Tuesday, April 14, 2009

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

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.

As such, this project will have no shortage of highly-qualified students and specialists to implement its objectives. Sue-Ellen Jeffers, registrar for the Blanton Museum, will continue to serve as the records' primary custodian. In this capacity she will oversee all aspects of the project, including ordering supplies, managing student workers, and serving as a liaison between the Blanton's curators and leadership. Archival arrangement, description, and processing will be carried out by an advanced graduate student under the auspices of a capstone project. This work will be supervised by an appropriately specialized faculty member from the School of Information. As for preservation decisions and treatments, the archives student will coordinate with conservation and preservation administration students and staff from the Kilgarlin Center. Necessary treatments will be carried out in the Kilgarlin's fully-equipped conservation labs. Students and faculty from the School of Fine Arts and the Museum Studies Portfolio program will be responsible for coordinating with the other team members and Blanton Curators regarding interpreting the materials and planning for outreach. Undergraduate work-study students assigned to the Blanton may be used for minor tasks as needed.

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.

1 comment:

Maria said...

Much improved. Liked the direct language that you used. No words are spared and they all serve their purpose to impact in the first page.