Senior Internship Paper
by Erin Pounders
SENIOR INTERNSHIP PAPER
Marisol Maureen Shay
I. Why I Chose the Brooks Museum
My mother had wanted me to intern at the Mid-South Adoption Advocacy Center for my senior internship. I was adopted as an infant by my mom and dad1., the first of three adopted children, and my mom used to volunteer there. I think it is run by The Church, and while I have been raised to be a devout Catholic, I’m having a hard time lately with some of their (The Church’s) beliefs.2. Plus, I wanted to be in a place that was new and meet new people. I have been an artist since I was old enough to hold a crayon. It seemed like the obvious choice to try to work in an art gallery, art school, or museum. The galleries around town didn’t answer my emails and calls, and I later learned most of them are small operations and seldom open. Memphis isn’t exactly SoHo. The one art school in Memphis wasn’t in need of anyone until their summer camps for kids, and obviously this wouldn’t work for a September to April internship. So I went to the Brooks Museum, the museum in Overton Park over near the zoo, and spoke with the Public Relations and Volunteer Coordinator, Ana. What was super strange is that they were about to open a self-titled exhibit on an artist named “Marisol,” which was exciting because I know of very few people with my name, and this made me think that perhaps it was meant to be or “kismet” as Ms. Freedman3., my old art teacher, said when things work out. The Brooks was a bit of a drive from my house and Higbee School, and my mother did not understand why I didn’t just go work at the Dixon Museum, which is much closer. She is convinced that Midtown is a bad part of town (“filled with liberals and hippies”), but I told her about the Marisol Exhibit and how the artist’s Catholicism played a huge role in her artworks, and she didn’t complain after that.
1. My mother and father are in the process of getting a divorce and I live with my mother and two younger brothers. 2. I transferred here to Higbee for senior year because I was asked to leave my Catholic School at the end of junior year. I had been asked to enter artwork in a contest to represent our school. I entered a triglyph entitled “Hypocrisy” detailing double standards in Catholic Dogma. My mother cried for a week and wouldn’t talk to me. 3. Ms. Freedman was my elderly next door neighbor and a painter. She babysat my brothers and me a lot, but she also taught me to sketch and to paint with watercolors, oils, and acrylics. She died at the beginning of my junior year.
I like Ana. I knew immediately I wanted to work with her. Her background is in communications, and she used to run a small record label and booking agency for musicians. She said that she stopped doing all that because she had to have some sort of steady income (“There’s no money in music.”). She is artistic and wears her short blonde hair in a spiky, hip mess and a lot of black. Her cheerfulness drew me to her; you don’t meet someone like that every day. When I started my internship, I was new at school and didn’t really have any friends. I looked forward to talking to her. She does Zumba once a day and plays in a park soccer league for women over thirty-five. She says she has lost seventy-five pounds in the past year and a half. She is one of the sorts of people that really all you notice is her smile and her light, so I don’t really think she needs to change anything at all. She’s the one that interviewed me and gave me the internship with the title “Docent/Event Coordinator.”
Ana’s boss and, thus, mine, too, was Garnet Pigeon4.. I read her bio on the website before I interviewed, as was suggested to me by my advisor at Higbee, Ms. Hopper. She was head of development (getting money/funding from donors and organizations) as well as acquisitions (getting new exhibits and works for the museum). She has worked at the museum since the early 1970s. She went to college and graduate school in New York, like I want to. She was older and somewhat of a curmudgeon to me, at least at first (she introduced herself by saying, “So you want to make a living in the arts? We will have you changing your mind in no time.”).
Ana and Garnet were a sort of “good cop/bad cop” team that kept the museum running. I knew I had made the right choice on where to intern. I could learn a lot about art from both of them.
4. Mrs. Pigeon is the mother of Caroline Pigeon, my Latin teacher here at Higbee School. I was glad that I kept my mouth shut about how I detest Latin before I knew this.
