Kristin Garrison ’16

I loved learning about the connection between art and history

I came into college unsure of what major I wanted to pursue, but all of that changed when I stepped into Intro to Renaissance my freshman year. Though there was a lot of reading, I loved learning about the connection between art and history and the cultural significance behind my favorite works of art.

I always knew that I wanted to study abroad

It was one of the reasons I chose Willamette and the Art History department provided enough flexibility in their curriculum to do so. Not only did they work with me to help me receive in-major credit for a class I took abroad, my professors were there with support and guidance as I took a big step of studying abroad on my own. I ended up studying at Radboud University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. It is a smaller city near the border with Germany and studying there allowed me to see Netherlandish art up close, both in the city museum and by taking a train to nearby Den Hague and Amsterdam.

My internship:
Amsterdam and Van Gogh

While I was in the Netherlands, Professor Susik reached out to me about an internship opportunity in Amsterdam. She put me in contact with her colleague there and when I received the internship, she even helped me write the grant that assisted in supplementing my living expenses over the summer. In Amsterdam I worked as a research assistant in the Art Department at the Van Gogh Museum. My job changed on a daily basis, but my biggest project was research for an upcoming book on the last three years of Van Gogh’s life. The research questions asked of me were usually small and obscure, like finding out what type of hat is being worn in a piece, or if there is a regional meaning behind a piece of jewelry being worn. My proudest moment involved a set of paintings depicting two crabs, when I was tasked with figuring out what type of crab they were. After hours of scouring fishing websites I discovered that they were common brown crabs that were native to the North Sea. This information does not sound groundbreaking until one realizes that a crab from the North Sea would not have found its way to the south of France very easily in the nineteenth century. By having discovered the genus of crab Van Gogh had depicted, researchers were able to move up their dating of the piece a few months earlier, when he was living in Paris and would have had more access to that type of crab.

Getting to follow around two of the world’s leading experts on Van Gogh was an incredible experience, as between them they knew everything Van Gogh had ever painted or written. As an intern I was granted access behind the scenes to see pieces being restored and to the secret museum warehouse where artworks not on display hung on racks as though they were not worth millions of euros. I vividly remember one day where we walked through the museum with an arborist to look more closely at the trees in some of Vincent’s works. The researchers spent ten minutes arguing about the dating of a piece, the location, what plants would bloom when, eventually remarking quietly that perhaps it was just how Vincent painted it. When I questioned them further, one of the researchers told me “Well…he has a habit of changing things to make them more beautiful.” As we walked around the gallery they pointed out the edits Vincent made, which only became visible after people traveled to the places he depicted.

Plans for graduate studies

Currently, I am applying to graduate programs that focus on Art/Museum Education and I’m an education intern with the Legion of Honor in San Francisco. My time at the Van Gogh Museum taught me that I wanted a career in museum work focusing on the experiences of visitors. I’m not sure what type of museum I’ll end up working for, but I have been so thankful for the guidance and support that the Art History department has given me on my journey.

— Kristin Garrison, Winter 2017