This past semester, Bryn Mawr Special Collections featured an exhibition about Marcel Breuer, curated by Rachel Grand ‘21. Breuer was an alum of the renowned German art school, the Bauhaus, and the exhibition was made as a celebration of the Bauhaus Centennial. Bryn Mawr’s commission for Breur to build Rhoads furniture in 1937 was his first in the United States. A handful of rooms still have the original Breuer furniture for student use, but many other pieces sit in museums like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Harvard Art Museums, donated by the college.
Rachel is a fine arts and history of art double major with a minor in museum studies. In order to get some insight into the curatorial process, I sat down with Rachel and asked her about her experience working in Special Collections.
The story of how she arrived at the student curatorial position for “Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr” dates back to the fall of 2018. Rachel took the 360 course cluster, “Textiles in Context”, in which she and her fellow students studied Byzantine textiles and put together an exhibition of the textiles the following spring. The 360 took a trip to Washington D.C., where students visited museums and saw exhibition development in action. This is where Rachel’s interest in museum work began to grow. “I got a sense of what a museum career was like,” she says. “It felt like a good combination to me of academic research and creativity and art, and I was very interested in that.” Her enthusiasm for museum studies was made clear early on in her work on the 360 exhibition. While researching textiles for the show, Rachel found that one textile in Bryn Mawr’s collection is an identical fragment to one found in the MFA in Boston.
After her work with “Textiles in Context,” Rachel worked as an assistant intern to Ph.D. candidate, Nina Blomfield. Nina was working on an exhibition about Lockwood de Forest, another designer with work on campus. At the end of the semester, Rachel was offered a summer internship where she would be the main curator of the Marcel Breuer exhibition.
When asked about the curatorial process, Rachel emphasized that it is much more complex than it seems. To create “Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr,” she began with familiarizing herself with Breuer and modernism. Then, she had to figure out Breuer’s connection to Bryn Mawr. This required extensive researching and reading, as well as poring over the letters between Breuer and the furniture company that produced the signature Breuer designs. The conceptual stage came next, which would create the physical layout for the exhibition. No choice was left unscrutinized here. Questions like, “What is going to go into the display case? What are the angles of the objects? What will be labelled and where will the labels go?” had to constantly be asked.
In reflection of her experience, Rachel says, “It was nice to have that freedom to curate something so completely.” And after such an intense focus on a long-ago moment in the school’s history, you can see the whole institution differently. Though Breuer’s work centered on Rhoads dorms in the 1930s, her research spread all over campus. “When I was learning about Marcel Breuer’s chair, he designed it for Rhoads, so I learned all about Rhoads, and Rhoads was built at the same time as Park, so I learned all about Park. From reading the yearbooks, you get a sense of what student life was like in 1938.” Rachel also reached out to alums, many of whom lived in the Rhoads dorms that still feature Breuer furniture, for their perspective and found that their insights and stories made her appreciate the space as one with a long past and countless unheard stories waiting to be discovered.
With all this focus on the past in mind, we also look towards Bryn Mawr’s future in design. Rachel muses, in consideration of Bryn Mawr’s more modern spaces “Maybe in 30 years, people will do an exhibition of the new chairs in New Dorm!”
You can find more information about “Bauhaus at Bryn Mawr” on the Bryn Mawr website, and the exhibition will be on display in Canaday library until June 3, 2020.