Caring for Works on Paper

Janelle Beasley, Works on Paper Preparator, Eskenazi Museum of Art

In pursuit of a new level of care for the works-on-paper collection at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, I recently attended an introductory course in paper conservation at the International Preservation Studies Center (IPSC). Located in the small town of Mount Carroll, Illinois, the IPSC offers more than 75 courses in collections care and historic preservation. Since its founding in 1980, the center has become a wonderful resource for museum professionals, archivists, librarians, and all those tasked with preserving historical artifacts.

Janelle Beasley (left) removing adhesive residue from a map with a crepe eraser

As the works-on-paper preparator at the EMA, my primary duty is to mat and frame the collection of prints, drawings, and photographs for exhibition and storage. Museum standards include using archival materials, framing the works with UV-filter glazing, and limiting their exposure to light. Given that paper degrades over time (to varying degrees depending on its quality), these preventative measures are crucial to prolonging the life of an object.

A damaged object, however, may require intervention by a conservator to improve its condition. In addition to internal degradation, paper can suffer from external sources such as poor storage conditions, exposure to light or humidity, acid migration, wear and tear, pollutants, and pest infestation. The instructors of “Care of Paper Artifacts,” Susan Russick and Tonia Grafakos of Northwestern University Libraries, provided a framework for understanding these issues as well as basic conservation treatments, including mending with Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste, surface cleaning, humidification and flattening, adhesive removal, and deacidification.

A building on the International Preservation Studies Center campus

One benefit of attending the IPSC is getting to know other collections professionals. Our class of ten included representatives from a wide variety of institutions, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and the Walt Disney Archives. All of us shared the common goal of providing care to the paper artifacts in our collections. Now that I am back in Bloomington and the museum is closed for renovations, I am focusing on re-housing works, updating data, and making minor repairs for a portion of the collection. Working with the EMA’s collection of 22,000 works on paper (and counting), it is safe to say there will always be a need for care.

Please visit the IPSC website at www.preservationcenter.org to learn more.

Susan Russick demonstrates the toning of Japanese tissue using acrylic paints.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

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Celebrating the Centenary of Rodin’s Death

Image: Edward Steichen (American, 1879–1973). Rodin from Camera Work (vol. 2), 1903. Photogravure on paper. Eskenazi Museum of Art, 78.31A

November 17, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917), one of modern art’s most famous sculptors. This portrait of the aging artist appeared in Alfred Stieglitz’s journal Camera Work. Stieglitz was an early proponent of modern art in America and he promoted Rodin’s work. He reproduced nine of Rodin’s drawings in Camera Work, vol. 34/35 (Eskenazi Museum of Art, 200.XIII.35.5–.13).

One of Stielgitz’s favorite photographers was Edward Steichen, who shared his interests in pushing the artistic possibilities of photography. In his early portraiture, Steichen embraced a Pictorialist aesthetic that featured the soft-focused veils of tone and idealized subjects promoted by Stieglitz. Steichen also sought to further the status of the medium through references to other fine arts. In this portrait, Steichen posed a pensive Rodin in silhouette against the gleaming white of the sculptor’s recently completed monument to the French novelist Victor Hugo. More than capturing a likeness, this image serves as a metaphor for the creative process—with the artist’s masterwork looking down angelically on its maker. The photogravure appears to be a cropped version in reverse of Steichen’s 1902 gum bichromate print, the latter of which was created by combining two negatives. The larger image, which was reproduced in Camera Work, no. 11, 1905 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.11.7) and a Special Steichen Supplement, 1906 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.15.10), also included and image of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (Le Penseur) facing the artist. The journal reproduced two more traditional portraits of the famous artist: by Steichen in Camera Work, vol. 34/35, 1911 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.35.1), and by the British photographer Alvin Langdon Coburn in Camera Work, vol. 21, 1908 (Eskenazi Museum of Art 200.XIII.22.40), further suggesting Rodin’s importance to burgeoning modern artists on both sides of the Atlantic.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Head of Baudelaire, 1898 (cast 1959). Bronze. Gift of Mrs. Julian Bobbs, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 62.1

The first work by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was a portrait head of the great French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire (French, 1821–1867). Rodin never met Baudelaire, but his art was shaped by the former’s theories of modernity and subjectivity. In 1892, a group of writers commissioned Rodin to design a monument commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Baudelaire’s death. He gladly made a portrait sculpture for the Montparnasse cemetery in Paris. Six years later, he reworked this image as an independent piece.

