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Museum Studies Alum Builds Career at the Library of Congress

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Jessica Comola

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Micah Messenheimer
Micah Messenheimer

When he came to DU, Micah Messenheimer (MA ’10) already held a BFA and MFA, but despite his extensive studio experience he was looking for something more. Messenheimer, who now works as curator of photography at the Library of Congress, wanted to deepen his historical knowledge and direct his own course of study while building on professional opportunities.

“I sought a program where I could formalize previous work experience in education and galleries toward a career in a collecting institution—be that a museum or library,” Messenheimer explains.

“With the University’s flexible dual-degree options, I crafted a program that led to both my MA in art history with a concentration in museum studies, and a master’s in library and Information science.”

Messenheimer was able to focus on, and deepen, his interests by directing his studies toward the history of photography and collecting practices. The combination of small program size and diversity of faculty expertise at the School of Art and Art History meant Messenheimer could take full advantage of coursework opportunities.

“A number of courses I took during my time at DU were notable for reinforcing the research, writing, and interpretation skills that are used every day in the curatorial profession.”

Messenheimer’s MA thesis on photographer David Maisel grew out of Annabeth Headrick’s art and the environment seminar, a course emphasizing student-directed discussion and presentation.

Other courses, like research practicum with Annette Stott, opened opportunities for publications. While at DU, Messenheimer contributed object essays to the exhibition catalog Dutch Utopia and worked with the Vicki Myhren Gallery on a team of student authors for an exhibition catalog on a selection of Chinese Art from the Logan Collection.

Perhaps the most valuable hands-on experience Messenheimer gained was through his internships in the photography departments at both History Colorado and the Denver Art Museum (DAM).

“Strong ties to local art institutions and the centrality of the internship experience to both master’s programs played heavily in my choice to attend DU,” says Messenheimer.

“At History Colorado, I catalogued and rehoused a collection of glass negatives from the Aultman Studio Archives. At the DAM, I worked with curator Eric Paddock to review objects in the collection for exhibition potential and condition issues.”

From these internships, Messenheimer became a curatorial assistant at DAM in both the textile-art and photography departments. While there, he curated two exhibitions, co-authored Threads of Heaven: Silken Legacy of China’s Last Dynasty, and developed a photography lecture series.

Now at the Library of Congress, Messenheimer works with a broad collection of 15 million photographs, including the earliest known self-portrait and archives of the Farm Security Administration, among a multitude of other noteworthy pieces.

“The diversity of my experiences was vital in my move to the Library of Congress. At the Library, I’ve drawn upon the specializations I built at DU and at the DAM to continue working with our 19th century holdings and our strong collections of art and photography.”

Messenheimer encourages graduate students at the School of Art and Art History to take full advantage of their time in the program.

“Pursue every opportunity,” he says, “but also be open to the unexpected. Building a career in the arts can be challenging but perseverance will pay off in allowing you to work with materials that you love.”