No Struggle, No Progress
Delchristoff McGhee is a DC native, a rising junior at Washington Leadership Academy and the 2019 Robert P. Kogod Art Intern at the Smithsonian. He is also an alumnus of Higher Achievement, a program that provides scholars with supplemental academic support to ensure an equal footing for those coming from communities with fewer resources.
After receiving an email from Margaret Service, Manager of Scholar Events at Higher Achievement, encouraging all alumni to apply and meeting with Kevin Doyle, Program Support Fellow, who visited Washington Leadership Academy, Delchristoff applied to the Smithsonian’s Kogod Arts Internship. He hoped to see different types of art as well as learn new things related to art, history, and culture. “I want to go to college to study art and then own an art store someday.” He would like his art store to be so interesting that customers who visit will be surprised by what they see when they enter his store.
Delchristoff embraces the words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Delchristoff explains, “In my life, I try very hard. Subjects in school, especially math, can be very frustrating for me.” Many times Delchristoff wanted to give up on school but his mother and his teachers encouraged him and he says his deep faith kept him rooted and grounded. “At first, I wasn’t focused and didn’t take my education seriously.” In high school he realized working harder earned better grades and he started applying himself more. He also made an effort to ask questions when he doesn’t understand something. His teachers have seen this effort and improvement. They report he works hard and is proactive about seeking help when he needs it. They add, “He is always eager and excited to learn.”
Delchristoff loves drawing – especially superheroes. Spiderman and the Hulk are his favorite heroes which explains his excitement when he discovered Excelsior! Super Superheroes on the Smithsonian website and read about Stan Lee. “When I get older, I hope to be a great drawer just like Stan Lee.”
When Keith Conway, Exhibits Specialist and Mount Maker at the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA), read Delchristoff’s application he knew he could provide the perfect hands-on internship experience. Keith is a proud graduate of Xavier Univ. and the University of the District of Columbia. He focused on sculpture as he earned a BA in studio art. He started at the Smithsonian in 1988 creating armature, mounts & prosthetic supports for museum artifacts. His job is to find ways to safely mount, store and move museum artifacts. If he isn’t figuring out how to support heavy and unstable objects, he’s inventing ways to display very small and fragile ones without the mounting mechanisms overshadowing the objects.
Keith’s internship project teaches students all about exhibition work including mount finishing, creating supply lists of finished mount work & storage locations, and using the Registration Digital Database (TMS). By the end of these hands-on experiences, Keith expects each intern to have a good overview of artifact mounting and understand various mount materials and fabrication techniques.
Keith’s interns do a lot of work with models and replicas of museum objects in order to create custom mounts and stands. They often work with conservationists in order to figure out the best materials to use to display priceless objects.
Delchristoff spent part of his internship identifying and finishing mounts for an exhibit that will travel to the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, France. The mounts will be shipped with the museum objects so that they can be installed in the Paris museum. To make the mounting mechanism as unobtrusive as possible, Delchristoff learned to paint the custom made mounts to match the object. He has also learned to finish them with acrylic paints and add conservation materials to the parts of the mount that touch the object in order to protect the museum piece.
Delchristoff has also learned to make floating mounts – so called because they are hidden from view and make the objects they display appear to float in the air.
One of the projects Delchristoff completed during his internship was creating a scale model of an actual art piece by African artist, El Anatsui. Using paper and paint, Delcristoff helped create an exact replica of the 24 wooden pieces that make up the museum object. His replica will be used by NMAfA curators to test various museum display options. Curators don’t want to handle original works any more than is necessary to preserve and protect them. By the time they are done using Delchristoff’s replica, the curators will know the best way to display the original piece.
In order to keep track of all the projects for his internship, Delchristoff made detailed lists describing all of the precise steps of the different mount making processes. The result is a helpful book on how to make and finish museum quality mounts as well as catalogue them.
Keith says he works on improving his own time management skills as much as he helps his interns manage theirs. It’s not unusual for his unit to be given only a few months’ notice for each exhibit, which creates very tight deadlines to get everything finished. However, Keith says it’s very satisfying for everybody in the department to know they made mounts and stands for some of the most valuable artifacts at the Smithsonian and museums around the world.
Delchritoff did not expect to be given such a great opportunity when he applied to be a Smithsonian intern. He adds his family is very proud of him for getting the Robert Kogod Art Internship. The experience will have a lasting impression on him whether he owns an art store, creates new superheroes for comic books, or invents and makes future museum mounts. Maybe he’ll do it all!
Amy Lemon is a Program Manager with the Smithsonian Office of Fellowships and Internships (OFI)
This article was written with help from OFI Intern, Joseph Z. Johnson