Students in the Study Room: Face to Face with Art from the Permanent Collection

On Wednesday, November 19 and Monday, November 24, students in my History of American Art class visited the OSU Museum of Art for the second time this semester. We were there, both times, to visit the exhibitions and also to see works of art that related to our course material from the permanent collection. One of my primary goals when we were designing the Postal Plaza Gallery was to make sure there was space for a study room—a place where people could go to see works of art not on view in the galleries.

Most museums have somewhere from 50-80% of their permanent collection in storage, and at the Postal Plaza Gallery, it was decided to put 100% of it in storage, so that traveling exhibitions could fill the galleries. That decision makes the study room all the more vital to our students and faculty. It was originally planned as a separate space on the basement level, but when we downsized the project to focus on the ground floor, we incorporated the study space into our main storage area.

In this week’s post, you can see how Carla Shelton, the museum registrar, and I worked together to bring students face to face with over 20 objects from the collection. Unless otherwise noted, all photographs are by Teresa Kilmer.

Students enter the study room. Photo by Adam Lettkeman.

Students enter the study room. Photo by Adam Lettkeman.

Architects Elliott + Associates designed the storage and study area with glass doors in order to invite visitors’ curiosity and give them a sense of being welcome “behind the scenes.” We’re the first class to have used the study room this extensively, so Carla experimented with different systems over the course of our visits. By the final visit, everything was running perfectly smoothly. In this photo, you can see flat files double as a staging area for the prints and photographs we’re going to look at.

Students study artwork closely; Carla, museum registrar, keeps things running in the background.

Students study artwork closely; Carla, museum registrar, keeps things running in the background.

We passed smaller, unframed works around on easels, allowing students to see detail. I’d prepared a handout with some basic information about each work of art for students to refer to as they passed each one around.

Marissa, a student in ART 3663: History of American Art, looking at the drypoint "Soochow Coolie," by Cyrus Baldridge.

Marissa, a student in ART 3663: History of American Art, looking at the drypoint “Soochow Coolie,” by Cyrus Baldridge.

Students were instructed in appropriate art handling—an important tangential benefit for those looking forward to working in museums and galleries themselves. Here, we see Marissa holding the easel with both hands as she moves it, being careful not to touch the print itself (Soochow Coolie, by Cyrus Baldridge).

Students looking at Alfred Hutty, "Deep South."

Students looking at Alfred Hutty, “Deep South.”

Several students in the class wrote research papers about the prints and photographs we looked at. Both Soochow Coolie and Deep South, by Alfred Hutty, are drypoints—a kind of intaglio print that creates a fine, soft edge to lines. It’s impossible to see in projected images in the classroom, so it’s vital to have the opportunity to visit the study room in order to understand the artworks fully.

Professor Louise Siddons introducing a print by Jerry Bywaters, "Mexican Graveyard," to students.

Professor Louise Siddons introducing a print by Jerry Bywaters, “Mexican Graveyard,” to students.

We looked at larger works on easels: I introduced them briefly and then students had the opportunity to walk around, seeing them up close.

Professor Louise Siddons introduces prints and a photograph by (R to L) Loraine Moore, J. Jay McVicker, Imogen Cunningham, Merritt Mauzey, and William Lester.

Professor Louise Siddons introduces prints and a photograph by (L to R) Loraine Moore, J. Jay McVicker, Imogen Cunningham, Merritt Mauzey, and William Lester.

In our first round of easel images, we were looking at the transition from Regionalism to abstraction in the 1930s and 1940s. One significant advantage of visiting the permanent collection, from my perspective as a professor, is that we reach beyond the textbook and canonical works of art to see some of the nuance and diversity of American visual culture.

Professor Siddons introduces prints by (L to R) Diana (Velgot) Pleva, Sam Olkinetzky, Abraham Rattner, and Dale McKinney. On the table: Helen Gerardia.

Professor Siddons introduces prints by (L to R) Diana (Velgot) Pleva, Sam Olkinetzky, Abraham Rattner, and Dale McKinney. On the table: Helen Gerardia.

In our second round of large-scale works on the easels, we explored the breadth of non-objective printmaking in post-war American art.

Students looking at large-scale and framed work on easels.

Students looking at large-scale and framed work on easels.

After I introduced the prints, students had the opportunity to get closer to them, as well.

Visiting the study room gives students the opportunity to learn more about how museums work, as well as to see original works of art up close. In addition to talking about the art-historical significance of the works we looked at, we also discussed provenance, condition, questions of originality, and other curatorial concerns. Over the next few weeks, I look forward to sharing student writing about the works we looked at in storage, as well as about the Rosenquist exhibition.

Anyone can make an appointment to see works of art from the permanent collection—not just classes! Contact Carla Shelton for more details.

 

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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