To make this portrait, Rodin studied the death mask of the poet and made life studies of a man said to bear a striking resemblance to Baudelaire. At the same time, he tried to conjure up the spirit of a Roman bust, allying the subject with the dignity and longevity of ancient writers. Finally, Rodin drew upon his own personal response to Baudelaire’s poetry to give expression to the artist’s viewpoint and to inject the eternal, spiritual quality that he—and Baudelaire—sought in art.

Rodin, whose sculptural talents are often considered equal to those of Michelangelo, was able to imbue simple compositions with psychological depth and intensely expressive feeling. Rodin was greatly influenced by Baudelaire’s 1857 poem The Flowers of Evil, which encouraged him to explore erotic themes, as seen in his sculpture of the goddess Iris.

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Seated Nude Holding Left Ankle (Femme assise de tenant le pied gauche), ca. 1906–07. Watercolor over graphite on paper. William Lowe Bryan Memorial Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 66.31

The first and only drawing by Rodin to enter the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection was acquired in 1966. Albert Elsen—an expert on Rodin and professor of art history at IU (1958–68)—noted in a letter (April 8, 1966) to the donor, James S. Adams, “It is a superb drawing and there is no question as to its authenticity. Every week I am called upon to give an expertise on a Rodin drawing or sculpture, many of which are fakes. But this drawing is of the highest quality and unmistakably by Rodin.” He went on to say, “This new acquisition will give me many hours of enjoyment and a superb work of art to use in my courses.” Although not as well-known as his sculptures, Rodin’s drawings and watercolors—of which he produced more than 10,000—are regarded by some scholars as more experimental and spontaneous than his large, three-dimensional works. Although they rarely served a preparatory studies for his sculpture, Rodin said in 1910, “It’s very simple. My drawings are the key to my work.”

Image: Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). Iris, Messenger of the Gods (Iris, messagère des dieux) (also known as Another Voice, called Iris), 1890/91 (cast 1960). Bronze. Gift of Marion and Rudolf Gottfried, Eskenazi Museum of Art, 2011.40

Although the Eskenazi Museum of Art had not acquired a new work by Rodin in forty-five years, the gift of a bronze in 2011 rectified that situation. Seeming to defy the laws of gravity as she balances on one foot, Iris has a muscular body suggesting that of a dancer in Rodin’s frankly erotic sculpture. Her weightlessness also refers to the ancient Greek goddess’s role as a messenger traveling between the worlds of gods and humans.

Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper, and Jenny McComas, Curator of European and American Art,
Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Textile Artist Isabel Berglund Visits Bloomington

Isabel Berglund

This fall, the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University is partnering
with IU School of Art + Design, Lotus Education and Arts Foundation,
IU Textile Artist Association, and IU Arts and Humanities Council to
support an artist residency. Danish textile artist Isabel Berglund, known
for her large-scale knitting events and participatory art projects, comes
to Bloomington September 12–October 5, 2017. This residency offers the
artist the opportunity to immerse herself in the local cityscape and partner with the IU and Bloomington communities to create a social art project. The project, called Home Mask Relations—A Social Art Project, explores themes of togetherness, relationships, and home. Berglund will lead workshops at which participants will knit and crochet pieces representing the floor plans of their homes. She will then assemble the pieces into a finished installation. The project invites people to create together while celebrating diversity within our community.

During the last week of her residency, a sample of Berglund’s finished work will be on view at the 24th Lotus World Music and Arts Festival at the Lotus Arts Village, and at Lotus in the Park. Lotus in the Park (September 30, at Third Street Park) will feature both a workshop with Berglund, and a conversation with the artist hosted by David Brenneman, the Wilma E. Kelley Director of the Eskenazi Museum of Art. The installation will also be on view at the IU First Thursday Festival on October 5 from 5 to 8:00 p.m. on the Fine Arts Plaza near the art museum.

Work by Isabel Berglund

Free artist talks and workshops will be provided at multiple locations, including several opportunities during the 24th Lotus Festival. The

workshops are free and open to the public. Supplies will be provided.
Beginners are welcome.

Events with Isabel Berglund
(All events are free and open to the public)

Thursday, September 21, 6-9 p.m.: Community Knitting Workshop
IU Fine Arts Building, room 230

Monday, September 25, 1-4 p.m.: Community Knitting Workshop
Meadowood Retirement Community

Wednesday, September 27, 6-7 p.m.: Artist Lecture
IU Fine Arts Building, room 015

Friday, September 29, 6-9 p.m.: Workshop, Sample Art Installation, Interactive
Lotus Festival Arts Village, E. 6th St. between Walnut St. and Washington St.

