Mary, Maija, and Toshiko: Re-Thinking Open Storage in the Collections Wing

Open storage.  Two words that mean nothing to the wider public, the phrase is a loaded one for museum professionals.  Love it or hate it (and I personally love it), open storage is an increasingly popular method of getting a museum collection—usually hidden away in the bowels of the institution—exposed to a wider audience.  Most museums only exhibit about 10% of their collection at one time, so building or retrofitting storage spaces to allow for public viewing of objects provides an opportunity to leverage museum storage and increase visitor-object interactions.  From the Luce Centers at the New York Historical Society and the Smithsonian American Art Museum to the open ceramics storage at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, more and more institutions are removing the physical barrier between their visitors and their objects—or at least replacing an opaque barrier with a glass one.

In 2008, Cranbrook Art Museum had the opportunity to redesign the museum’s storage from the ground up.  The museum chose to strike a balance between the all-access open storage model of a Luce Center or the new American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the traditional, old-fashioned model of closed-off storage with the rare “behind the scenes” mediated tour.  What resulted was the ceramics  vault in the new Collections Wing, a secure room with a glass wall that gives visitors—who enter the Collections Wing on one of the regularly scheduled weekly vault tours—a chance to look into storage and get a sense of the scope and depth of CAM’s holdings.  To add to the potential learning opportunities for visitors, no museum objects are assigned a permanent home on the first row of shelves in the vault.  Instead, the empty shelves serve as a miniature curatorial opportunity, with staff members changing out the objects on display there and tour guides serving as docents for “curated” shelves.

Ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing.  The first shelf is temporary shelving - it is used to curate within the collection. 2012. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum

The ceramics vault in the newly built Collections Wing. The first shelf is temporary shelving – Museum and Center staff use it to curate within the collection. Jim Haefner/SmithGroup/Cranbrook Art Museum, 2012.

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Photo Friday: Swedish Weavers, All in a Row

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers seated at one of the larger looms.  L to R: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg.  May, 1935.  Cranbrook Archives.

Studio Loja Saarinen weavers seated at one of the larger looms. L to R: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, Gerda Nyberg. May, 1935. Cranbrook Archives.

Founded in 1928, Studio Loja Saarinen served as a commercial weaving studio at Cranbrook, producing rugs, curtains, table textiles, and tapestries for both the growing Cranbrook campus and outside clients.  Though it bore her name, Loja Saarinen was not the sole weaver at Studio Loja Saarinen—instead, the studio employed a staff of primarily Swedish women who immigrated to the United States during the 1920s and 30s.  At its largest size, the studio had 30 looms in use to keep up with production demands.  Here four of Studio Loja Saarinen’s Swedish weavers are posed at one of the large looms housed in the lower level of the studio.   From left, they are: Elizabeth Edmark, Marie Bexell, Peggy Broberg, and Gerda Nyberg.   Displayed before them is one of the giant rugs produced by the weavers.  Still in use, this rug is on view in Saarinen House today.

– Shoshana Resnikoff, Collections Fellow

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