Ferguson, Tobin and Indiana: My McNay Intern Experience

I am an archives management graduate student at Simmons College. One of the course requirements is an internship at a local archives. I did not have any particular requests regarding the internship except that I wanted to intern at a museum. Well, I got my wish and was assigned to Heather Ferguson, Archivist at the McNay Art Museum. I was so excited that I received my first choice, but little did I know how that excitement would grow. 

Tracey Stevens
Archives Intern
            Heather Furgeson

Heather was so welcoming when we met, taking me on a brief tour and introducing me to Craig Bunch and Ann Jones, the McNay library staff. On my first official day of work, I learned that she chose a wonderful collection for me to process, the Robert L. B. Tobin Papers: Robert Indiana Collection. Yes, I was privileged to process a collection of letters and photographs exchanged between one of the McNay’s largest donors, one of the most prominent pop artists of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. And, I get to do all of this in the beautiful setting that is the McNay.

Susan B. Anthony sugar packet

 I can’t remember when I have had such fun learning! We read letters and pondered ‘what ifs.’ We deciphered really bad handwriting and Heather taught me about catalogues raisonnés. We took pictures, searched the library, and Heather even meticulously emptied really old sugar packets found in the collection! There were three of them to be exact, folded up neatly in a blank piece of paper. There was no note in the envelope, just three small pictures of Susan B. Anthony that served as a quiet reminder of one of the many collaborations between these two men; this one being costume designs by Indiana for the opera The Mother of Us All.

Heather climbed tall ladders, trekked long distances to retrieve documents, and, on repeated occasion (and by repeated I mean all day, every day), stopped her work to answer my seemingly endless barrage of questions. Her enthusiasm at the opportunity to help me learn overflowed. And when I insisted on reading every last word of every letter trying to figure out who all the ‘players’ were, she donned her metaphorical deerstalker and did her best Sherlock Holmes impression to help me piece the clues together. And how satisfying it was, evidenced by our quiet shouts of glee in the library, to find some nugget of information that tied a draft or design sketch found in the collection to an already published work!

Indiana’s design sketch for The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson The Metamorphosis of Norma Jean Mortenson by Robert Indiana, 1967
© Morgan Art Foundation Ltd./ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Many days we got so wrapped up in the work that lunch never entered our minds. But on the occasion that we needed a break, I was free to roam the museum, viewing magnificent works of art in all of its forms, or I could wander its splendid courtyard and grounds.

I was sad to go when the internship was over because I had enjoyed the journey and learned so much. After processing and writing the finding aid for the Robert L. B. Tobin Papers: Robert Indiana Collection, I have a much better understanding of the processes that make up the work of archivists. Thanks to this internship experience I am a better student, and someday soon will be a better archivist, myself, for having worked with Heather in this wonderful museum.

Click here to read the finding aid for the Robert Tobin Papers: Robert Indiana Collection

Please note that the McNay Art Museum will be closed today in recognition of Juneteenth.

We honor this important day in American history and look forward to welcoming you back tomorrow.