We’re delighted to introduce Cali Buckley, CAA’s new Grants and Special Programs Manager and RAAMP Coordinator, who began her full-time role in January after working part-time as the CAA Programs Assistant in 2017. She received her PhD from Penn State University on interactive anatomical models and their creation by craftsmen in the early modern era. Joelle Te Paske, CAA Media and Content Manager, spoke with her in late January to learn more about her research and her hopes for the RAAMP program.
JTP: Thanks for taking the time to chat, Cali. So to begin, where are you from?
CB: I’m from Pottsville, Pennsylvania. It’s only about three hours from here. It’s north of Philly, best known for Yuengling beer which is the oldest brewery in America. That’s our claim to fame.
JTP: Good to know. And you worked with CAA a few years ago, correct?
CB: Yes, I moved to New York after my Fulbright and worked for CAA for six months as a programs assistant part-time while I was finishing my dissertation. Once I defended and graduated, I moved back to Germany.
I actually have long ties with CAA. Right out of college, I worked for Penn State University Press on art history books. I was able to actually attend CAA and talk to authors, and I worked at the Book and Trade Fair for about three years. It was fun. You can hear people talking about their wonderful book ideas. If I had more time, I would just sit around and see how people pitch these things because it’s fascinating.
I went to Penn State for journalism and then went into publishing right after graduating—I worked on history books and then got really into art history and thought about all the possibilities. Because I guess I had this much narrower idea of traditional art history. And then working on some of these new books really expanded my sense of what that could be.
JTP: That’s great.
CB: I knew some folks in our art history department at Penn State through the editorial board, and I started talking to them about the possibility of my doing my masters there. And I met one of my professors through an editor there. So I planned on going for my masters and then back into publishing, but I completely fell in love with it. I found some great topics, and I just kind of wanted to keep moving forward.
I started going to CAA as a graduate student, so no longer in the Book and Trade Fair. I was part of this group called The Graduate Student Association for Visual Culture. And we would apply for money from Penn State to get groups of us to go to CAA every year. So we would have this group caravan to CAA, all the art historians.
JTP: Sounds ideal.
CB: It’s wonderful. We created this Valentines’ day tradition because CAA usually falls over Valentines’ day. And we still get together on the 14th and watch our favorite movie and eat pizza.
JTP: Are you going to do it this year?
CB: Yes, yes, absolutely.
So I started with doing the Book and Trade Fair at CAA. Then I went as a graduate student, gave a talk at CAA in Chicago a few years back. And the same day participated in a roundtable in publishing. CAA’s been huge in my life.
JTP: I’d love to speak a bit about your research, too—early anatomical models and the control of women in medicine.
CB: Originally, when I went into publishing, I was doing weird research projects on interactive books and books as objects. And I used to give talks at Columbia to journalism students in the summer about how to create physical books and how it’s different from books online. How to work with the movement of books and do all these funny things that literary magazines were experimenting with. And then I found this sixteenth-century version of what I was talking about, in the form of an anatomical model.
These have become much more popular in the last ten years but some of these [models] had layers. So they were just images of the body with layers showing the different organs and systems. And that idea of movement and interactivity was fascinating—and a lot of them are inaccurate, even for their time, which makes them even more interesting.
There are all these different layers to audiences, whether you’re trying to highlight the accuracy, which a lot of these are not, or the visuality and the interactivity. And that seems to be more important.
Then I got into ivory models, which is a huge project of mine, creating a whole catalogue of them. That’s a big part of my dissertation.
CB: I found 180 in the world and I have new people emailing me every year. They’re a much bigger phenomenon than we thought and I’ve done quite a bit of research in Germany to pull these threads together and find out more about their history. I’ve been trying to bring these to light and hopefully I’ll have an article out soon.
JTP: That’s terrific. I’m curious—what is one of your favorite CAA conference memories?
CB: I think one of the great memories was actually an event connected to CAA where I was giving a talk with someone from The Art Institute of Chicago and they let us do a private showing of prints and different objects [at the museum]. Some of the prints were the actual interactive prints that I had worked on.
JTP: That’s always exciting, to be in the same room with objects you’ve studied.
Do you have a favorite exhibition you’ve seen recently?
CB: I just went to the Brueghel exhibition in Vienna and it was amazing. I mean, it was really well done and it went through both his history and paintings and a lot of his earlier drawings and sketches. But it also included a lot of the process to make the materials—some of the wooden planks and those sorts of thing that he used, and the process of painting and printing. That process stuff was really interesting. I think that should be in a lot more exhibitions.
JTP: I agree. My first job was as a registrar at a gallery and I can never quite divorce myself from “How much did the crate cost?”! Because you have a different sense of the process.
CB: Absolutely. I work a lot on materiality. I’m interested in the process of how a work was made, what it’s made of, and how the material affects it. I actually started taking a lot more art classes in different areas to get a feel for it.
I took a class in wax modeling with someone who does wax moulages and restoration. Moulages are generally medical things. So I essentially made a moulage using wax of some skin condition! That was a fun workshop. I was at the Narrenturm which is an old insane asylum in Vienna that now houses a pathological museum. And then you spend a couple of hours making these wax moulages. It was just such a bizarre and wonderful day.
JTP: That does sound bizarre and wonderful!
So, thinking forward to your work with RAAMP, what do you find the most exciting part of that resource?
CB: I’m excited to be [at CAA] and working on a diversity of projects so that I get that bigger, that broader umbrella of what’s new and exciting outside of my little area of the research world. Part of that is the RAAMP program, which really allows people in various facets of the academic and museum worlds to share experiences and have discussions about issues facing those institutions—and those who they serve—today. I love the idea of having meetings and sharing discussions online, because that way they are more accessible. Our Coffee Gatherings are like afternoon meetings at a café with a small audience that can discuss matters in a casual way, but they are also recorded now so students can always watch these later to gain insight into particular matters. The video practica are similar, but more streamlined with one person discussing a specific topic. I can’t wait to get more Coffee Gatherings together because those small group discussions can be really valuable.
JTP: How do you see of the role of academic art museums moving forward?
CB: Academic art museums are as integral as ever to education, but they are facing different issues as time goes on while also dealing with age-old dillemmas. They need to learn how to use the latest technology and how to deal with the latest controversies over artwork, but they also need to engage students. The whole idea of RAAMP is to provide resources for academic art museums to tackle these problems. Part of that is providing a network of professionals who share their expertise.
I do think that museums have to be aware of the social environment and how to contend with criticism. Our session at the 2019 conference allowed us to open up this topic to see how artists and professionals dealt with some very serious issues of artwork being interpreted as offensive. Artwork is inherently open to interpretation, so I think it’s important to discuss how museums act as mediators to a degree—and how their role is balanced with their place in an academic institution.
I should add that one of my favorite teaching experiences was being able to introduce first-year students to the Palmer Museum of Art at Penn State and asking them to describe the giant [Helen] Frankenthaler painting we had hanging there. There’s nothing quite like it when a student realizes that they have history right in front of them.