Exposure and Conservation: Presenting the Peck Collection in Perpetuity

The theme of the second in our ongoing series of selections from the recently donated Peck Collection of Dutch and Flemish drawings is “Ruins.” The topic of transience and decay seems an appropriate prompt for a quick discussion of the effects of time and exposure, not only on the grand structures of the Dutch and Roman past but also on 17th-century drawings themselves.

At the Ackland, we are often asked why the Pecks’ wonderful gift is not permanently on view in its entirety. Are we not proud and thrilled at this extraordinary enrichment of the Ackland collection and the cultural landscape of North Carolina? Indeed we are – so much so, in fact, that we not only yearn to show everything to everybody, but we add another dimension to that wish: everything to everybody, forever.

It is this last word, “forever”, that provides a clue to the answer as to why our visitors cannot see all 134 Peck Collection drawings, including the seven by Rembrandt, all the time. When museum folk think about the institution’s audience, we think not only of our many and diverse constituencies visiting in 2017, but also of all the possible visitors of the year 2117, or 2217, and beyond. Our commitment is to preserve masterpieces of human creativity for as long as humanly possible (you’ll sometimes catch us uttering the phrase “in perpetuity”).

To achieve that, works of art that are sensitive to the effects of light must be protected from over-exposure. Light can fade inks and darken paper; it can even, in the worst case, make a work of art disappear. Therefore, we carefully control not only the level and type of light that all drawings in our collection are exposed to, but also the length of time they are on exhibition.

We are hard at work on a website that will showcase all the Peck Collection drawings in very high resolution digital images, with commentary and information. We will also present a full-scale exhibition of the entire gift, with a scholarly catalogue, as soon as we can – probably in four or five years. Until then, I encourage you to return to the Ackland regularly, as our focused selection of works from the Peck Collection will change every few months, offering fresh perspectives, themes, and questions. And I invite you to peruse the collection on our current public database.

The Peck Collection offers us exquisite examples of human creativity, “rescued” by the collectors from the contingencies of history and time. It is our job to ensure that these well-preserved masterpieces do not themselves become ruins, unavailable to future generations in their full glory. Your grandchildren and great grandchildren and on “into perpetuity” will silently thank you for your understanding.

Hendrik Hondius the Elder, Dutch, 1573-after 1649: Ruins of Castle Spangen, n.d.; Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over black chalk on paper. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Peck Collection, 2017.1.45.

Something Old, Something New at the Ackland

DSC_0550Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 31 July 2015.

Dear Friends,

Because of our commitment to engage the Ackland’s permanent collection, I cannot resist mentioning the excitement around our current exhibition highlighting and rethinking our holdings of painting and sculpture since 1960.

“It changed the way I think,” said one visitor from the Galloway Ridge retirement community in Pittsboro.

“Amazing selection of wonderful works. The Sean Scully painting is sublime – just one of many surprises!! Many unknown names, at least to me, producing fascinating work!! I’ll be bringing friends many times!!” wrote a former museum director from the area.

My thanks to all of you for talking about the Ackland! Because of you Testing Testing is rapidly becoming the exhibition to see and comment on!

7746d294-b23b-4986-a616-0a956a0d8034But my main focus today is on a very different, but no less important part of the collection: Art of the Ancient Mediterranean. I am thrilled to announce the publication of a full scholarly catalogue of 227 works of art from many parts of the ancient Mediterranean world, including works from Egypt and the Nile Valley, Mesopotamia, Iran, Cyprus, Greece and Italy and ranging in date from around 5000 BCE to 1100 CE. An appendix documents the recent gift of an additional 211 ancient coins. Beautifully illustrated with gorgeous new color photography, this catalogue showcases a significant and valuable collection as never before. Our author is Professor Mary C. Sturgeon, just retired from a most distinguished career as Professor of Classical Art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has triumphantly brought to a conclusion a project that began well over a decade ago in seminars with graduate students researching these Ackland objects. The publication, with 344 pages and 727 color plates, is now available at the Ackland Museum Store ($80 for members, non-members $100). Continue reading

On “Refreshment”

This essay by Peter Nisbet was originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 16 March 2015.

