Joan Tkacs

By Hayes Smith
February 2012

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Mapping the Provenance of Museum Objects

Student Commentary by Joan Tkacs

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Joan Tkcas (on far right, in brown) and Casket with Scenes of Romances, ivory and bone with modern iron mounts (French, 1330-1350). Photo: Will Kirk,

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 1. Describe the sorts of work you did in developing your Google Earth presentation on this object. (You might consider both the unique forms of research involved and modes/methods of interpretation.)

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 I researched two objects for this project, a painted tile and an ivory casket. The Walters Art Museum had a thorough record of the objects’ provenances, so the bulk of my time was spent uncovering details about the lives and tastes of their previous owners. It was important to me to understand why they found the objects interesting enough to purchase. If the owners were art collectors, I tried finding other objects in their collections to get a sense of their taste. From there, it was a matter of organizing the object’s history into a simple and compelling narrative.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 2. What did you learn from this project that distinguished it from other academic courses?

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The credit line that you see on the typical museum label does not do justice to the histories of these objects. For example, the ivory casket I researched was made in the fourteenth century and was probably meant to function as a jewelry box, but one of its later owners took the individual panels of the case apart and framed them. He was looking at the casket in a completely different way than we do now. I did not know this before I started the project, and the research gave me a new appreciation for just how dynamic these objects are.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 3. What was it like to create a final project that would be presented to the public?

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 The Google Earth project was a lesson in learning how to write concisely. After spending a semester researching the history of a given object, the temptation is to then write a long-winded report on all that you had discovered. But very few people would be interested in reading something like that, I think. It is a bit harder to boil down everything you have learned into a punchy and informative presentation.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 4. What did you learn from working in a professional museum and in conjunction with its staff?

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 The Walters’ staff was incredibly giving of their time. We met with Gary Vikan, the museum director, Robert Mintz, the curator of Asian art, and William Noel, the curator of manuscripts. We got to look at the museum’s storage, and learned about what art museums take into consideration when accessioning works of art. What I remember best was getting to meet with Amanda Kodeck, a member of the museum’s education department, and getting feedback on what we had written for the project. That kind of collaboration was incredibly helpful.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 5. What did this course/project and the opportunity to work with museum objects and their archival records mean to your education? your future plans? your general interests?

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 The Google Earth project was a first for me. In other classes I may have had to research a single object for a paper, but I had never focused solely on an object’s provenance. This project proved to be a very worthwhile experience for me. Right now I am an intern at the Georgia Museum of Art and I spend a lot of my time working with the archival materials of the museum’s Pierre Daura Study Center. I do not know if I would have had this opportunity without my experience working on the Google Earth project at the Walters.

Joan Tkacs
Student Commentary

Joan Tkacs

BA in History of Art, Class of 2010 – Johns Hopkins University

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