Saturday, September 30, 12:15-1 p.m.: Conversation with the artist,
hosted by Eskenazi Museum of Art Wilma E. Kelley Director David Brenneman
Lotus in the Park, Third Street Park

Saturday, September 30, 2-5 p.m.: Workshop, Sample Art Installation, Interactive
Art Camp at Lotus in the Park, Third Street Park

Thursday, October 5, 5-7:30 p.m.: Workshop, Sample Art Installation, Interactive
IU First Thursday Festival, Showalter Fountain Arts Plaza

Click here to learn more about Isabel Berglund and the 2017 Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

Copyright and Mourning: Funerary Art of New Ireland

The island of New Ireland, part of the contemporary nation of Papua New Guinea, is known for its remarkable and varied funerary art forms. The most famous of these is called Malangan, which is practiced by the peoples of northern New Ireland. These ceremonies free the living from obligations to the deceased and allow the spirit of the deceased to move on to the next life. The term Malangan refers both to the ceremony, performances, and feasts that are held to honor the deceased and the art objects that are created for them.

After a person’s death their matrilineal family line is responsible for sponsoring the Malangan celebrations, though other family members and friends can also contribute and honor the dead. These celebrations include both people from within the community and visitors and friends who have traveled to take part. As these celebrations include feasts, performances, and the ceremonial exchange of goods, they are often spread out over months and years. Given the great expense of such a celebration, it is not unusual for the Malangan to take place months to years after the death of an individual or for one celebration to be used to honor several people. Both receiving a Malangan celebration in one’s honor and sponsoring a celebration for another confers status within the community.

Malangan designs, motifs, and forms are often referred to as having “copyrights.” While this does not line up perfectly with the Western use of the term, it is a relatively good way to understand the rules of use connected with them. Only people who have the “rights” to them can use the designs, motifs, and forms, and these rights are owned by specific families as well as by people who have reached certain important stages in life (such as marriage or the birth of a child).

The peoples of southern New Ireland used chalk figures as a part of their memorial rituals. These figures, made by specialist artists in the center of the island, were created for the deceased’s spirit to enter and as a means of guiding that spirit to the afterlife. Once this purpose had been fulfilled the figure itself was destroyed.

There are two other major funerary art forms from New Ireland, which unlike Malangan are no longer practiced. In central New Ireland the Mandak peoples created memorial figures to embody the spirit of the deceased. These figures would commemorate the life of an individual man and were typically displayed as part of a ceremony for skull burial at the end of a yearlong funeral ritual for an important person.

 

Unknown Artist. New Ireland, Northwest area, Papua New Guinea. Memorial Carving in the Form of a Figure. Wood, pigment, fiber, sea snail opercula. Eskenazi Museum of Art 81.17

After the death of a loved one the family of the deceased commissions a sculptor or sculptors to create, over several months, elaborate memorial carvings known as Malangan. In some instances the head of a family may contribute a form or motif to a friend or community leader from another family.

Figures, such as this one, while varying greatly, typically represent an ancestor or mythical entity connected to the single life-giving force. The exact story or explanation of imagery used in a Malangan carving is only understood by the owner of the rights to that Malangan. Even other members of the community would not fully understand a Malangan they did not have the rights to use.

It is believed that during the public display of the figure the ancestor or mythical figure depicted dwells within the form. The final step in the creation of a Malangan figure is the placing of the eyes, which enliven the carving. Once the ceremony is over the figures are destroyed or sold to people outside of the community.

 

Unknown artist. New Ireland, Northwest area, Papua New Guinea. Mask, Tatanua. Wood, pigment, fiber, sea snail opercula. Eskenazi Museum of Art 63.15

In addition to the carvings utilized as part of the Malangan rituals, dances performed for the public were also extremely important. This mask was worn and danced by men and was created to convey manly beauty. The high crest represents a hairstyle worn by young men of the community during mourning. Additionally, the flaring nostrils and open mouth are common features for the form.

While the hairstyle shown is one worn by young men, the subject the mask depicts is not clearly agreed upon. Early reports suggest that the masks are representations of the dead, ancestors who have returned in order to participate in the Malangan. Many New Irelanders today reject this idea and instead believe the masks to be the representations of living people. It is unclear if this early report was mistaken or if people’s interpretation of the masks have changed over time.