II. What I Did at the Brooks Museum
The first thing that I had to learn about is the museum itself and the artwork inside. Nearly twenty-thousand school children tour the Brooks every year. Since I was in school until early afternoon and did my internship during the late afternoon and on some Saturdays, I missed giving tours to all but a few school groups. My job was to give tours to VIPs whenever needed, and usually these were folks with money to give or had given money in the past. So I learned the history of the museum: it was founded in 1913 when Bessie Vance Brooks gave $100,000 to the city to start an art gallery in memory of her late husband. In 1916, the large Beaux Arts building was opened and, since then, various additions have been added. It became independent from the city in 1989. I also had to learn how to give a tour, which meant memorizing both a script and the layout of the twenty-nine galleries that the museum houses. I had to give practice tours to Ana and Garnet. Garnet was not much help but heavy on the critique. Among other things, she said that I shouldn’t wear my school uniform when I gave tours for the sake of sophistication and aesthetics. I was told to wear all black: pants or skirt and blouse.5. Ana gave me pointers on making sure my voice carried over a crowd and told me many times that she was “sure I could do it.” I worked with index cards as I had done in Ms. Ramsey’s public speaking class that I was taking at the time and memorized the tour script as I wandered through the galleries which gave me context for each blurb. Soon it fit together, the words and the paintings, and I began to give tours. I did not give many tours, as I was soon given other duties by Garnet, thus leaving Ana and the other docents to give tours.6. Although when I wasn’t with Garnet , I wandered the galleries looking at art and watching the new exhibits go up.
In October, right after my birthday7., Garnet began taking me on donor calls with her. The calls were where I spent most of my time. She explained to me that only 12% of the museum’s funding comes from government sources and said that the rest was up to her to gather. Garnet’s car had leather seats and the windshield had a sensor for rain and the wipers came on automatically. She dressed extravagantly and wore extra jewelry when she went on calls to donors, and I found myself staring at the gigantic stones on her rings as her hands rested on her steering wheel , or looking at her earrings sparkle as she spoke with a donor8.. She noticed me staring one day in the car and explained that her job forced her to play up wealth. The rich donated money much more freely when another rich person was asking. She said, “Don’t get me wrong, I love clothes and jewels, but for this job you play it up; it’s like war paint. No one wants to play for a losing team.”
5. Later that same week, Garnet came in with a Goldsmith’s bag having bought me a “uniform” to give tours in, which was a relief because I didn’t have anything like that in my closet and I knew my mother was still working out the particulars of child support with my father who was already angry to be paying the tuition at Higbee. The uniform was much prettier than I had pictured: a black pencil skirt and a black button down blouse with a scarf that tied into a bow at the neck. My mother still dresses me (when I am not in a school uniform) as a child: floral church dresses with sashes at the waist. It was my first grown up outfit and my eyes filled with tears when I thanked Garnet, which seemed to shock her at first, but later she gave me a hug. 6. The other docents were grandma types from the neighborhood around Overton Park. They loved giving tours. 7. Garnet insisted we have a surprise party for my birthday in the break room. Ana looked confused about this and later told me that her boss never does anything for work birthdays so to consider myself honored. Ana got me a coffee table book (The Twentieth Century Art Book) and Garnet got me a pair of black heels to go with my uniform. I still don’t remember telling her when my birthday was. 8. Though Garnet was in her mid-sixties, she looked much younger. She had a beautiful face with prominent cheek bones and blonde hair without a touch of gray. She looked like a socialite, which she was I guess technically, but her mind was “like a steel trap” (something my dad used to say about smart people).
We were received into the living rooms of families whose last names I recognized because there were streets, buildings, libraries, stadiums, hospitals, gardens, and scholarships named after them. I never saw Garnet leave without sealing a deal, never, not once. Sometimes she wanted more money than she got, but usually that wasn’t the case. I mimicked her posture, crossed my legs the same way, gave handshakes, and spoke in complete sentences with perfect grammar. People often asked if I was her granddaughter, and that gave her the opening of explaining how important the museum’s special programs were to high school youth.9.
Garnet told me about the difference between “Old Money” and “New Money” in a modern context. I had learned the term Old Money from reading The Great Gatsby in American Literature, but didn’t know it was still “a thing.” She insisted it was very much still “a thing” and important to know about in any type of fundraising, especially for the arts. Garnet prefaced the talk with the obligatory phrase, “I’m not saying this to be ugly,” which meant that what she was about to say was, in fact, very ugly. I listened anyway, probably more so to the “ugly” stuff, for which I am ashamed.
9. Eventually she answered “I wish” before launching into her spiel about the museum’s youth programs. That flattered me.
