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College of Design

The College

Preserving the collection

By Suzy Frisch

The Goldstein Museum of Design has more than 26,000 items in its collection--including apparel, textiles, decorative arts, and graphic design pieces--and it's always adding more. Properly storing and preserving all of these artifacts are among the museum's most important responsibilities.

Wedding kimono
Wedding kimono. Designer unknown, c. 1970, embroidery on silk. Gift of Robert and Geraldine Poor. Photography by Kathleen Campbell.

 

"Although we regularly add new donations to the collection and we have limited space to store them, they all are stored in secure, climate-controlled conditions," noted assistant curator Jean McElvain. "Textiles and clothing make up 80 percent of the collection, at least, and they are very prone to deterioration over time."

 

Hovedvandsaeg (Danish box used for scents). Designer unknown, c. 19th century, silverTo stay on top of this daunting task, the museum frequently applies for grants and other outside assistance. One recent grant to the Goldstein funded a general preservation assessment by Elise Redman of the Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis to evaluate the storage and preservation of the collection.

 

From this assessment, the museum learned what it is doing well and what it needs to improve in its preservation and overall operations. This type of assessment is often the first step before a museum applies for additional grants for preservation, storage equipment, or other needs.

 

Korean basket with lid. Kae Jung Kwak, artist, c. 20th century, natural fibers"We know that we need to upgrade our collection storage in some areas," said Goldstein Museum director Lin Nelson-Mayson. "That was noted in the report, so we can go back to funders such as the Institute for Museum and Library Services and say, 'As a result of this independent professional review we are applying for this grant to support these projects.'"

 

To that end, the museum recently applied for a grant for monitoring devices that will track the light, temperature, and humidity in the museum. In the grant application, the museum cited the general assessment, which recommended these monitoring devices for the gallery, storage areas, and research center.

 

Dress/Scarf. Oscar de la Renta, designer, c. 2000, silk chiffonThe Goldstein is participating in another assessment program in spring 2009, funded jointly by the American Association of Museums and the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The Museum Assessment Program (MAP) is designed to connect peer reviewers to museums to assess their operations. The evaluator, a museum director from North Carolina, will perform a general institutional assessment, examining how the museum functions and whether its mission is aligned with its activities, its customer service, and internal and external perceptions of the institution.

 

"In a general way, they are looking at whether you do what you say you are doing," explained Nelson-Mayson. "The goal is to help a museum improve its professional operations."

 

The Goldstein participated in this assessment 15 years ago and, with the development of the College of Design, decided it was time to do a re-MAP. "I hope the report contains some material that allows us to pat ourselves on the back and say we're doing a good job as well as some things we can use for strategic planning and fund-raising to support improvement," said Nelson-Mayson.

 

In addition to preserving the collection, a second priority for funding is digitizing objects to make research easier. This fall, the Goldstein submitted a grant proposal for a new collections management software system that will allow designers, scholars, and students to easily access the collection. Currently, someone doing research must be interviewed by a staff member who then looks up the necessary items. Eventually, the museum hopes to put images and data for its entire collection online.

 

"Digitizing the collection makes it more accessible," said Nelson-Mayson. "It also gives the individual student or researcher the power to research the collection. It's a high priority project for us." Preserving the items collected by the Goldstein Museum of Design and making sure students, scholars, and designers have access to these objects are twin goals of the museum for sustaining its legacy.