From the Bench: New Storage Safeguards Newark Museum’s Jewelry and African Art Collections

This post is part of the “From the Bench” series celebrating the work of conservators. Part scientist, part detective, they work to preserve the past for the future. This series features the voices of conservators who are working on IMLS-supported projects in museums across the United States. For more information about IMLS funding for museums see www.imls.gov/applicants/available_grants.aspx.

By:  Rebecca Buck, Deputy Director for Collection Services, Newark Museum

With the help of IMLS, the Newark Museum has slowly changed its collection storage to best protect important collections and let curators and researchers easily see the safely stored objects within it. Drab gray open shelving has been replaced by enclosed cabinets powder-coated with Chinese red, Tibetan orange, Lenox green, Royal purple and, for the largest project – African storage – a yellow as brilliant as the African sun.

In the 1980s, the Newark Museum renovated and connected a series of early 20th-century buildings under the direction of Michael Graves Associates. Storage was outfitted according to the standards of the time as directed by the individual curators. Over the years it became necessary to upgrade areas to increase space and develop better ways of protecting and accessing objects in the collections. The two latest projects, storage upgrades for jewelry and for the African art collection, will resolve some old problems and reach current standards of care.

Jewelry Technician with Jewelry Storage

Jewelry Technician Sara Parmigiani with Jewelry Storage. Photography by Andrea Hagy, Associate Registrar

Newark’s jewelry collection is magnificent, an active 1,900+ piece collection curated by Ulysses Grant Dietz, Chief Curator and Curator of Decorative Arts. It reflects Newark’s heritage: home of Tiffany & Company, Herpers, Hedges, Krementz, Riker, Bippart, Durand and others. The new Lore Ross gallery in the historic Ballantine House is one of the few galleries in the United States devoted solely to the display of jewelry.

Six old wooden and metal cabinets were replaced with three Delta cabinets full of narrow drawers with dividers – there is now at least one compartment available for each piece of jewelry. An IMLS-funded technician and a decorative arts intern arranged dividers as needed to accommodate rings, brooches, crosses, bracelets, and necklaces, and developed a volara padding scenario for each compartment. The work of inventory, lining, placement, and photography went on all of the spring and summer of 2012. The result: safe objects, logically stored objects, objects with mounts where they’re needed, a complete inventory, photographs attached to a complete database, and best of all, errors corrected!

Assistant Preparator David Bonner with African Storage

Assistant Preparator David Bonner with African Storage. Photography by Andrea Hagy, Associate Registrar.

The Newark Museum is also in the midst of a multifaceted African art collection expansion project. Led by Senior Curator, Arts of Africa and the Americas, Christa Clarke, the current African art galleries will triple in size, a conservation lab will be developed, and the first-ever catalog of the collection will be published. For the storage portion, an IMLS grant matched by money raised for storage improvement led to a wonderful compact storage unit that will hold thousands of works from the African art collection, reorganized by geography and genre for greater accessibility.

The Newark Museum’s ability to provide safe storage and collection care has been greatly improved by these projects. They help make certain that important objects will be available for generations to come.

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