She explained that one could ascertain the difference between Old Money and New Money from their houses (location and age) and furniture. Old Money people usually stayed within the city limits and didn’t move to the suburbs. They usually lived in older houses or historic houses instead of new builds. Their curtains were usually old and faded but always lined white which made them look uniform from the outside. New Money people lived in the suburbs in McMansions.10. Their furniture was usually new and they often bought “sets” of furniture at furniture stores rather than collecting it “stick by stick.” New Money people had shutters that were not able to actually close; they were just nailed to the sides of the windows. Old Money people always gave just enough to help them with their taxes or left money through their estate when they died. New Money people were much more fun to deal with, according to Garnet, because they wanted to belong to the club and were desperate to please. She acted a bit differently with the New Money people in their living rooms that smelled of new sheet rock and new paint and had, as Garnet had predicted, “matchy-matchy” furniture. Garnet was slightly—five to ten degrees—more aloof with the New Money people. She said that this made them want to please her. She was always polite, not cold exactly, but very formal. She said that it was just psychology, perhaps devious in a way, but necessary for her job, which was basically, as she put it, “begging rich people for money.” She also added that Old Money and New Money spend exactly the same; the thing of the most import is to get as much of it, old or new, as possible.
10. I introduced the term “McMansion” to Garnet. This delighted her.
The Old Money people Garnet already knew, and most of them seemed to be her friends or acquaintances. Some of the younger Old Money people had gone to school with her daughter, Caroline, or her son, Trey. These calls were usually casual visits where they caught up with one another’s lives, and business was limited to a brief few sentences as we left. She said those visits were usually just a formality.
For all the visits, both to Old and New Money people, her countenance and aspect changed like an actress walking out of the wings and onto the stage. She was no longer grouchy or pessimistic. As she reapplied her lipstick in the visor mirror of her Mercedes Benz before getting out and ringing a door bell, she transformed into another person. When I asked her about this, she told me not to be naive, we all wear masks most of our lives, and added that fundraising was a little like Kabuki Theatre.
Some days when I watched her drive to yet another large house to sit in a living room, she looked tired, sad even. When I asked her if she was okay once, she said that she was, but she was looking forward to retirement. I asked her when she was supposed to retire and she said, “Four years ago.” She explained that her husband had died years ago after a long illness and afterwards she had thrown herself into her work. She said she showed up each day at the barn for work just like mules do when put out to pasture.11.
Garnet’s biography said that she was a painter. When I asked if she still painted she said that sometimes one’s passion and one’s talent are not one and the same. In short, she told me she was better at getting money and art than she was at painting.
11. Garnet asked frequently about my life. I told her about my father leaving after my mother pushed to adopt again in the middle of junior year. I heard him say to her once that she is a hoarder of children and that she didn’t take care of the ones she already had (though he hasn’t made any effort to take care of us either). My mother has never worked, though my father doesn’t make a lot of money, and I’ve been responsible for most of the mothering of my brothers. My mother hasn’t left the house in several years. I did some research online and found there is a disorder that meets her symptoms: agoraphobia. Garnet asked if I would ever look up and try to meet my birth parents. I told her I haven’t had a chance to consider it in quite some time.
III. What I Learned During My Internship
I learned a multitude of things to carry forth into my professional and personal life from my internship at the Brooks. First and foremost, I learned how hard it is to juggle a professional career with other responsibilities. The schedule for donor calls was busy, and the meetings were unpredictable as to the amount of time they would take.12. I have a newfound respect for mothers who work13. and teenagers who work jobs alongside their studies, as it was hard to keep so many balls in the air.
Secondly, I learned so much about art while wandering the galleries and memorizing my script for tours. The subject of most interest to me was Maria Sol Escobar, who goes14. simply by “Marisol.” She was born in Paris and her parents were Venezuelan. Her mother was a patron of the arts before she died15. when Marisol was a teen. Her dad supported and encouraged her to be an artist. At sixteen, her family moved to Los Angeles and then traveled throughout Europe before coming back to the United States and studying in New York City at various schools and with Hans Hofmann. She was a friend to both Andy Warhol and to Willem de Kooning and a member of the Pop Art Movement. After moving from painting to sculpture, her work began to take on a sense of humor and gave commentary about pop culture. For instance, she sculpted Playboy creator, Hugh Hefner, holding not one but two pipes. When asked why, she stated that he had too much of everything.
12. I was responsible for picking my brothers, Thomas and Gus, up from elementary school aftercare in the evenings and most days I had to race to get there in time. They charge $10/per minute for each minute you are late. 13. Unlike my mother, who is addicted to true crime shows like “Dateline Mystery” or “48 Hours Mystery” and rarely leaves the worn brown recliner my dad left with us. Little Gus asked me the other day what DNA evidence was. Crime shows are the soundtrack for our home life. I love my mom, but I get angry at her sometimes. 14. Marisol is still alive, but in frail health. She lives in New York City. 15. Suicide
Biographers say that her teen years were very formative because of her mother’s death, and that she was heavily influenced by her Catholicism16. as well. It is also when she began to paint. She also performed acts of penance as a teen. Marisol walked upon her knees until they bled, went for long periods of time without speaking, and tied ropes tightly around her waist.17.
