Student-written labels featured at San Antonio Museum of Art

Labels were written by students of the art history course This Is America


Samuel Damon

From left to right: Students Tucker Craft, Jack Maxwell, and Logan Martinez view seal display

Ever notice museum tags at the San Antonio Museum of Art written by your peers when walking through the galleries?

During spring 2020 and 2021, Trinity students enrolled in the art history course “This Is America,” taught by art and art history professor Yinshi Lerman-Tan, undertook the role of museum curators to write museum labels for the selected artwork of their choice at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA). These student-written museum labels were posted on the walls of the SAMA and are receiving their own Instagram post on SAMA’s Instagram page in a series titled “Fresh Takes: Trinity Student Voices.”

The “This is America” course prompted students to rethink the narrative of American history through the lens of art objects in the SAMA’s collection. Initially taught on-site at the SAMA, the course was forced to transition online after the pandemic hit.

Emilie Dujour, Public Relations & Digital Communications Manager at the SAMA, explained how Lerman-Tan had a two-year fellowship teaching at Trinity and assisting in the American art curatorial department at the SAMA. “This is America” challenged students to look and talk about art, think critically about art and write about art.

“Dr. Lerman-Tan asked students to look at pieces in our collection, so not just American art, but they were open to pick anything that was on or off display in our collection. The students were assigned to write a label with their perspective and with kind of like a new eye, because the labels are usually written by our curators, and [Lerman-Tan] thought that having a fresh face on these pieces will be really rewarding,” Dujour said.

Catie Vaccaro, junior biology major with a concentration in molecular and cellular biology, was enrolled in the “This is America” course in the spring of 2021. Vaccaro said that the pandemic affected the nature of the course as it was originally designed for students to walk through the SAMA and talk about specific art pieces on display.

Instead, students in the course saw and engaged in conversation about works of art presented on slides over Zoom. Despite the adapted format, Vaccaro explained that the course was still quite interactive.

“We would have speakers come every now and then to talk about their work in museums and the art field, and they often provided their contact information to students. That could be super valuable and an opportunity opening for some people,” Vaccaro said.

Katie Stewart, an undeclared sophomore, was also enrolled in the course and was lucky enough to see the impressionist painting she wrote a museum label about at the America’s Impressionism: Echoes of a Revolution exhibition in-person, which was on display from June to Sept. 5.

“I feel like it was really important for me to see it in person just because I learned so much about it. Once you have that understanding of art, it’s exciting to see it,” Stewart said.

Dujour believes that museum labels are important because they can show a new perspective that a person may not have previously been exposed to. They provide a jumping-off point for a viewer to think deeper about a work of art.

“What we like about ‘Fresh Takes: Trinity Student Voices’ is that we get a younger generation of students’ perspective on pieces,” Dujour said. “And it’s really interesting because some of them pick very contemporary pieces and talk about things like the Black Lives Matter movement, social equality or social change — and then some other students chose traditional Chinese Ming Dynasty porcelain, but they have an opinion that I think is really worth sharing because it just gives you an entire new perspective on the object.”

Vaccaro said that throughout the semester that she was in the “This is America” course, she was thinking critically about her chosen object. She found it difficult to fit a lot of information about an object into a relatively short museum label.

“We had to write four total papers about this specific art piece. One was a descriptive writing paper, artist biography, historical context and then our label which was our final project for the class,” Vaccaro said.

Stewart explained that although she is still undeclared, the “This is America” course opened her up to ideas and potentials she had not thought about before. “Probably one of the majors I’d be considering at the moment is art history just because being opened up to that world and the museum realm really was interesting. It was thought provoking,” Stewart said.


The original version of this story was uploaded with an image of a label at the San Antonio Art Museum created by senior Kayla Griscom. Griscom’s work was unaffiliated with the “This is America” course.