Q&A with Anna Robertson about Telfair Museums’ Curatorial Internship
1. How did you first find out about Telfair Museums’ curatorial internship and what made you interested in applying?
It was one of those moments when things just fell into place. “Serendipity” really is how I have described it to people, I got incredibly lucky. I just so happened to be taking a class at SCAD with Dr. Holly Goldstein called “Hidden Histories of Savannah” which I was already enthusiastic about taking. The class works with the Georgia Historical Society to provide additional research on the historical markers throughout the state, as well as create an artistic project related to the history. I automatically took this as an opportunity to write on Ossabaw Island (Read more here: https://georgiahistory.com/education-outreach/historical-markers/hidden-histories/ossabaw-island-2/). Since I was an undergraduate student, I have deeply loved photographing the barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina, and I had yet to explore or make work on Ossabaw. The project was already crossing a couple of things off my bucket list.
When Telfair Museums put out the internship, multiple professors and friends even had reached out to me with the job posting, because they knew I was working on Ossabaw research already. Many of my friends also knew I carry the islands close to my heart. Ossabaw Island especially is so elusive, being a privately owned island with no consistent methods of travel to it. As a result, it carries such a mystical quality to it, even when someone is unaware of the space. When I saw the internship opportunity, I knew I could be part of helping peel away this shroud of mystery to the place.
2. What did your day-to-day look like at Telfair?
Initially, it was trying to distill a group of artists to start off for the exhibition. I was already familiar with Ossabaw at this point. I had my first trip to Ossabaw in the spring, and I had finished my research on the island. I knew of the Ossabaw Island Foundation, I was aware of the main highlights of the Ossabaw Island Project (OIP) and Genesis Project established by Sandy West. The first portion of the internship was focused on compiling a list of people to interview and to add works to the early checklist drafts to be considered for the exhibition. I was able to sit down with a great deal of artists, former directors of Genesis and OIP, scientists, and historians. That was some of my favorite days; just being able to sit with an artist over the phone or in their studio space and listen to their stories. Close to the end of the summer, Erin and I were able to go to Ossabaw and walk freely through the Main House, the Torrey-West family’s mansion, and search for art for the exhibition.
Fall was more dedicated to starting to get a more focused selection of work for the exhibition. A lot of space assessments were done. It was tough trying to get so many important historical moments of Ossabaw into two galleries. I am always finding or learning about more and more artists that have made work on the island. I’ve lately really been focused on writing more about individual pieces that really strike me, and how they best communicate the history, the place, or the magic of Ossabaw.
3. Did you have a favorite experience as part of the internship or was there one moment that stood out to you?
Anytime I can go to Ossabaw is a day to remember. Erin and I were able to spend some time at the Main House, walking through the space and taking photographs and measurements of the art that we hope to include in the exhibition. As we were driving through the main road, the things that all the artists talk about happened: Time just seems to blur and combine, you feel like you’re here in this time, but the natural space feels pre-historic and futuristic. Peaceful, and dangerous. This beautiful gold light spills out around us and there are footprints of so many different animals where we walked, and then less than twenty feet away one of the biggest alligators I had come close to was sitting in a small pool of water with its meal. It’s that dichotomy that adds to the majesty and resounding magic of the place.
The house is also in this limbo, caught somewhere in the early 20th century. I remember as we took a break for lunch, I took my camera through the house and outside the perimeter to make little vignettes of the house. As I did, I saw a large family of deer casually walking by the house and pausing to eat. They were about fifty feet away, just watching me. It’s not every day you get an experience like that on the job.
Aside from being able to visit the island, one of my favorite things to do was listen to the people. I don’t like doing formal interviews. It feels too stiff, especially when you are discussing such an emotional place with an artist. I had questions that I’d ask if it worked with the discussions, but really, I tried to make a space where the artists I spoke to could tell me what they specifically learned from the space. I always left feeling a greater appreciation and understanding of their work, but also that I gained a friend.
4. What are some of the most compelling things about Ossabaw Island that you discovered during your research?
Probably that almost everyone I spoke to have had such similar, but profoundly impactful experiences on Ossabaw. The place does something to you. I think it makes you kinder, more empathetic to your surroundings. Sandy West did a truly incredible job holding space for people to integrate their experiences on the island into their lives and art. I remember listening to Nancy Marshall in particular, as she told me everything in her life had been impacted by Ossabaw. She lives deep in the marsh, her art has never been the same since her time with Genesis, and even her children have grown up to be incredibly sensitive to the natural world. Ossabaw has such a special place in so many people’s hearts, and that fueled me in my need to do my part in making this exhibition. I wanted to share this with as many people as possible, so they can also leave Ossabaw changed for the better.
5. In addition to completing your MA in art history at SCAD, you are also a photographer. Can you tell us a little bit about your practice and where people can find your work?
I’ve lived and breathed photography for a long while. At least half my life. My undergraduate degree at SCAD really provided me with an opportunity to immerse myself in it. I learned so much, and I had incredible professors and friends that I have to thank for making me the photographer and person that I am. The themes of my work, very in-keeping with the lessons I gain from Ossabaw, are the idea of universal consciousness manifesting in the natural world and the body, the reverence of place, and honoring the history of place. My website is https://www.annarobertsonphotography.com/ and I recently was interviewed by painter Kevan Joseph O’Connor about my work, which you can find here: https://www.kevanjoseph.art/spiritofplaypodcast/ep8annarobertson.