Today’s word is refreshment.

Over the past several months, I have been thinking especially about a project that might be called “Ackland Refreshed”: imagining and implementing ways to make the art on display look even better and our museum visitors feel even better. After rearranging and reinstalling the collection, as well as switching to LED lighting (enhancing the visibility of our art, all the while saving money and energy), we have just finished repainting our galleries, adding carefully-chosen, art-enhancing colors to the walls. I have had many visitors tell me that the galleries have never looked so welcoming and elegant, and I invite you to experience these refreshed spaces for yourselves.
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Glimpse into the Collection: Reading All Night Long

The Bookworm, 1920In honor of staying up way-way-way too late yet again to finish a book, I give you The Bookworm by Arthur Paunzen. Something about the enormous stacks of books crowding the figure just speaks to me. Also his complete disregard for the huge spider over his head. Now that I would likely notice.

I will endeavor to go to sleep earlier from now on, but I’m sure some book will inevitably keep me up.

Arthur Paunzen, Austrian, 1890-1940: The Bookworm, 1920; drypoint. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.1774.

Glimpse into the Collection: Old Well in the Spring? (We say, “Yes!”)

Old Well

Edward Carrick, British, 1905-1998: “Christmas Greeting Card,” 1930; wood engraving. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.2389.

Diane Davis is the project photographer for the Ackland Art Museum’s IMLS Digitization Project Grant. Since 2010, she has been producing master image files to digitally archive all of the Ackland’s collections. After having a commercial business in Charlotte for 25 years, she finds working on this important project a very satisfying extension of her career.

As each of us on the digitization team has discovered this print, we’ve imagined it was made in Chapel Hill and depicts the Old Well on UNC campus in the spring.

It seems equally fitting for Easter, with the little bunny in silhouette in the foreground, doesn’t it?  It took me a number of viewings to even notice that there is a second bunny in the middle of the “valley”. Perhaps that has to do with the fact that the viewers eye is compelled to travel in the circular spiral of this composition…full of new growth bursting from the grass to the tree tops. Continue reading

Glimpse into the Collection: “A Hint of Spring”

Dana Brand is part of the three-person team working to make digital images and metadata for all 17,000+ objects in the Ackland’s collection available to the public online. She’s a self-described “Army brat” who landed longest in Winston-Salem, NC, before coming to UNC-Chapel Hill for both her Bachelor’s (English and Media Studies) and Master’s (Information Science) degrees. Dana first got into digitization, and metadata in particular, as an intern at the Digital Production Center in Wilson Library while in graduate school. 

This small series of prints just lifts my spirits and I wanted to share!

Bleriot

Ghislain Bleriot, French, born 1951: “Herbal: Impatiens” (“Herbier: Impatientes”), n.d.; drypoint and sulfur tint, printed in color. Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Joseph F. McCrindle Collection, 2010.3.50.

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Glimpse into the Collection: “Creatures of Poictesme”

Abigail Wickes is a digital image technician at the Ackland Art Museum, and is part of the three-person team working to make digital images and metadata for all 17,000+ objects in the Ackland’s collection available to the public online. She became interested in digital image cataloging during an internship at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center while she was working towards her Master’s in Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill (2012).

Poictesme: the Map of Philip Borsdale, 1674, 1920s

Frank Cheyne Papé, British, 1878-1972: Poictesme: the Map of Philip Borsdale, 1674, 1920s, color line block.
Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.2254

I found this beautiful map in my queue a few weeks ago, and I love all of the fantastic creatures it depicts. The Wikipedia page for Poictesme describes it as “a fictional country or province…roughly in the south of France” in which many of the fantasy works of James Branch Cabell take place. I’ve never read any Cabell, but apparently his work in fantasy fiction was a tremendous influence on many authors I love, including Neil Gaiman. Wherever Poictesme may be, it evidently has oceans with mermaids and sea serpents and forests with unicorns and hags. Continue reading

Glimpse into the Collection: “In the Fields”

Diane Davis is project photographer for the IMLS Digitization Project Grant. Beginning in 2010, she produces master image files to digitally archive all of the Ackland’s collections.  Previously, Diane was a professional photographer in Charlotte, NC who served on boards at The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography & Film, Women in Communications-NC Chapter, and NC Chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers. After having a commercial business in Charlotte for 25 years,  she finds working on this important project a very satisfying extension of her career.

