Making Magic from the Museum’s Collection

By: Jane Weinke, curator of collections/registrar on March 30th, 2011

The 2011 Student Art Exhibition has ended. It’s time to install a new exhibition from the Woodson Art Museum’s collection. I eagerly anticipate each change, which brings a new wall color, different artworks, and an entirely new feel to the galleries.
With the opening of each collection exhibition I repeatedly am asked two questions.
Louise Peterson, Chickadee,
2005, bronze
·      What inspired the theme that pulls the artworks together?
·      How did you choose the paint color?
In most instances the two are tied together.

Birds and Beasts is both the title and the theme of the upcoming installation. This idea was sparked by Almost Alice: New Illustrations of Wonderland by Maggie Taylor, on view April 9 through June 19, and featuring rabbits, hedgehogs, birds, fish and other creatures that are woven into the tale that inspired it  – Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I consider it a plus if I can tie the traveling exhibition to an exhibition from the Museum’s collection. In this case, animals seemed to be a natural choice. The Museum collection includes dozens of paintings, graphics, and sculptures of wild and domestic animals.

A major concern of museums is preservation of the artwork in their care. So it’s critical that the works chosen for Birds and Beasts have had at least two years “at rest.” Light, even dimmed and diffused gallery light, can deteriorate paintings over time. Resting them ensures they will remain in pristine condition.

Sue Westin, Wakan Niya, 1995,
acrylic on hardboard

With these many thoughts in mind, I toured the painting storage area to find inspiration. It took a mere minute to spy Sue Westin’s Wakan Niya. This large buffalo portrait is ripe with color and rich in texture; it was an easy choice for the centerpiece of the exhibition. The wall color is drawn from the gray threatening sky that looms over the beast. Once the first artwork is identified, the remaining choices become obvious.

Bob Kuhn, Before the Big Sleep, 1989,
acrylic on hardboard

This is a simplified explanation of how a curator drills down to assemble an exhibition. After thirty-three years, I have an unparalleled knowledge of the collection and am further aided by a database that includes photos and specifics about each work. These tools provide all the necessary information to make thoughtful and beautiful choices.

B. Hugh McPeck, Startled, 2008, bronze

Typically, choosing the works and designing the gallery take weeks. Despite all the planning, changes usually occur during the actual installation. The exact number of the works in Birds and Beasts will not be known until the installation is complete, but historically fifty-five or so artworks are included.

David Shepherd, Elephants and Egrets,
1987, oil on canvas

Included here is a sampling of works from Birds and Beasts. Enjoy!

Share This!

Subscribe to our weekly blog. Please enter your email address.