These masks, which typically appear at the end of the Malangan rituals, are danced in pairs or groups. These dance performances are often given and paid for by a friend or by family members of the deceased. Unlike the carvings associated with Malangan that are created uniquely for the individual dance, masks are often rented from the sculptor who created them and can be reused in the future.

 

Unknown artist. New Ireland, Southern area, Papua New Guinea. Figure, kulap. Chalk, pigment. Eskenazi Museum of Art 62.67

After the conversion of the peoples of New Ireland to Christianity the practice of chalk figures came to a quick end. The last figures to be made are thought to have been created around 1910.

Before the early twentieth century when a man or woman from a prosperous family passed away a male relative would travel to obtain a chalk figure. These figures were sometimes commissioned, but sometimes pre-made figures were purchased, always with the sex of the figure matching the sex of the deceased.

Once the male relative returned home the figure would be presented to the local leader who was in charge of such images and placed with other figures in a memorial shrine. This shrine, located within an enclosure, was only to be viewed by men, though women often gathered outside to mourn the deceased.

 

Unknown Mandak artist. New Ireland, Central area, Papua New Guinea. Memorial Figure. Wood, pigment, shell, sea snail operculum, fiber. Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, Eskenazi Museum of Art 91.498

Visually there are number of connections to the Malangan carvings of northern New Ireland, such as the predominant use of black, white, and red pigments; however, unlike the Malangan memorial carvings, this one would be kept over many years. In fact, whenever a new figure was carved all of the other figures would be brought out and repainted for the occasion.

Perhaps the most striking characteristic of this type of figure is the presence of both male and female genitalia. It is thought that this may be a representation of the importance of both men and women within the community and as part of the reproductive cycle. However, very little firm evidence is known as these figures have not been created or used in several generations. Also, there are only a few known reports that describe their ceremonial context and these are based on very limited information. What is clear is that these figures were created to represent those who were powerful and important within their community.

Emma Kessler
Curatorial Assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas
IU Eskenazi Museum of Art

If you would like to learn more about South Pacific and Oceanic Art visit the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Highlights from the Collection website.

 

Ronald Markman: Remembering the Mastermind of Mukfa

Study for Cityscape II, 1994. Black ink and colored pencil on paper. Echo Press Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 95.72.2

 

On May 30, artist and former professor at Indiana University, Ronald Markman, passed away. Below Nan Brewer, Lucienne M. Glaubinger Curator of Works on Paper at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art reflects on Markman’s career.

In 1962 on a Fulbright scholarship to Italy, Markman saw old maps of Rome by printmakers like Piranesi and was inspired to create his own mythical metropolis. Dubbed Mukfa, which he thought sounded both slightly obscene and sort of lyrical, it became the subject of an on-going series. As Markman later recalled, “Creating a country of my very own, complete with its own heroes, villains, mermaids, newspapers, airlines, and university offered me the freedom I had always sought from art.”

The works’ bright colors and cartoonish style recall the scenic designs of Broadway musicals, comic art, and the Marx Brothers’ movies—all experiences associated with Markman’s childhood in the Bronx. Although he started out with the dream of becoming a cartoonist, Markman continued his studies at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and the Art Students’ League on the advice of Saul Steinberg who told him to learn to draw. A stint in the army and subsequent GI bill enabled Markman to attend the Yale School of Fine Arts, where he studied under master colorist Josef Albers and earned a BFA and an MFA. His understanding of color theory garnered Markman a job as a color consultant for Hallmark Cards Co. where he worked for a year after college and would become a central feature of his own creative work.

Turning to painting as his primary medium, Markman also began to teach. After short stints at the University of Florida and the Art Institute of Chicago, he joined the painting faculty at Indiana University in 1964, where he taught until his retirement in 1995. After his retirement and the death of his wife, Barbara, Markman moved to Maryland, in order to be near his only daughter, Ericka. He continued to make art and exhibit his work.

In addition to his many paintings, prints, and drawings, Markman created a series of five wall murals for Riley Hospital in Indianapolis (1986) and a short animated film, Ever Since the Bad Thing Happened (1994). His work is found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Brooklyn Museum, Cincinnati Art Museum, Johnson Museum of Art, and many other institutions.

The Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection includes twenty-two works by this artist. Here is a small sampling.