Another thing I learned while interning is how important connections can be. At school Ms. Hopper always pounds that into our heads, but it is actually true. I filled out college applications for schools in New York, the schools I had always wanted to go to, my top pick being Parsons School of Design. I would have to find scholarships. I knew that. Garnet saw the application materials in my bag and she helped me by writing recommendations, which held weight because of who she is and also because she was an alumna of Parsons. She also made some phone calls on my behalf and had one of the museum staff members photograph my portfolio to send off with my applications.18.
I walked Garnet’s dog, Gordo19., in January when Garnet went on vacation. It was prior to school and my internship resuming after Christmas and so it worked out quite nicely. Her house was near the golf course of the Memphis Country Club. It was a large stucco Mediterranean villa with a red tile roof, and the inside was filled with art. In Garnet’s reading room, I peeked at some of her own paintings. I had expected her style to be more abstract, but they were all works of Realism with a touch of the surreal: paintings of her children when they were young, mainly her daughter, in grassy fields or forests with deer and foxes. In one painting, probably my favorite, her daughter is about college age, standing in front of a shotgun house with a family of parrots in a tree and and with a barn owl perched on her daughter’s shoulder. All of her paintings were signed and dated; it seems she stopped painting in the late 1990s. The aforementioned painting of her daughter was the last one she did that I saw while I was in her house.
16. I wasn’t lying when I told my mother that. 17. Soon after my father left, I came home from school one day to find that my mother had taken the hair clippers I use to trim Thomas’s and Gus’s hair and shaved her head. The hair was in a pile on the kitchen floor. She fasted for several days and prayed in her room. 18. This was after a thorough critique by Garnet and my changes made to said portfolio. She told me my work is very good and that most private school girls don’t have an eye like I do and end up painting shoddy [sic] folk art of cotton bolls and cotton fields. She also paid my application fees. I objected, saying that I could not accept that (even though I didn’t have the money). She said that I was to walk her dog, Gordo, for her when she went on vacation to earn the money. 19. Garnet said she had wanted to name him Matisse but the people at the animal shelter had named him Gordo and that is all to which he would answer.
I got the acceptance letter from Parsons granting me admission and a scholarship just a few weeks ago as my internship was ending. Garnet had a party for me at the Brooks20.. The party was in the restaurant they have there in the museum called Brushstrokes. One of the bus boys played the piano. Champagne popped. I wore my museum uniform and heels and pictures were taken. Garnet cried, and that made Ana cry. I was already crying. Garnet gave me a leather sketch book and some pencils, and told me to come back to the museum to sketch.
My internship ended right before spring break, and, although I miss it badly, I once again have more time to spend with my family and work on my own art in preparation for my move to New York City. This internship changed my life for the better, and I also learned how one can work in the Arts in capacities other than being an artist. Over spring break I took Thomas and Gus to Overton Park every day and worked on sketches as they played on the playground21.. It was good to get them out of the house and let them run and play in the sunny weather. I sent Garnet a sketch that I did that week. The sketch was of the exterior of the museum with Garnet in the foreground, clad in her jewelry, an owl perched upon her shoulder.
20. She asked me to invite my parents and friends. Of course, my mother wasn’t able to leave the house, and my father wasn’t reachable. I took Gus and Thomas and fed them plenty of cake and Shirley Temples. When we got home that night, I found my mother crying on the couch, and I sent the boys upstairs to get ready for bed. Mom said she was crying because she couldn’t come to the party and that she couldn’t be better. I know she cannot help it. So many Sundays, she wakes and gets ready for Mass and freezes at the door, never able to walk out. I tell her, tenderly yet with firmness, that she has to find a way to get better because I will be gone soon and the boys need her. 21. On Friday of that week, when we returned home from the park, we found our mother pruning rose bushes in our yard. On Sunday she went to Mass.
Erin Pounders is an Upper School English teacher at a private, all-girls school in Memphis,Tennessee. As an undergraduate, she studied English Literature at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and continued her education by earning a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at The University of Memphis. An alumna of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Kenyon Writers’ Workshop, she spends her spare time working on her novel manuscript and writing short stories. Her short fiction and creative nonfiction has been published in The Vinyl District, Shark Reef, Deep South Magazine and The RS 500. This piece is an excerpt from a novel.