Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How did that end up in the museum, anyway?

Doug Kendall, Curator of Collections

“What’s New” is one of the recurring themes here on the Museum’s blog. We like to share the stories and images of our recent acquisitions. But how do artifacts and works of art find their way into the Museum’s collections? And why those things and not others?

The New York State Historical Association, which operates the Fenimore Art Museum, has existed for over 110 years and has been collecting for most of that time. As you can imagine, we’ve accumulated a lot of things over those years: almost 25,000 objects and over 100,000 photographs.

These days, the Museum continues to acquire artifacts, but the staff has to think hard before adding something new to the collections. We have limited acquisition funds, but even potential gifts have to be carefully scrutinized for relevance—after all, there are costs associated with cataloging, exhibiting and caring for each object in the Museum’s collection and both our resources and our space is finite.

That’s why the staff and Board of the Museum carefully developed a Collections Management Policy and review it every few years. One of the most important parts of the policy is the “Scope of Collections” section. Having a scope helps us recognize whether a potential gift makes sense as part of this museum’s collection or should perhaps be referred to another museum with a different mission. The Museum’s Collections Advisory Committee carefully considers every potential addition to the collection and makes a recommendation to the President and CEO of the organization, and the Vice President and Chief Curator, who have the authority to add items to the collection.

Residence and Office of James L. Smith, Mansfield, Cattaraugus Co NY
Graphite pencil on paper, framed
Artist Unidentified, ca. 1880
Gift of Scott and Gladys Macdonough, N0010.2010
Photograph: Richard Walker

Residence of Michael Van Alstine
Graphite pencil on paper
Fritz G. Vogt, 1890
The Farmers’ Museum, Museum Purchase, F0216.1944

Recently, a Connecticut couple offered to give the Museum a pencil sketch of a home in Cattaraugus County. This image falls within the Museum’s collecting interest in American folk art and it also provides evidence of upstate New York material culture, another of our collecting areas. Although we don’t know who sketched the James L. Smith residence and office, the style is reminiscent of the lithographs that appear in Victorian county atlases and histories, many of which can be found in our Research Library. In addition, the Smith sketch complements the drawings of itinerant Mohawk Valley artist Fritz G. Vogt in the collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and our sister institution, The Farmers’ Museum. So in this instance, the sketch of James Smith’s home and office is a welcome addition to the Museum’s collections for a variety of reasons.

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