Katherine Brennan is a rich blend of new and old. She spent the summer at the Smithsonian’s Office of General Counsel, which protects the legal interests of the Smithsonian’s nineteen museums and galleries; she researched 19th century French documents connected to Pierre-Auguste Renoir; she archived Civil War military documents. Then she tweeted, created apps, and produced YouTube content for the museums.
The third year law student and 23-year-old Doylestown, Pennsylvanian even created a Twitter feed of Pearl S. Buck’s recipes while an intern at the American writer and author’s historic home in Buck’s County, Pennsylvania.
Brennan is a lover of history, of language, and of art. “Love” is the most used word in her vocabulary in describing her many passions. She loves Doylestown; it has two castles that are museums and Oscar Hammerstein wrote Oklahoma! there. She loved her high school, where she played field hockey.
And she loves German. Germans first settled the area in 1683, and one-third of the population had German roots as early as 1775.
“We had a very strong German program at school,” she said. “There were tons of German clubs and every year we would go to one and have schnitzel and play German games. And we had Waffle Tag [day] starting in 8th grade where all the students would make German waffles for lunch.
“I don’t think you would learn to polka in school in other places,” she said, “but I definitely did in German class.”
Off to the big city
Brennan went to American University because she fell in love with D.C. “It is such an amazing place for someone who has never been in a city before because it is a city run by suburban people,” she said. “I loved all the free things to do, and I loved all the museums.”
Besides free access to the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Museum of Natural History, and the
National Cathedral, the University, which was founded in 1893, allowed her to benefit from the most politically involved student body in the United States.
“American University is a relatively small school with a lot of really, really passionate and educationally driven people there,” she said. “That is what I loved so much about it.”
Even though she majored in German, don’t think her interests ended in a blaze of apfelstrudel and kasespatzle. She had also studied Latin in high school, “but there’s not much you can do with Latin in the real world.” Nevertheless she loved that tie to the Romance languages and the roots of words. So she studied French as well, walking the same streets of Paris as the impressionists: Degas, Monet, Renoir, studying French and French Art History at the L’Universitié- Sorbonne. She lived with a French family—an art restorer and an attorney, and spent four hours a day in classes on grammar and pronunciation. “I had no prior exposure to the language,” she said. “It was definitely being thrown into the deep end of the pool.” But she swam like a canard, of course.
Her first dabbles in art were in middle school when the class would do sketches of local Victorian houses and paint. “It was really fun. We did a series of self-portraits in different styles,” she said. “I did a Van Gogh/ impressionist style painting, lots and lots of color.” But it was the college semester in Paris that took an interest in art and turned it into a passion.
“I really do love Van Gogh, but my first exposure to art history was Baroque art while studying in Paris,” she said. “I just loved learning all the little nuances and tricks in many of those pieces of art. I find Peter Paul Rubens to be one of the most entertaining artists because of all the unusual things he includes in his paintings. I love his art. Whether it is the addition of an inexplicable little dog or a bevy of voluptuous Dutch women, Rubens always adds a bit more whimsy and drama to his paintings.”
Plus-size models aside, that most museums are frequented by an older generation is a fact not lost on Brennan. She loves very old things and knows a lot of people her age love history too, but she would find herself excited about a museum or an exhibition and wanting to share the love. “I had all these skills from my generation—Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo—and I was able to go into museums where they don’t necessarily have that infrastructure and really just add that and get their name out there,” she said. “It was so much fun, too.”
Brennan has come a long way from her first forays in high school at the historic home of Pearl S. Buck, developing the Twitter feed of Buck’s coveted Chinese recipes as well as producing a promotional YouTube video of the Mercer Museum’s collection of 19th century handmade artifacts.
She developed and managed tweets for the National Archives and Records Administration promotion of their Discovering the Civil War exhibit.
At the London Canal Museum, she independently created a multimedia iPhone app for the museum’s artifacts relating to the history of the city’s canal system and its workers, and, oddly, ice cream. London was so intriguing she stayed on to study the business side of the art world at Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
“While I was there,” she said, “I found that the legal aspects of the art and cultural heritage world was really what I wanted to pursue, and so I decided the next step would be law school.”
Discovers her path
She chose the University of Miami School of Law to study because of Professor Stephen Urice, the internationally recognized expert in cultural property law. “I sought out a law school that specifically had an art law course and Professor Urice has done so much in museum and cultural property law,” she said. “And the incredible art world opportunities like Art Basel Miami made the University of Miami the perfect fit.” She wants to use her past experiences and education to eventually work as legal counsel for an art museum.
As a 3L at Miami Law, she is on the University of Miami Law Review, is in the top 6% of her class, and is a Dean’s Merit Scholar. She is now pursuing a joint J.D. and LL.M. in Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law.
But for now, if one were to write a tweet about her, it would read:
@Katherine Brennan, an accomplished curator of melding 18th and 19th century art and artifacts with modern social media. #artin140characters.