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Rillie helped make art collection more accessible to students

Barry McNamara
MONMOUTH, Ill. – Before enrolling later this year at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pursue a master’s degree in art history, 2018 Monmouth College graduate Hannah Rillie used a gap year to help make the College’s art collection more accessible to students.

Rillie, who earned a post-baccalaureate fellowship at Monmouth, spent the 2018-19 school year working in Hewes Library, where she helped catalog the College’s art collection.

“She knocked it out of the park,” said art professor Brian Baugh, Rillie’s faculty adviser for the fellowship. “She did a great job of cataloging and really put together a nice inventory of the collection. One of the other things I asked her to do was to think critically about the future of the position, and she wrote a comprehensive 10-page report that really covered all the bases of what is required of the position and what needs to be done moving forward.”

The post-baccalaureate fellowship also helped Rillie with her personal future.

“I think this experience was key for her getting into graduate school,” said Baugh. “The program did very well for her in that regard.”

During her fellowship, Rillie built upon the work of Mary Phillips, former curator of the College art collections, who retired in 2018. Rillie dug deep into the College’s permanent art collection, which she said is evenly divided between the James Christie Shields Collection of Art and Antiquities – which the College has owned for two decades – and all other pieces.

“The Shields Collection has been worked on ad nauseam,” said Rillie, who graduated summa cum laude in classics. “I focused most of my efforts on the other parts of the permanent collection, such as the Carnegie Print Collection.”

Making the collection more accessible

Part of Rillie’s work was to make the collection more accessible to the students. Getting it into the library’s catalog system was one element, as was creating Excel sheets for the items.

“It’s been an exercise in finding things we didn’t know we had,” she said.

Playing up the educational element of the collection was also a priority.

“I’ve always liked going to museums and being able to read that little blurb off to the side about particular pieces,” said Rillie. “Not just the name of the piece, but a little information about it. So I’ve done a little bit more of that with some of the pieces in our collection and put a little more educational spin on it.”

She’s also helped get the pieces into the hands of students.

“I was able to do some things with the collection to make it relevant to what people are studying in class,” she said. “It’s good to give students that hands-on experience, taking the pieces beyond what’s on a slide or pictures in a book.”

Discovering art

When Rillie started at Monmouth, she thought she’d be more interested in the creative side of art.

“I started out as an art major, but I realized I was more into how and why things are made,” she said. “That appealed to me more than making art myself.”

Largely because of her classics major, Rillie said she’s “more interested in ancient art, especially the art of ancient Greece and Rome.”

Specifically, she is fascinated by the provenance and pigment of marble works, including those of a relief currently on exhibit in Gallery 203 of Hewes Library.

“I really fell down the pigment rabbit hole,” she said of her deep dive into the topic.

That dive included taking two Monmouth chemistry classes during her post-baccalaureate experience. She also took two ancient Greek classes.

When she dives into her minimum two years of graduate study at UW-Milwaukee, Rillie will decide between a tutorial tract or a thesis tract. She’s unsure yet which route she’ll go, although she does have a desired outcome.

“In a perfect world, I’d work in a museum, and then teach on the side,” she said.