Cityscape, 1980. Color lithograph with collage on paper. Echo Press Archive, Eskenazi Museum of Art 86.59.1

 

Despite an innate playfulness and naïve, childlike style, there is often a subtle political commentary in Markman’s images. In Cityscape, a print collage created at Bloomington’s Echo Press, a plane crashing into a city, while pursued by the cops, along with the congested skyscrapers, clocks, “eyeball” lamp, and ant-like vehicles, exhort a police state and the inhumanity of totalitarianism. However, speaking about his depictions of evil in the world, Markman said, “I don’t see myself as a mean artist, but I do like to poke fun.”

Garden, 1965. Acrylic on canvas. Museum purchase with funds from the Hope Fund, Eskenazi Museum of Art 65.65.1

 

The Eskenazi Museum of Art acquired its first work by the young faculty member a year after he came to IU. Markman’s iconic three-breasted women in this painting suggest the “limits of the nonsensical, the absurd and the subversive” found in his art.

Money, 1962. Etching on paper. Gift of the artist, Eskenazi Museum of Art 68.94.2

 

This print shows the extent to which Markman took his imperial fantasy. The currency represents both sides of an 8 DRAS bill from the Republic of Mukfa.

Still Life with Flowers, 1980. Mixed media assemblage: acrylic paint, wood, plastic, and wicker. Gift of Professor Emeritus Gene Shreve, Eskenazi Museum of Art 2013.165

 

In his later work, Markman began to push the limits of the traditional four-sided canvas by creating painted sculptural reliefs as still life tableaus or hung “rugs.”

For more on Ronald Markman read his recent obituary in the New York Times, or visit Markman’s website.

Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

 

Limestone in Art

Our art museum, located on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, is situated right in the heart of limestone country. Bloomington and the surrounding area are known as sources for some of the best limestone in the world. Limestone from southern Indiana has been used to create such iconic structures as the Empire State Building and Yankee Stadium in New York and the Pentagon and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It is the predominant building material throughout the Indiana University Bloomington campus, which was named the second most beautiful campus in the country in a 2016 USA Today poll. Every June we celebrate Limestone Month in Bloomington. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss limestone’s presence in the history of art, as well as some examples of limestone art in our collection.

Limestone has been used as a material in art since before antiquity. The Venus of Willendorf (28,000–25,000 BCE), one of the oldest and most famous surviving works of art, is made of Oolitic limestone (Oolitic is also the name of a town just south of Bloomington). The Great Pyramid of Giza was encased in Tura limestone, and the Great Sphinx of Giza, located in the pyramid complex, is made of Nummulitic limestone. (For an interesting and odd connection between the Great Pyramid of Giza and Indiana, read up on the failed attempt to create a limestone replica of the pyramid in Needmore, Indiana, in the 1970s.) Use of limestone can also be found in Sumerian, Egyptian, Cypriot, Greek, and Roman cultures, as well as medieval Europe, and China.

Two early examples from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection include a Servant Figure of a Brewer, an Egyptian statuette dating to the 5th Dynasty (ca. 2,565–2,420 BCE) and Striding Young Man, a Greek kouros (a statue of a standing nude youth popular during the Archaic period), which dates to 500–450 BCE.

A more recent example of limestone sculpture in our collection is Peasant (La Paysanne) by the French artist Marcel Damboise (1903–1992), which you can read more about here.

2016.2
Marcel Damboise (French 1903-1922). Peasant (La Paysanne), 1938-1939. Stone. Gift of Danielle Damboise Françoise, daughter of the artist, 2016.2

The museum also owns a beautiful print by Indiana University Professor Emeritus of Photography Jeffrey Wolin, from his Stone Country series. Just this year, an updated version of Wolin’s book Stone Country: Then and Now, was released by IU Press. It serves as an artistic and informative document of the limestone industry and quarries of southern Indiana.

15-06-16.nt
Jeffrey Wolin (American, born 1951). Winter, Oolitic, from Stone Country, 1984. Gelatin silver print. 90.18.7

If you are interested in other ways to celebrate Limestone Month, check out the Visit Bloomington calendar, which covers this month’s festivities in the city. Of particular note is a photography exhibition titled Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone, on view all month at Fountain Square Mall.

Packing an Art Museum’s Collection

As the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art prepares for a $30 million renovation, set to be completed by 2019, we are often asked why the renovation will take a full two years. Part of the answer is the monumental task of packing and moving a major collection of art. To explain the process better, Emma Kessler, the museum’s curatorial assistant for the Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas gives us an inside look into the process. 

