MSouthern State University Issouri’s collection of African art, which includes more than 300 works from various Central African tribes, will continue to be preserved thanks to a grant recently awarded to the Department of Art and Design.
The $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities will go towards the purchase of equipment, disaster supplies, security upgrades, consultation with a curator, and disaster preparedness training. emergency situations. The ministry was told it had been approved earlier this month.
The collection includes masks, statues, weapons, clothing and textiles and more.
Christine Bentley, director of the MSSU Spiva Gallery, said she can live her dream every day as the collection’s curator and professor of art history at the university.
“Teaching is my first passion, and it’s become a close second,” she said. “I love doing the collection, and that’s why I felt so passionate about this project. This is also why I love teaching because I can share this passion and talk about objects all day.
The African Art Collection is housed in the Spiva Library in Room 109 and must be maintained at a certain level of temperature and humidity to safely store around 300 fragile works of art and artifacts. It also includes an immersive museum studies classroom space to provide first-hand experiences in cataloging, researching, preserving and handling museum-quality objects.
Bentley said it was important to keep the humidity at a certain level to ensure that delicate artifacts and objects were not damaged by humidity. Several of the items are made from wood, as well as raffia, rope, paint, iron, copper, and other materials. Gloves are worn by handlers when touching objects.
“We have dehumidifiers in this space running constantly, and we have air purifiers to fight mold,” Bentley said. “Students also come in to record the humidity every day, and we want the humidity to stay between 55 and 65.”
The African Art Collection was put together by a former Assistant Professor of Art from pieces donated by John and Pam Finley in 1997, along with several other contributors. In 2020, it was selected as one of 75 institutions in the United States to participate in the Collections Assessment for Preservation Program, which provides small and medium-sized museums with partial funding for a general preservation assessment. .
The former grant funded a visit by a conservator and a historical architect to study the collection, building and building systems and policies and procedures related to the collection and its management in order to develop a set of priority recommendations to improve the care of the collection.
“We successfully completed this program and then were immediately referred to the American Alliance of Museums-funded museum assessment program, which we did in 2021,” Bentley said. “It was a bit different because we brought in an assessor who was more specific in terms of what we needed to do for preservation and how we could become a small museum.”
Bentley said recent grant funding will be used to ensure the collection is stored in appropriate and stable archival conditions. Funding will be used to purchase lighting monitors, fans, storage supplies and furniture, disaster supplies, dust and UV filters, security, as well as consulting for a conservator to write a collections care policy, update a disaster plan and receive training. in emergency preparedness.
“The appraiser who showed up for the museum appraisal program will help us follow the program that we have established with the NEH, in terms of the items and equipment that we buy and how we will install and install them. will be using in the collection,” Bentley said. “She’s also going to do a few workshops for us, including a workshop on disaster preparedness. She’s also going to help us create some of the necessary paperwork. a museum in its own right at some point.
The $10,000 grant will also be used to purchase display cases because the objects and pieces cannot be displayed permanently. Bentley said the collection gives students hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in a museum.
“I have a class of gallery settings where they act as assistant curators and they fill out reports on the maintenance of the collections,” she said. “Students get a lot of hands-on experience doing things that you would do as a curator assistant.”
Weapons were made primarily of metal and may include feathers and other decorative elements. Bentley said the majority of weapons in the collection are ceremonial, but there are indications that some were used.
“It is a pleasure to care for these items and to know that we are doing what we can to support them for the longevity of the life of the item, and that we have done our best,” Bentley said. “I’m so grateful to have an administration that supports us and sees the value in this collection.”