Changing Direction

An internship at the Stanley Museum of Art helped one student discover his future by exploring the past.

April 01, 2019

While looking for an internship that would align with his goal of pursuing a career in academia, art history major Owen Daley ’20 discovered an opportunity at the University of Iowa’s Stanley Museum of Art through Eiren Shea, assistant professor of art history at Grinnell. While the internship was not exactly what he thought he was looking for, he trusted Shea’s recommendation and recognized that it was a unique opportunity.

What he didn’t know is that it would change his entire career trajectory.

Daley received funds from Grinnell to cover the cost of room and board during the internship, in which he worked as an assistant to the Stanley’s curator, Joyce Tsai. He helped with research projects, explored the history and significance of various pieces of work, and discovered the legacy and mission of the museum itself.

An Unexpected Discovery

As part of his work, Daley was tasked exploring a restoration project done on “Karneval,” a triptych by German expressionist Max Beckmann and a prized piece of the Stanley’s collection since it was acquired in 1946.

“The middle canvas was stretched too big for the painting, and it was damaged in the restoration process,” Daley explains. “It was such a rudimentary error that it was mind boggling that it could have happened, and I was tasked with finding out how it occurred.”

This led him into the archives and a deep dive through materials dating as far back as 1929. His efforts helped the museum come to a better understanding of its own existence as he uncovered the history of the art program at the University of Iowa and the faculty members and administrators who battled over its purposes and place for decades.

“What I found most interesting was the story I discovered of the museum and how administration changes affected and influenced it and how it exists today,” says Daley. “Through this archival research, it became clear how the past shaped the present day and laid the groundwork for the future.”

New Possibilities

While no clear answer was found regarding the question of the shoddy restoration, Daley’s time in the archives was well spent, leading him to discover a personal passion and talent for research that opens new career opportunities.

“I’m still interested in academia but I learned that archival research is fascinating,” he says. “Not everyone has the stamina or the ability or desire to do it, but the effect it can have is astounding and can have extremely high stakes. It was an incredibly rewarding experience and I’d like to do similar work in the future.”

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