Emma Bennett ’10 showcases research, teaching talent with ‘Rushed Exhibit’
by Bill Sulon
February 9, 2010
During the winter break, Emma Bennett ’10 used Thomas Sully’s portrait of Benjamin Rush to bring 18th-century history to life for these eighth-graders from Lamberton Middle School.
Emma Bennett ’10 has an attentive, engaged audience.
Standing in The Trout Gallery in front of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Benjamin Rush, Bennett asks 35 visiting eighth-graders from Carlisle Area School District’s Lamberton Middle School why Rush is important to Dickinson College. A dozen hands go up.
“He founded the college,” one student answers.
And, the students learn during their visit, he was an influential physician, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, an opponent of slavery and capital punishment and an advocate for the humane treatment of the mentally ill.
Bennett’s lesson is based on A Revolutionary Image: Thomas Sully’s Portrait of Benjamin Rush, an exhibit she helped curate as a museum-education intern for The Trout Gallery’s educational-outreach program.
During the winter break, hundreds of students from area high schools, middle schools and elementary schools visited the exhibit, enjoying close-up views of the portrait, framed and matted original documents and a lancet Rush used to bleed patients.
Bennett, a French major from Huntingdon, Pa., said preparing the exhibit was a challenging and rewarding experience, one she expects will help her in her post-college plan of becoming a high-school French teacher.
“This experience will be the highlight of my senior year at Dickinson,” Bennett said. “It was a very hectic experience but also the capstone of my three years of work with The Trout Gallery’s educational-outreach program.”
The project began in July, when Bennett contacted Wendy Pires, curator of education at the gallery, and asked if she could help with an exhibit. The gallery had just received the Sully portrait, a gift of Lockwood and Jackie Rush, the Ruth Trout Endowment, the Helen E. Trout Memorial Fund and the Friends of The Trout Gallery.
With an Oct. 9 opening date for the exhibit, Bennett had eight weeks to research and prepare—about half the time normally devoted to such exhibits. “We called it the ‘Rushed Exhibit,’ ” joked Pires, who supervises six museum-education interns and oversees hundreds of outreach programs at the gallery.
“During the remainder of the summer vacation, I read everything I could find about Rush,” Bennett said. “During September and October, I felt as though I lived at the gallery. … I was completely involved in all aspects of the exhibition.”
Bennett’s task was to find materials in Dickinson’s Archives & Special Collections and create an exhibition that represented the most important aspects of Rush’s life: his role as a physician, as a founder of the country and as a founder of the college.
Along with helping select and arrange the artifacts, Bennett collaborated with Phillip Earenfight, director of The Trout Gallery and associate professor of art & art history, in writing the exhibit brochure and the text panels for each display.
“I really felt like I was able to see and participate in all aspects of a museum exhibition, and I also felt like my ideas and opinions were appreciated and used,” Bennett said. “This experience typifies what I hoped for from a liberal-arts education … I’ve always loved the well-rounded education of a liberal-arts college, where science majors can also be dancers. At Dickinson, I was able to try something new—curating a museum exhibit—and I found I really liked it.”
18th- and 21st-century views
During the school-outreach programs, visitors compared medical treatments of the 18th and 21st centuries and talked about how the Old West administrative building and new Rector Science Complex were in keeping with Rush’s vision for the college. Bennett handed out copies of the Declaration of Independence and had the students write with quills.
“It was a great pleasure working with Emma,” Earenfight said. “Since the exhibition was about Rush and his world, Emma, with her strong background in Colonial American history, was an ideal student curator. Moreover, because of her work in historic re-creation and representation, she has a strong sense of how to tell a story effectively to a broad range of visitors. This kind of knowledge is essential to solid museum work. Her experience with The Trout Gallery’s outreach program provided her with insight into how best to present and interpret the material.”
He added, “I am certain that Rush would be proud of Emma’s work and of the kinds of opportunities offered by the school he founded.”