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January 25, 2011

An Affiliate journey through Smithsonian collections storage

Special thanks for this guest post to Latasha M. Richards, collections manager at York County Culture & Heritage Museums, a Smithsonian Affiliate in Rock Hill, South Carolina. 

The idea to visit the Smithsonian came to mind while I worked on ways to improve and better utilize the current collections storage space at the York County Culture & Heritage Museums (CHM).  As the collections manager for CHM, I knew such an opportunity to learn from Smithsonian staff would allow me to gain valuable information to help my museum move forward with its own ideas to renovate one of our current collections storage facilities. 

Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center shows Latasha the textile storage units.

Anyone who has gone through this type of process, particularly when it calls for moving large amounts of the collection, knows what a challenge such projects present. From the beginning, the CHM collections staff decided that talking to other professionals who have gone through similar activities would be one of the best ways to get a clear picture of just what to expect from the process.  Thanks to CHM’s participation in the Smithsonian Affiliations program, I was able to do just that.

I contacted my Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager, Caroline Mah, to talk about our collections storage renovation project and just what I hoped to gain from a visit to the Smithsonian.  She worked hard to ensure that she had a clear understanding of just want I was hoping to see and learn, and was able to set up tours for me with staff at the National Museum of the American Indian Cultural Resources Center (NMAI) and the Smithsonian American Art Museum

Compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Caroline and I met Raj Solanki, registration loan specialist, and Emily Kaplan, conservator, at the NMAI Cultural Resources Center in Suitland, Maryland on the first day. After a tour of the collections space, they summarized their experiences moving the collection from its previous facilities and what they loved or would change about their building if given the chance.  They recommended using a bar code system to track objects during relocation, a system that proved to be a successful process for them.  Emily and Raj also made recommendations for various vendors and professionals that they worked with and sent me a copy of NMAI’s “The Move Procedure Manual” which details the procedures used in their move.

The next two days were spent at the American Art Museum’s two different storage facilities—one located near the museum in D.C., and the other a short distance away in Maryland. I met with Denise D. Wamaling, collections manager, and James Concha, collections manager for painting and sculpture.  Both had worked together when the American Art Museum had to relocate its collection to new facilities.  Denise and James oversee different aspects of the collection so the needs for their individual spaces were unique.  They emphasized how important it is to work as a team throughout the entire process because it made things run more smoothly.  Denise gave recommendations on how to plan the space by taping-off areas of the floor to represent where storage equipment and workspaces would be located as well as making life-size cutouts to make sure objects could be moved not only through doorways but also within the collections space as a whole.  When speaking with James, he emphasized just how important it was to manage workspace and supplies while moving.  He noted that things can get overwhelming with boxes, crates, and supplies everywhere and that it was important to coordinate when things were being moved and when the supplies would be available so that everything ran smoothly and efficiently. 

More compact storage at NMAI Cultural Resources Center.

Overall, the trip was incredibly helpful.  Some of the information was already somewhere in my thought process but in talking with other professionals who had actually gone through the experience it reaffirmed my ideas or recalled things to memory.  By touring all of the facilities, I saw different ways to store various objects that I had not thought of or seen before, which will be invaluable when it comes to planning our new space. I know I have options.  Lastly, I was so pleased and appreciative to the Smithsonian staff for not only taking the time to speak to me during the winter holiday season but with how generous they were with their knowledge.  I walked away from the experience with new contacts, lists of potential vendors and professionals that I can work with, and a reminder of just how small the museum community is and how important it is to share our thoughts and experiences with one another.

If you are an Affiliate staff member interested in planning something similar, contact your Smithsonian Affiliations National Outreach Manager for details.

November 17, 2009

sleepless in seattle

Filed under: General,Road Reports — Tags: , , , , , — Harold Closter @ 4:18 pm

There is so much going on at Smithsonian Affiliates in and around Seattle that one can hardly sleep.  Of course being in the heart of America’s coffee capital only adds to this condition.

Entrance to the Museum of Flight

Entrance to the Museum of Flight

This trip started on November 12 at the Museum of Flight, a sparkling and sprawling Affiliate, just south of the city, appropriately recognized as the world’s largest private not-for-profit air and space museum.  Under the dynamic leadership of Bonnie Dunbar, five-time space shuttle astronaut, the museum hosts such remarkables as the first Boeing 747, Air Force One, and a supersonic Concorde.  Astronaut John Young’s spacesuit and various examples of space food, on loan from the National Air and Space Museum (NASM), are also on display in the main building.  I was pleased to run into Dan Hagedorn, formerly of NASM and now senior curator at the museum. Dan’s voluminous knowledge of aircraft and aviation history kept me spellbound for hours. I think of Dan as our permanent loan to the museum.  He is complemented by an enthusiastic set of colleagues who, like the pioneers of flight, are continually dreaming up new ways to expand the museum’s innovative exhibitions and education programs.  Soar on!

A striking installation at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

A striking installation at the Wing Luke Asian Museum

The Wing Luke Asian Museum, in the heart of Seattle’s International District, flies to the heart of Seattle’s complex history as a home for generations of Asian and Pacific Island Americans.  The small community museum led for many years by visionary Ron Chew, and now directed by the equally inspiring Beth Takekawa, recently reopened around the corner in a not so small historic building, brilliantly transformed by the architectural firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen.  The renovation allows for contemporary art and community culture displays while preserving the original spaces occupied by workers, family associations, and merchants.  On view at this time are Roger Shimomura’s provocative and disturbing  “yellow terror” artifacts and his paintings that explore and expose the cruelty and harm of stereotyping.

The new Light Catcher building of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art

The new Lightcatcher building of the Whatcom Museum of History and Art

About ninety miles up the coast, in Bellingham, Washington stands the Whatcom Museum of History and Art, an important repository of Northwest  history and culture, and the ultimate destination of this trip. On November 13 the Whatcom celebrated the opening of it new “Lightcatcher” building, an exquisite facility, also designed by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects, that will rehouse the museum’s art collection and showcase new collections and acquisitions.  It was an honor to join director Patricia Leach, Mayor Dan Pike, the Board and all the local supporters in applauding this great community accomplishment. Bellingham was famous as the jumping off point for the great Alaska gold rush, but the hard work of many in this city, has unearthed the local gold of good will and artistic creativity.  We are delighted that the Smithsonian American Art Museum‘s very relevant exhibition, 1934: A New Deal for the Arts, will be the featured jewel at the Whatcom in 2010.  

Smithsonian Affiliates in Seattle and Bellingham offer so many amazing opportunities for learning and discovery, that what I lacked for in sleep I made up for in inspiration.  Pour me another cup of coffee!

 

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