It was a short work stint – about three months – but for someone who majored in history and minored in art in college, Ross Schartel considered his recent internship a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Schartel, who graduated from Truman High School in 2010 and then Pittsburg State University four years later, returned to Independence last month following an internship with the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
He had been working at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, and while the internship represented just a few months and didn't guarantee future work, Schartel figured he had to make the temporary jump when the offer .
“Why not take the opportunity?” he said. “The Smithsonian – who's going to pass up on that? I need to drop everything and do this.”
Schartel's internship came about from visiting a Pittsburg State professor after she happened to meet with a Smithsonian curator. Furthermore, when he arrived in Washington, D.C., his first big task involved the works and documents of Marjorie Schick, a former professor of 50 years at Pitt State who died last December. Those papers had arrived at the Smithsonian not long before he did.
“I was pretty excited about the possibility,” Schartel said. “I had actually worked for her my senior year. It was a right-place, right-time kind of thing.
“I had visited Marjorie in the hospital after her stroke in December, and (her husband) said they had just sent her boxes to them. I could appreciate (the contents), but also recognize the when and what of everything, knowing the history of the department.”
S. Portico Bowman, Schartel's professor at Pitt State, had been working on sabbatical at the Ceramics Research Center in Tempe, Ariz., when she helped on a project with Mary Savig, the curator of manuscripts at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art.
“I was thinking of Ross was asking her if they had internships,” Bowman said. “I had invited Ross out to Tempe, and it just went from there.”
“Mary was really interested that Ross knew (Schick) personally. The poignancy of him being there when those papers came there, it was serendipitous.”
Schick's specialty was art jewelry – jewelry beyond adornment and metals, Schartel said.
“There's not really many materials she didn't use,” Schartel said. “She also knew ceramics. She wasn't afraid of anything or any color. When I visited her (in the hospital), she still had her hair dyed, like the colors of a pinwheel on a stalled computer. Marjorie was color.”
During his internship, Schartel worked with some different artist paper collections, mainly studio craft artists and ceramists since he knew more about them, as well as research projects for Savig such as exhibition labels and photo captions for published materials.
“Lots of trying to decipher or identify objects, places, times and people,” he said.
Schartel said it felt like he learned more in three months at the Smithsonian than over the previous several years.
“They encouraged you to ask random questions,” he said. “Every day it was like I was starting over and learning something new.”
He also found some time to play the tourist while in Washington.
“Unfortunately, the inclement weather always saved itself for Saturday and Sunday,” Schartel said. “I still got to see a lot of what I wanted to.”