-long internship at UMSL’s St. Louis Mercantile Library, gleaning professional experience under the guidance of Julie Dunn-Morton, the library’s curator of fine art collections.

“I worked closely with a director at the Saint Louis Art Museum last year, and I get to work with a curator here,” Taylor says. “Just learning from these women who are so educated and so experienced has been really empowering.”

Brittany Taylor portrait

Twenty-three juried shows and exhibitions have already featured works by studio art major Brittany Taylor, who expects to pursue a master’s degree in either museum studies or studio art after graduating from UMSL later this fall.

The Mercantile staff received many applications from students interested in the opportunity, made possible through a grant from the International Fine Print Dealers Association Foundation. Taylor’s previous experience as a printmaker set her apart – and ended up proving very beneficial to her work with the library’s collection of American fine art prints.

“Her knowledge of print processes helped her identify interesting aspects of several prints that will inform our interpretive materials for the collection,” says Dunn-Morton. “She also had familiarity with printing plates that allowed her to do more work than I had anticipated when it came to the large collection of copper etching plates we received as a recent donation.”

For Taylor, the experience of being up close with decades-old works of art has been illuminating, both as she considers potential career paths and thinks about her own artistic creations.

“It’s been a really awesome opportunity for me to approach art in a new way,” she says. “I mean, you get taught about the archival longevity of your art, but looking at these prints that are now very old really makes you look at your own art in a different way.”

One of the main sets of materials that Taylor was tasked with processing and digitizing this summer is the Gustav F. Goetsch and Hazel W. Goetsch Collection. Composed of etchings, drawings, watercolors and etching plates – many of them depicting mid-20th-century scenes in the St. Louis region – the collection offered Taylor invaluable practice assessing objects’ condition, digitizing prints, creating metadata and more.

Etching examination at the Mercantile

Along with processing and digitizing many of the Mercantile’s fine art prints, the paid eight-week internship has also involved research and planning toward an upcoming St. Louis Mercantile Library exhibition.

“I had to analyze them carefully,” Taylor explains. “I measure them, look for conservation issues and see if there’s any damage. I’m checking for possible mold or foxing or tears in the paper.”

Another step involved putting all of the objects within reach of anyone with an internet connection – and in a highly systematic, richly described way. In doing so, Taylor helped grow the ever-expanding UMSL Digital Library.

“I’d never really created computer code before, and it’s kind of a merging of technology and art,” she says, adding that she also completed research on possible themes, learning outcomes and activities for an upcoming Mercantile exhibition that will highlight 19th- and 20th-century prints.

With her own artwork now having been featured in a total of 23 juried shows and exhibitions, Taylor stands at a bit of a crossroads as she considers her next steps.

“I definitely want to pursue my master’s degree, but I’m kind of torn between museum studies and studio art,” she says. “With my internships, I’ve kind of found a passion in being behind the scenes rather than just creating, even though I love creating, too.”

Already invested in the St. Louis art scene through Divinemoira Studios, an art organization that promotes the arts in uniting and healing the community, Taylor expects to deepen that engagement after finishing her bachelor’s degree at UMSL this December.

“I really look forward to completing school and being able to devote more time to things like that in the community,” she says. “I’ve worked really hard, and sometimes people ask me why I push myself so hard. I just find it really important, and my professors here at UMSL have also taught me the importance of really getting involved before you graduate. Faculty members like Dan Younger and Phil Robinson are both huge inspirations to me.”

The UMSL Experience

Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill