Archive for August, 2010

The Small Objects Collection Is Movin’ on Up!

With funding provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Dallas Museum of Art is currently undertaking its Museum Storage Improvement Project, which involves updating and enhancing proper storage for the Museum’s collections. A large part of this project is dedicated to the renovation of the Small Objects storage space. Small objects are works of art that are three-dimensional and small enough to fit in cabinet shelving. Our improvement project includes moving the works of art into new storage equipment and also retrofitting the older cabinets.

When we began, the Project Team decided to do an inventory of the 8,000 objects in this space. Small Objects includes works from all of the Museum’s curatorial departments–from ancient fertility figures and African beads to silver place settings and fine china. When we’re done, the new Small Objects space will have increased storage capabilities and improved environmental controls, allowing Museum staff to better care for these works of art.

Museum Storage Improvement Coordinator Danielle Flores works on the inventory by double-checking object labels.

Danielle works with Collections Technicians Robert Hoot (center, standing) , Consuelo Gutierrez (center, seated), and Registrar Sarah Evans (right) to inventory objects from the Decorative Arts collection.

Head Preparator Vince Jones moves an older Small Objects cabinet that has been emptied.  The new Small Objects space will use retrofitted old cabinets along with newly purchased cabinets.

Preparator Mary Nicolett carefully fills up a cart.

Our staff always works with gloves to protect the pieces in the collection.

Here is a sneak peek at the almost-completed Small Obejcts space. Improved lighting and new areas for study will make it easier for Museum staff and visiting scholars to access the collections.

Members Celebrate African Masks

Last Friday we posted to our blog that it takes several weeks to install an exhibition, and they are planned many months (if not years) in advance. Once the Museum’s membership department knows when exhibitions will open, we start scheduling our preview events.

This past weekend was busy; we hosted three previews! Over 1,000 DMA members took the opportunity to tour African Masks: The Art of Disguise before opening day.

In addition to greeting members at the exhibition and assisting them with the new smARTphone tour, we hosted the first Members Lounge at Late Nights. Some of you may remember that when the we presented the King Tut exhibition, DMA members were able to take a break from the crowds in a separate lounge area. We decided to bring the concept back during Late Nights. If you are a member and plan to visit during the September Late Night, stop by the Members Lounge at Late Nights for a snack and some additional fun. And please be sure to say hello!

Relax, Recharge, Retreat!

Earlier this week, we set aside a few hours for a staff retreat.  Though one goal was to discuss work-related topics, we also wanted to get outside of the Museum and spend time doing something different. 

Luckily, our retreat coincided perfectly with the opening of Oil and Cotton.  Business and creative partners Shannon Driscoll and Kayli House graciously opened their doors to us, despite the fact that they had just moved into their new space days before.  During the first half of our retreat, Shannon and Kayli helped us personalize small books by screenprinting the cover with designs of our choice.

Some of us brought designs to use for their covers, while others drew their cover designs.  First, we traced our designs onto a piece of mesh fabric held taut by an embroidery loop.  Next, we painted all areas of our design that we did not want to print with regular school glue.  The glue was mixed with blue paint so we could see which areas had been covered. Last, we used a small piece of matboard to push acrylic paint through the areas of fabric not coated with glue.

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Melissa Nelson
Manager of Teaching in the Community 

Interview with Curator Roslyn Walker

Dr. Roslyn A. Walker

It has been a busy summer here at the Dallas Museum of Art. One of our amazing curators, Dr. Roslyn A. Walker, took time out of her schedule to answer questions related to her job at the Museum. Read below for more information about Dr. Walker and her exciting exhibition that just opened – African Masks: The Art of Disguise.

Amy Wolf
Coordinator of Gallery Teaching

Name and Title: Roslyn A. Walker, Ph.D., Sr. Curator, The  Arts of Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific/The Margaret McDermott Curator of African Art

Years Employed at the Dallas Museum of Art:  I’ve worked at the DMA for six years, since the end of 2003.

Describe your job here at the Museum:  A curator, by definition, is the specialist in a particular field of study whose job it is to do the research on the collection and provide information about it; select objects for acquisition, to “grow” the collection; interpret the collection through exhibitions; and over see the maintenance of the collection.  I execute all these tasks.

What is your favorite part of your job?  All of the above! I do love doing research and learning about the art form, i.e., when and who made it (name of the artist if possible or his “hand” or style through comparison with other works), why it was made, how it was used in the original cultural context, and its provenance.

What is a challenge you face in your job?  I wish there were more hours in the day. I could use a course in time management. Buying art is a challenge because the price of highest quality of certain types of objects is beyond our means. We are fortunate to have a great collection that is representative of the major sculpture-producing peoples of sub-Saharan Africa.

How did you decide you wanted to work in a museum?  I enjoyed going to museums on school fieldtrips and with my family. I loved viewing the works of art, but I was also curious about what went on behind the scenes.  I chose a college – Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) which had a museum and was fortunate to work in that museum from freshman year through graduation. As I understood museum work at the time, I would have the opportunity to be a scholar, teacher, artist, registrar, exhibit designer, preparator – everything. This was a one director, one student assistant kind of museum! 

If you weren’t working here at the Museum, what is something else you would be doing? I can’t imagine doing anything else. I think I would have been happy working at the Department of State, in one of the cultural offices.   

Tell us about the exhibition you’ve been working on this summer. I’ve just opened African Masks: The Art of Disguise on Sunday, August 22nd. This exhibition presents approximately 70 objects which demonstrate the variety of masks types, sizes, styles, materials, and contexts in which the objects appear. Masks are worn in other ways than on the face and masks are only part of a costume that conceals wearer, from head to toe. The exhibition reveals the function, meaning and aesthetics of African masks. The masks “come to life” in performances recorded on film and in contextual photographs. I hope you will come to see this exhibition and that you will take along a smARTphone so you can learn more about masks, view videos, interviews, masquerades and more.

Visit www.DallasMuseumofArt.org/Education to learn more about the programs and resources for students and teachers related to this exhibition.

A Curator’s Best Days

The best days in a curator’s professional life are often the days spent in the conservation lab. That’s where we get to spend quality time with works of art and talk to conservators, the fantastically knowledgeable people who can look through a microscope or infrared scope and tell you the life history of an object. I was lucky enough to spend several hours in the painting conservation lab of the Midwestern Art Conservation Center (MACC), a private conservation center housed at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). I was there to confer with conservator David Marquis just before he begins cleaning an important painting in the DMA’s collections, Paul Gauguin’s Under the Pandanus, also known by its Maori title I Raro Te Oviri.

Gauguin painted Under the Pandanus in 1891, a few months after he arrived in Tahiti for the first time.  Sometime later, possibly the next year, he painted a second version of the composition, and that picture is now in the collection of the MIA. When I got to the MACC lab, they had brought both paintings to the lab and removed them from their frames so that we could do a thorough comparison. Ours is on the right, the MIA version on the left.

Last year we began to look closely at the condition of our painting, and earlier this summer we sent our painting to the MACC for technical analysis. Once the two versions of the painting were placed side by side, the differences become more and more obvious . . . and intriguing.

Though the technical study had just begun, David Marquis immediately pointed out how dirty the surface of the DMA canvas was, and how discolored the old layer of varnish had become. This yellowed varnish layer and surface layer of grime radically changed the appearance of the painting. MIA Associate Curator of Paintings, Sue Canterbury, described it as being like looking at the painting through a double-amber filter—not exactly what Gauguin had intended! The MIA version, which was cleaned within the last ten years, gives us a much better sense of what our painting must have looked like when it was first completed.

Once we decided to take off these two “amber filters,” David Marquis began by making “cleaning windows,” that is, cleaning small areas of the canvas. This is the first window he opened, in an area of the horizon near the right edge of the painting.

The results are pretty amazing! The white surf is actually so much brighter and cooler in tone than it appears in the dirty areas. Now that he knew what the cleaning might reveal, David opened some windows in other areas. When I got to the lab to take a look, several areas of the canvas had been cleaned, revealing a whole new palette of colors.

Once David’s cleaning of the varnish and grime is complete later this summer, we’ll have a much better sense of the choices Gauguin made while he was working on our painting, as well as how the painting has changed over time and the extent of work done by earlier conservators. We’re just at the beginning of this important project, so stay tuned for future updates about the results of our study of Under the Pandanus, and look for it to be back in the galleries, and looking better than ever, next year.

Heather MacDonald is The Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art at the DMA.

Capturing Nature

Last Saturday some volunteers and I spent the day sketching in the great outdoors as part of the Museum of Nature and Science’s Discover Fine Arts family festival.  The day focused on connecting science and the arts, and our activity invited visitors to be both artists and scientists; exploring their surroundings closely and capturing them in a sketch.  We used oil pastels, charcoal, ebony pencils, and watercolor pencils to draw the trees, flowers, turtles, fish, birds, giant swan boats, and everything else in and around the Museum’s Leonhardt Lagoon.  It was a fun day!

Below are some of the artists we met and their nature-inspired creations.  

Amy Copeland
Coordinator of Go van Gogh Outreach

Calm, Yet Fierce: An Experiment in Social Tagging Works of Art

Emma-O, Japan, late 16th - early 17th century

What words and phrases would you use to describe this sculpture, Emma-O?  Calm?  Fierce?  Intense?  The Dallas Museum of Art is interested in what teachers have to say about a select group of artworks from the Museum’s collection.  Visit STEVE: The Museum Social Tagging Project to “tag” one, five, or ten of the fifty-two images of artworks from the African and Asian collections.  If you are new to “social tagging”, it simply means to “tag”, or label, a work of art with a descriptive or associative word or phrase.

Why do we care about what you think?  Well, we often get very comfortable with our own vocabularies, which may or may not be interesting or accessible to everyone.  The idea behind social tagging is that you can build a more broad vocabulary around ideas or artworks and can consider new ways to describe and to think about works of art. It is also a great way to work with expert audiences–like educators.  We want to know what words and phrases you would use to describe various works of art and what we can learn from you.

This tagging project is one part of the Dallas Museum of Art’s IMLS grant, Connect: Teachers, Technology, and Art, which is focused on the redesign of online teaching materials for teachers and students.  In partnership with the New Media Consortium, the DMA is one of several museums participating in the Steve-in-Action project exploring various applications for social tagging with works of art.

We invite you to participate in this project.  Visit our tagger environment and look for a screen similar to the image below.  Create your login and then tag away.  Spend five or fifteen minutes sharing words and phrases that you feel aptly describe works of art from the Dallas Museum of Art.  It’s also fun to see what others have to say about the artworks.

Nicole Stutzman
Director of Teaching Programs and Partnerships


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