Have you ever watched three men (one of them your new supervisor, who you met less than ten minutes ago) try and heave a new copier up narrow, tightly twisting, wooden, and historically significant staircase?
Let me tell you, after worrying about the health and safety of the men (and the walls and banister of the historic structure) struggling to maneuver this copier up the stairs, most of my first-day-nerves fell away.
My name is Vivian, and this summer I’m working as a curatorial intern at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, in Lexington, Kentucky. I’m a rising LSA junior with a major in History and minors in Religion and Museum Studies. I’m so thrilled to have this opportunity to work at a historic home because it intersects with so many of my interests and passions!
I predominantly work in the attic of Henry Clay’s mansion, which was rebuilt in 1852 and is tucked on a few acres of land in the middle of Lex. There are multiple structures on the grounds: Henry Clay’s mansion, the cottage (which has business offices and small meeting rooms), the old smokehouse (where The Ginkgo Tree Cafe and Henry Clay’s carriage share space), and Henry Clay’s garden, which is maintained by the Garden Club of Lexington in a historically-accurate Victorian style. Behind that are peony gardens (à la Nichols Arboretum – gosh, I miss peony season) and on the other side of the mansion there’s a small plot of hemp growing. The Clay’s were one of the first large families to settle in Kentucky in the late 1700’s (back when it was the far, far, even wilder West), and evidence of the Clay’s and their descendant’s legacies are scattered all over Lexington.
I sought out this internship for a few reasons. First of all, in order to complete a minor in Museum Studies, one must complete an internship at a relevant institution. I figured that if I had to do it, I might as well make it an adventure! When I began the search for summer internships, I was brainstorming small institutions and historic homes in particular — a professor once told me that it’s better to start in a small museum, because you’ll often get a taste of more than one job. I happened to be reading an assigned book for a class (“A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 U.S. Invasion of Mexico” by Amy S. Greenberg) that mentioned Henry Clay’s home, Ashland. I wondered if it was still there…or, better yet, if it had been converted to a museum. I reached out to the appropriate people, inquired about summer internships, and the rest is history! (In a weird, full-circle way, I’m now helping put together an exhibition on the Mexican-American War…which means I’m re-reading “A Wicked War.” Don’t sell back every textbook, kids.)
Henry Clay was one of the (if not the) most important statesmen in our country’s history, and this summer I’m working to help preserve and promote his legacy. He was known by many nicknames, including “The Great Compromiser,” which is important history to remind people of in this current divisive political climate. My first big project is to re-vamp the special tours that are currently on file and make them readily usable (think “Horses and Equine Life,” “Death and Mourning,” “Civil War,” etc.). Many special tours haven’t been done in about a decade, and in that time, objects from the permanent exhibit have been removed or shuffled around. I just finished rewriting the tour on African Americans at Ashland, as well as publications for the annual Kentucky Museum and Heritage Alliance networking conference in June. I’m so excited to see what’s coming in the weeks ahead, check back if you’re excited to see, too!