“Beginning with the opportunities presented by a prestigious Woodrow Wilson Fellowship — a grant bestowed on highly talented, newly admitted freshmen — [Laura Maria] Somenzi took the lead in curating this exhibition with the steadfast support and mentorship of Evergreen Director and Curator James Archer Abbott. She worked through every aspect of the curatorial process, from research and conceptualization, to loan requests and photo permissions, to crafting the final narrative and writing the text. If the courses she has taken in pursuing her undergraduate minor through the Program in Museums and Society have assisted her, the synergy between academic and applied work at Evergreen is all the more powerful. Process lies at the heart of what goes on at Evergreen, and what goes on in a university. Observing how something is created can be as valuable as seeing the final, finished product — in exhibitions, as in art.”
— Elizabeth Rodini, director of the Program in Museums and Society at Johns Hopkins University
Who better to introduce the work of a Wilson Research Fellow than her beloved advisor? When Laura Maria Somenzi’s exhibition opens next week (read “Transforming Perceptions: The art of Zelda Fitzgerald at Evergreen”) it will also put on display the Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Reserved for the most promising young scholars in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the fellowship provides research funding as well as the opportunity to work closely with top faculty and played a significant role in Laura’s exhibition.
As she prepared for the exhibition’s Oct. 19 opening, the junior studying the History of Art took a few minutes to provide insight into the curating process and why programs like the Wilson Research Fellowship are important.
Rising: How do you think you’ll feel on opening day?
Laura Maria Somenzi: I still cannot believe the show will actually open.
Is museum curatorship a long-standing interest for you?
I first became interested in museum curating through an internship I had in high school at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Over the course of this two-year internship, I had many opportunities to work with museum curators, educators and visiting artists. I knew I wanted to study Art History in college and that is why I applied to Johns Hopkins University.
Would you share one thing you learned from this experience?
I started this project with a very rough idea about what to expect or how to go about curating an exhibition — I learned more than I could ever have imagined. Even the most basic aspects, such as loan requests and copyrights, were completely new to me.
You came across the exhibition topic first based on the art, not the artist. As you got to know Zelda Fitzgerald over the course of your research, what about her struck you?
The most interesting experience during my research was when I went to the Princeton archives and was able to read Zelda’s journals. In these diaries Zelda is fascinating, heartbreaking, witty and original. Afterward, I really felt that I understood her better.
How did the Wilson Research Fellowship help in creation of the exhibition?
The fellowship provided $10,000 for my traveling expenses and partly funded the exhibition and catalog. I was also given a peer mentor, Lena Denis, A&S ’11, (who helped me considerably in the initial stages of my project). Additionally, Ami Cox, the program coordinator, has been extremely supportive. The Woodrow Wilson fellowship also requires a faculty mentor; Elizabeth Rodini is my advisor and her help has been priceless.
Undergraduate research: why?
It is unbelievably satisfying to see one’s research evolve into tangible final project and to be able to share it with others in the form of a publication and exhibition. Additionally, I learned much about research in the humanities, archival work, writing, and proofing. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the project was that I was able to meet and work with many people in different fields.