Every day of her internship, Mary Bei Prince ’20 connects with Thomas Nast, the nineteenth-century cartoonist who developed visual archetypes such as the Republican elephant, Democratic donkey, Uncle Sam, and Santa Claus. As the International Fine Print Dealers Association Foundation (IFPDA) intern at the Wellin Museum, Prince sorts through Nast’s illustrations, delving into his background and the time period he represented through his drawings. Her internship exposes her to both museum practices and American history.
Prince’s seven-week internship is funded by a national grant from the IFPDA, an organization that supports artists who work in printmaking. The grant comes in response to retired Walcott-Bartlett Professor of Religious Studies Jay Williams’ 54’s recent donation of more than 1,000 Nast prints to the Wellin Museum. His donation complements a 1944 donation of Nast’s works from Nast’s son and serves to bolster the existing permanent collection. Through cataloguing each unique piece, conducting historical research, and ultimately curating an installation of the new materials, Prince will help preserve and display Nast’s drawings.
Major: Art History
Hometown: Rochester, N.Y.
High School: Victor High School
Nast’s cartoons, which are often political, address subjects such as the Civil War, economic anxieties, and immigration. An art history major, Prince enjoys learning about the illustrations’ historical context and having the opportunity to hold pieces of American history. She said, “It’s kind of nerdy, but I think there’s something about the materiality of it because it’s old newsprint and it’s meant to be touched … It’s very rewarding to hold it and know it represents a specific moment in time and that it meant something to a whole population of people that really lived through a difficult time in New York City when there was government corruption, when it was polarized politically, and when there was extreme warfare between the North and the South.”
Wellin Collections Curator and Exhibitions Manager Katherine Alcauskas also noted the historical importance of the acquisition. “…between Williams’s gift and our existing holdings of prints by the firm of Currier & Ives, the collection can now convey a more thorough picture of the American middle-class and political life in the latter half of the nineteenth century,” she said.
Alcauskas believes that Prince’s work on the Nast illustrations will serve as an educational resource for the Hamilton community. “There is much material in the collection that would be useful to students of visual studies, American history, and American government, and we hope that classes will incorporate the collection into their teaching.”
Prince appreciates the experience the IFPDA internship has given her and her increased involvement with the Wellin. Describing her decision to pursue the internship, she said, “[The Wellin Museum does] so much work with contemporary artists and represent so many women and people of color and underrepresented groups…it’s very contemporary and relevant to our lives now and moving to the future.”