Due to the $30 million renovation of the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University set to begin this summer, we must move our collection of more than 45,000 objects to an off-site facility. While the museum closed its doors to the public on May 15, the packing of the collection, which began last year, will continue. It will take many months to safely move the collection so that the renovation can begin, and many months after the renovation is completed to reinstall the collection.

Example of a crate custom-built to hold a specific art object.

The packing process began its planning phase over a year ago. Given its size, as well as the value, fragility, and diversity of objects, the museum’s collection requires a packing process that is organized and executed in a very precise manner. Packing began with our African, Oceanic, and Americas (AOA) collection and is now underway with our holdings of ancient art, Asian art, works on paper, and European and American paintings and sculptures.

The first step in this process is a complete inventory of the collection. While inventories are done periodically, and a record is kept any time an object is put on display, loaned to another institution, or otherwise moved, surprises still pop up, especially when doing something as comprehensive as moving the entire collection piece by piece. To complete the inventory, every storage unit, shelf, and drawer was checked against both computer and paper records to make sure everything is up-to-date. It is also important to ensure that every object has a photograph accompanying its record in our database, as well as a physical tag recording the object’s accession number. A packing report is made for each object as well. It is displayed on the box or crate made for that item, allowing for easy identification while in storage.

Once the inventory process is complete, each object requires a condition report. With every object in our collection being moved, it is necessary to assess condition before packing, moving, and storage for an extended period of time. While this is a time-consuming process, it has a number of benefits, including aiding in future conservation efforts and drawing attention to any specialized care an object needs when being packed or during storage. For example, in 2014 we acquired a fantastic collection of art from Kenya. Among these objects are a number of skirts and aprons made from animal hide, a material that is quite susceptible to mold. Therefore, these items (and others like them) will need extra monitoring to make sure there are no issues.

After the inventory and conservation examination is complete, an object is ready to be packed. Whenever an item is moved or packed a digital record is created in our database, along with a backup paper record. We discovered that during this process it is extremely important to have someone on site who knows the collection well. As the curatorial assistant for the African, Oceanic, and Americas collection, I have been spending my days in the storage area recording each item and assisting with any additional questions, including those concerning numbering issues, materials, safe packing practices, and various oddities. Some issues may not occur to someone unfamiliar with the collection. For example, certain objects need to be packed together, while others need to be packed alone.

The actual packing of objects may sound very straightforward: you take the object, wrap it in bubble wrap, put it in a box, and move on to the next object, right? However, it is nowhere near that simple. The objects in the museum range in size, shape, material, and fragility, and the objects in the African, Oceanic, and Americas collection are some of the most diverse. They range in size from six-foot masks to 0.2-inch gold weights. There are also a wide variety of materials, including wood, fiber, bone, shell, feathers, hair, metal, and plastic. Often a single object will include several different materials. The size, shape, and materials used as well as any condition issues need to be taken into account when packing the object.

An example of a storage container specifically customized for the object it holds. Notice the supports on the lid, as well as inside the box.

While some items fit into standard size boxes, many require the creation of a specialized box or crate. While they may look like simple large boxes from the outside, they are very intricate on the inside, with close attention paid to every detail. The object must be secured in such a way that there is no chance of it moving around as the crate is transported. As a result, each crate has a number of specially made supports for the particular object it holds. In addition, the materials used for these supports (or anything that touches the object) must be of archival quality and acid-free. Also, the materials used can vary considerably based on the individual qualities of the object that is being packed. Some items in our collection have sticky materials on their outer surfaces—for these objects tissue paper will not work, as it will stick to the object. Instead, a soft archival fabric-like material is used. While this is a lengthy process, it has some added benefits, as we have been able to improve our storage methods in many ways. For example, within our textile storage, new containers and protective coverings were created for all of our leather and hide objects. This is an improvement over how they were initially stored.

Within our encyclopedic collection of more than 45,000 objects there are a myriad of different sizes, materials, and individual needs when packing and storing the collection. While it is a monumental challenge to pack up a collection of this size, it is also an opportunity to reassess our holdings and improve methods of storage and care for our collection. In that way, it is a great moment for ensuring that our collection will be properly preserved and available for Indiana University students, visiting scholars, and the general public for years to come. We look forward to unpacking our collection and reinstalling it in the newly renovated museum to provide a new way for everyone to engage with original works of art.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website