Art History Major Pursues Career in Historic Preservation

By taking courses in architectural history, art history major Mary Turney discovers an unexpected career path.Senior art history major Mary Turney surveying historic homes in Tuscaloosa.

When senior art history major Mary Turney took architectural history courses from both Associate Professor Emeritus Robert Mellown and Assistant Professor Rachel Stephens, Turney realized she loved the subject and decided she wanted to get work experience in the field and see if she could make some aspect of it a career. So she applied for an internship at the Gorgas House Museum, built in 1829 the oldest structure on the university campus. Turney met Erin Haney, former director, and Haney introduced her to other movers and shakers in historic preservation.

After working at the Gorgas House and volunteering at the Tuscaloosa County Preservation Society, Turney worked in a summer internship in development at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Then, after an introduction through Dr. Cathy Pagani, this fall Turney began an internship under Gene Ford, architectural historian in UA’s Office of Archaeological Research. Ford is teaching Turney historic survey skills from the ground up, so to speak, in “Introduction to the Fundamentals of Historic Resources Surveying.”

Now in her second semester, Turney is assisting him in a massive project to update the inventory of all the “identified resources” in Tuscaloosa’s Druid City Historic District. They will resurvey all the qualifying structures in the area including more than 260 houses and a monument. “The last time an inventory was done was in the 1970s,” Turney said. “The number of houses [older than 50 years] has more than doubled since then.” She is getting hands-on experience and learning basic techniques and methodologies required to document historic resources including taking photographs, identifying and describing architectural features, and writing survey reports.

Turney hopes this internship and her other experiences will lead her to a career combining historic preservation and development. Now, along with her classes, her internship project and working three part-time jobs she has begun the inevitable job search that looms ahead for graduating seniors. Turney said she may consider grad school at some point, but right now she wants to get out in the world, and is looking for jobs at preservation organizations in places where historic preservation is highly valued. “My target cities are Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans, but I could go anywhere!” We think she could too. [Loupe, Spring 2014]

For more information about the UA Department of Art and Art History degree programs, go here: