Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Assignment #8: Project Proposal - Preservation of the Suida-Manning Papers at the Blanton Museum of Art

The Suida-Manning art collection is unique and tremendously valuable, both due its completeness, and the fact that a family of art historians amassed it over several generations of assiduous scholarship. Comprising approximately 250 paintings, 400 drawings, and 50 sculptures—with dozens of examples of regional schools of Italian painting—it was valued at $35 million dollars at the time it was acquired. The collection found a home at the Blanton Museum of Art on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, where it has proved a boon for curators, scholars, and students. Several years after acquiring the art collection, the Blanton received the Suida-Manning Papers, which document lives shaped by a consuming passion for both art collection and education.

Because the Suida-Manning Collection was acquired in its entirety, students and scholars benefit from context: the ability to examine individual works of art against all of the other paintings, drawings, and prints can enrich the experience. Unquestionably, the Suida-Manning Papers provide an even greater sense of provenance to the art collection, as well as insights as to the intellectual activities of the Suida-Mannings.

The Papers contain notes, manuscripts, letters, invoices, photographs, and ephemera accrued during the rich lives of William Suida, art historian and curator of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Collection along with son-in-law Robert Lee Manning, and Bertina Suida-Manning an art historian and curator of the Chrysler Collection. The three have published extensively, including an authoritative text devoted to Luca Cambioso. However, at present, this treasure trove remains elusive: the papers’ current state of disorganization and unfriendly housing precludes access by scholars and curators.

A recent preservation assessment found these records to be in fair condition, but in desperate need of re-housing, extensive archival processing, and other preservation activities. This assessment—involving systematic observation of randomly-selected samples from the papers—provided useful data about the proportion of various types of objects, as well as the quantity of time and material supplies needed in order to improve papers’ situation.

The Blanton Museum enjoys a rare positive rapport with its parent educational institution. The University of Texas at Austin offers both a first-class College of Fine Arts as well as a School of Information that includes the highest-ranked US graduate program in Archives & Preservation. Part of the School of Information, the Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record provides singular training for students in management of overarching preservation problems as well as applied conservation treatments. Additionally, a recently-launched graduate certificate in Museum Studies draws from both Art and Information Science students. Forming a partnership between the Blanton and these academic programs will supply all of the necessary skills required to address the Suida-Manning Papers’ needs.

In conclusion, the Suida-Manning Papers constitute an untapped resource for art historical scholarship and curatorial exploration. The conditions in which they are currently stored—such as ill-fitting legacy boxes and filing cabinets, all the while in extreme disorder—threaten continued damage to and permanent neglect of these unique materials. Financial resources are needed to support the much-needed archival processing, combined with surface cleaning, minor treatments, and complete re-housing. These efforts will preserve the materials, making access by potential researchers possible, which in turn will provide rich dividends for the broader scholarly community.


Beth A said...

I like the way that you described the Suida-Manning painting collection and the Suida-Mannings themselves. It gives context to the papers and helps the potential donor understand the value of the archive.

Maria said...

Good work, convincing and positive. In a grant summary you always have to indicate the project coordinator, pi, manager, etc. Beyond the fact that the schools and departments at ut can get together to work on this project, you always have to identify a responsible and apt person for the project.