Valentine Intern Spotlight: Dominique Gay

Our Costume and Textiles Intern Dominique discusses her love of museums and shares her experience as a returning member of the Valentine team

Hi! I’m the Costume and Textiles intern Dominique. To begin, here is my list of the top three reasons that I think museums are the best place to learn something you didn’t know:

  1. There is a vast amount of opportunity to find something riveting and when you do, it’s up to you if you want to find out more.
  2. You can come back as many or as few times as you want (or at least for the extended amount of time the exhibition is open).
  3. You are in control of how you want to learn.

A museum is a place that houses interesting objects, stories, and facts that make you re-examine what it means to be human. And in my opinion, it is the job of a museum curator (my dream job) to look at what’s in the museum’s collection and find the thing (whether it’s a story, concept, fact, etc.) that would make an audience do just that: re-examine what it means to be human. The Valentine is Richmond’s city history museum. The Valentine curators mine the museum’s collection for stories that make audiences re-examine what it means to be a Richmonder.

When I was a kid, museums were (and still are) my favorite place to learn. Growing up with ADHD made learning in primary school difficult because of limited tolerance for the diverse ways kids’ brains develop and function. However, in museums I always found freedom and solace surrounding the notion of learning. I didn’t realize working in a museum was even something I could be a part of until I met Ms. Kristen Stewart, the Valentine’s Nathalie L. Klaus Curator of Costume and Textiles. She was my professor for Contemporary Fashion at Virginia Commonwealth University, a course that examines Western fashion history from the 19th century to the modern day.

One day, Ms. Stewart took the class on a field trip to The Valentine where she showed us a few incredible historic pieces in the costume collection and a little behind the scenes tour. I was blown away by Ms. Stewart’s immense knowledge of the garments outside of lectures in the classroom and inside the context of a museum and tangible learning. She can look at garment and deduce so much information about the garments makeup while telling the story of the person who wore it and of time period the garment was worn. That moment made me realize working with historical objects and garments as a way of sharing human experiences throughout history and across cultures is something I want to dedicate most of my life to. After that trip, I applied for a Valentine internship and have been working here for the past two semesters.

I am a 4th year World and Textiles Studies student and my focus of study includes how garments and objects can illustrate and bring to light stories of the past, present and even future. Of course, I really tried to tailor my course work to best fit the skills needed to be a museum curator, which also helped immensely with this internship. So far, I’ve accompanied Ms. Stewart on curatorial accession trips, assisted with research for the current exhibition in special collections of libraries and in the museums private archives, helped to construct mannequins and exhibition props and digitally documented shoes dating back to the early 20th century.

Working here has been quite a journey and I can’t thank Ms. Stewart, the Costume and Textiles Technician Elise and the museum enough for letting me be a part of it.

Dominique Gay just completed her internship at the Valentine in Richmond.