Since I’ve been on the Ackland’s digitization project the longest of our team of three, I’d like to kick off with an image that inspired me to start putting images into my “favorites” folder.  It was on November 24, 2010, and I had been photographing works on paper at the Ackland for less than a month. I came across a print by Wharton Esherick entitled Harvesting. I remember thinking, “This print is too fabulous not to save somewhere! How will I ever remember it after five months, a year, or two years of viewing such quantities of artwork?”

Esherick_Harvesting_whole_with_signature

Wharton Esherick, American, 1887-1970: “Harvesting,” 1927; wood engraving.
Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Burton Emmett Collection, 58.1.1669.

And so it began. Esherick’s print started my “In the Fields” folder. That phase of the project included a lot of artworks that depicted agrarian activities — different cultures, different mediums, and different views of what it meant to the artists to reflect on their surroundings. But this one — how spectacular is this!?!

Note the writing below the image (click it to enlarge). The collector, Burton Emmett, often made notations about his purchases directly on the pieces themselves. This one indicates that he bought the print from the Weyhe Gallery in New York for $10 in 1929. The piece was part of the “50 Prints of the Year” exhibit sponsored by the American Art Dealers Association.

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NEW! Sneak Peek: Glimpses into the Ackland’s Collections

Those of us working on digitally archiving the Ackland’s collections have wanted to share our progress for some time. We are in our last phases of production, and we have now:

• Produced over 12,000 master image files of artworks
• Joined those images with descriptive and technical information
• Loaded all completed records (approximately 6,000!) onto the Ackland’s website, for free and easy use by individuals worldwide!

Imagine looking through box after box and folder after folder of artwork every day for eight hours a day. It is both dazzling and tedious. You can’t perform these duties without having some images stick in your brain, so we will be contributing to the Ackland Art Museum blog on a regular basis to give you an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes.

DigiTeam_clrThere are three of us currently working under a grant contract to accomplish this project: Diane, a photographer who has been digitizing since Fall 2010, and Dana and Abby, two digital image technicians who joined the project in Fall 2013.

And we want to be clear: not one of us has ever had a formal Art History class. We are all simply art appreciators who will be sharing our favorites with you—and we definitely have some favorites! Each of us will be digging into our files to bring you glimpses of what we have the privilege of seeing every day.

“America Seen”: Sneak Preview (the intern’s favorite)

This semester at the Ackland, I’ve been conducting research and writing interpretative text for the exhibition America Seen: The Hunter and Cathy Allen of Social Realist PrintsThrough this process I’ve become very familiar with the prints in the show and wanted to share one as a first impression and in advance of the opening reception this evening.

Subway

Fritz Eichenberg, American, born in Germany, 1901–1990: Subway (Sleep), 1935; wood engraving. Ackland Art Museum, The Hunter and Cathy Allen Collection, 2013.21.13.

America Seen features 38 prints from the mid-1920s to the mid-1940s by American artists. The majority of the artists represented in the exhibition lived and worked in New York City. They were inspired by the scenes of everyday urban life they witnessed around them and the subway was a popular theme. One of my favorites prints, Subway (Sleep), falls into this category. Although the print depicts a rather unremarkable moment in the daily life of any New York City subway rider, I’m drawn into the composition through Eichenberg’s use of strong contrasts between light and dark, as well as his careful attention to realistic details inside the subway car, such as the straps, signage, and advertisements.

I can empathize with the occupants of this train car, from the weary, young couple at the far end to the child sleeping in her mother’s lap. I have also been on the subway, tired after a long day, and eager to get home. But where are these people going? What were they doing before? Perhaps the proud and poised woman in a stylish hat is headed to a party or to church. Is the man to her left her companion or a stranger? With a souvenir balloon as a clue, I suspect the collapsed child is returning home from a fun day at the park. While it is impossible to know for sure, the artist, Fritz Eichenberg, invites us to look and speculate about the lives of those pictured. Continue reading