On a recent Thursday morning, Rachel Childers was hard at work in the Conservation Lab at the Shelburne Museum, bent over one of two large wooden boards taken from the museum’s Dentzel Carousel collection.
Each was painted with a scene of a hunter pursuing a rhino. She dabbed at a section of the painted wood with a water-based, pH-adjusted gel, using what she called a “poultice technique” to dissolve the old linseed oil coating, restoring the vibrancy of the original color beneath. She has been working on those two boards for six weeks.
“This field is definitely for people who have patience and pay attention to detail,” Childers laughed. She listens to podcasts while she works, she said, and enjoys the job that some might find overly painstaking.
Childers, who is from Arizona, is an intern in the Conservation Lab at the Shelburne Museum this summer. She has a degree in art history from the University of Arizona and is completing the eight-week internship to prepare for graduate school at Buffalo State College in the fall.
The internship interview with Shelburne Museum “was kind of nerve-wracking, because we are required to do internships in order to get into grad school,” Childers said.
In Shelburne, a number of businesses and organizations are providing internship opportunities to both local and out-of-town students. New grads who need relevant work experience on their résumés to obtain even entry-level jobs are finding internships increasingly necessary to overcome that hurdle and begin a career.
Ask any college student about the most challenging aspect of starting a new career and the majority will likely say it is getting that first toehold in the chosen profession.
Tough entry rules
Childers described herself as “pre-program” in the art conservation field, comparing her position to that of an aspiring doctor on the pre-med track. Most conservation graduate programs are notoriously difficult to get into, with some requiring one to three years of experience in the field. Students must accrue a small arsenal of coursework, degrees and relevant work experience to advance to the level of a full-fledged conservator.
Internships “are a two-way street,” said Nancie Ravenel, object conservator at the Shelburne Museum. She supervises interns at the Conservation Lab. “They get a bit of on-the-job learning, and have something to contribute to their portfolios. And for us, it’s a way of getting a bit more work done.” The Conservation Lab has been accepting interns since 1989, Ravenel said.
Just down the road at the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory, the internship program is still fairly new. Stephen Anderson of Rutland, a business major at the University of Vermont, is an intern this summer in the marketing department.
“One of the best things that I’ve gotten from this internship has been working in a real workplace, in an office setting, learning some professionalism, the etiquette of an office,” Anderson said. “In high school and early years of college, you don’t get any of that. You get the classroom environment and that’s pretty much it.”
At Vermont Teddy Bear, Anderson developed a tracking sheet to rate the performance of social media posts, worked on a report assessing the performance of the company’s four brands, used Google Analytics to collect data on the company’s daily website traffic, and helped to research foreign markets.
Big impact possible
The amount of time interns spend in their positions is relatively small — usually only three months. But the labor they contribute can be extremely valuable to an organization, and is usually executed with enthusiasm, Ravenel says.
Interns “contribute new ideas, they contribute energy, and they contribute new perspectives that may not occur to those of us already working here,” Ravenel said. “As an intern supervisor, I never tell them exactly what to do; I just provide them with enough knowledge to guide their decisions.”
The Shelburne Craft School has been accepting interns since it opened in 1955.
“We always need extra hands on deck,” said Sage Tucker-Ketcham, executive director of the craft school. “Anything from setting up supplies to setting up the galleries, it’s a real range.”
Juliana Pollock is one of two interns at the school this summer. She’s an Ohio native studying landscape architecture and art history at Ohio State University, and moved to Burlington at the start of the summer to live with a friend who goes to UVM. She heard about the internship from a local artist, and was immediately attracted by the prospect of assisting with local art events at art festivals.
“It’s been nice; I’ve met a lot of people just working here, and everyone has been super nice,” Pollock said. “It’s been great getting experience working in an office but also helping with event planning and organizing and stuff like that, and see how the school runs.”
Pollock paints walls, cleans clay palettes, organizes the classrooms, assists with online registration for the school’s various classes and handles some of the paperwork.
She also designed a new sign to put in front of the school, and helped pick out some plants for the courtyard.
“In education, it’s really helpful to do an internship, as well as to have interns assisting you,” Tucker-Ketcham said. “I was an intern; most of us were interns at some point in our lives.”
Nice place to be
Although none of them live in Shelburne (Pollock and Anderson live in Burlington, Childers in Colchester), all three interns said they have enjoyed working in town.
Childers enjoys going to the farmers market on Saturdays, while Pollock enjoys walking at Shelburne Farms. Anderson said some of his favorite moments have been spent sampling the local food.
“Usually I would say at least two days of the week I go over to Shelburne Supermarket,” he laughed. “And I’m a big fan of Cucina Antica.”
Vermont has a well-documented retention problem with college-age students, who often move out of state to attend school and don’t return. Anderson, after attending UVM and taking on an internship that allowed him to see more of Vermont, said he would love to continue living and working in the state should a job opportunity arise.
Although they value their current intern experiences, none of these students are ready to let their summer experiences pigeonhole them into one career path. Pollock wants to continue pursuing landscape architecture, which is her major. Anderson said he is leaning more toward the accounting side of businesses than toward marketing. And Childers says that, although she is definitely on her way to becoming an art conservator, she is still unsure what her concentration will be.
“Internships are a great way of trying on particular jobs and careers for short periods of time and figuring out why they are right for you,” Ravenel said. “Speaking as a former intern myself, internships are great.”