It’s a surreal feeling walking up to the National Gallery of Canada and going around to the Curatorial Wing, swiping your ID badge and going up to your office with a view of the Ottawa River. This is what I got to do every Wednesday for 8 weeks when I did my Practicum at the National Gallery of Canada last year working in the Prints and Drawings department on an exhibition of Victorian drawings that opened earlier this fall.

photo of the view from my office of the Ottawa River

The view from my office of the Ottawa River

The Practicum program is a great opportunity for upper-year student to get first hand experience in the art world in Ottawa. There are many options for placements and often working at a smaller institution is better for getting more hands-on experience. However my career aspirations are to one-day work at a large institution like the NGC so I wanted to do my placement there to understand what it would be like. I was told my many people, including my professors that working at the NGC could mean being a small cog in a big machine and that I wouldn’t have the same hands on learning experience that I would gain working somewhere like the Ottawa Art Gallery. In many ways they were right. I was just a small cog. I wasn’t curating or installing artworks for exhibitions but I did learn a lot and I had a fulfilling learning experience.

Frederick Sandys, King Pelles’ Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sanc Graal, 1861

Frederick Sandys, King Pelles’ Daughter Bearing the Vessel of the Sanc Graal, 1861

My job as an undergraduate intern was to assist the Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings with the exhibition catalogue for the upcoming exhibit, Beauty’s Awakening: Drawing by the Pre-Raphaelites and Their Contemporaries from the Lanigan Collection (quite a lengthy title). I was tasked with finding all the materials cited in the catalogue for each artwork and to create the curatorial files. This meant that I spent a lot of time doing library research, searching through the catalogue and the Library and Archives at the Gallery and getting to know the library collection. As a student going into my fourth year where I would be writing research essays in all my courses this was an extremely helpful experience. Often times when we’re doing our research for essays we forget about the amazing resource that is the Library and Achieves of Canada and the National Gallery of Canada which holds the largest collection of art related materials in Canada. I really got to know the collection and discovered the wide range of resources available including rare books, auction catalogues and archival materials. I was able to get up close with the artworks, see the extensive vaults, sit in on important meetings and really learn what goes into curating an exhibition.

Image of the cover of a rare book in the Gallery Library

A rare book in the Gallery Library from the early 19th century

Not only was this Practicum at the National Gallery a fun experience, it was amazingly beneficial. Having this experience on my resume is really important and I made a great contact at the NGC. Also one of the coolest things that came out of this is my name being printed in a National Gallery of Canada publication for the exhibition catalogue. Hopefully this won’t be the last time I see my name in a publication.