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Art Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Elihu Vedder’s “Star of Bethlehem”

Elihu Vedder (American, 1836–1923) Star of Bethlehem, 1879–80 . Oil on canvas; 36 3/16 x 44 3/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears, M1925.2
Elihu Vedder (American, 1836–1923), Star of Bethlehem, 1879–80 . Oil on canvas; 36 3/16 x 44 3/4 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Montgomery Sears, M1925.2.

Thanksgiving has come and gone and you know what that means – the “holiday” season is officially upon us!

If you hadn’t already experienced  red and green decorations and Christmas music vying for your attention in October before your pumpkin could be carved, then surely by now, during this week of creative reuse of turkey, you have noticed that December’s holiday mania has set in.

Cue: Sweaty palms, anxiety over what gifts to buy, and finding time to do get it all done. All so that you can have a merry, happy, snowy holiday celebration full of family, friends, food, gifts, etc…whew!

The frantic holiday scene I’ve described is starkly in contrast to the peaceful one we find in Star of Bethlehem created by American painter Elihu Vedder in 1879-80.

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Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Wiener Werkstätte Vase

Hilda Jesser (Austrian, 1894–1985), for Wiener Werkstätte, Vase, ca. 1921. Hand-painted earthenware, 9 1/4 x 3 3/8 in. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of Daniel Morris and Denis Gallion, Historical Design, New York City, M2002.104. Photo by John R. Glembin.

I’ve just learned that Hilda Jesser could design anything.

Correction: I’ve just learned who Hilda Jesser was.

To back up, I should explain that I often use this blog as an excuse to explore something in the Museum’s collection that I should know more about. This colorful ceramic vase is charming, but I’ve never selected it to go on view in the galleries because I wasn’t quite certain how to explain it.

Thanks to the markings on its base and the curatorial cataloging records here at the Museum, I knew that the vase was designed by Hilda Jesser while at the Wiener Werkstätte sometime around 1921.

But it doesn’t look anything like my preconceived notion of what Wiener Werkstätte ceramic designs would look like, so how could I select it to represent that influential moment in modern design history?

It was time to find out more.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From Museum Storage—Beneath a Ray and Charles Eames LCW Chair

Late in 2010 I advocated that the Museum accept a Ray and Charles Eames DCW (“Dining Chair Wood”) into the Permanent Collection.

No big surprise there, as this bent plywood chair is the iconic work of two of the most influential 20th-century furniture designers. It is a must-have for any design collection!

However, this chair wasn’t the Museum’s first Eames object. The Collection already included one DCW chair (pictured at left), a 1946 folding plywood screen, and several examples of the World War II U.S. Navy leg splint that bolstered Ray and Charles’ experiments in complex two-way bent molded plywood.

So why an additional example of the DCW? And, why this one?

Well, to tell the truth, I put in to motion the Museum’s acceptance of the DCW based on a hunch…and I just might be wrong.

Categories
Art Behind the Scenes Curatorial

From Museum Storage–Cataloging 188 Paperweights

Baccarat paperweight M1996.68

This blog is about museum life “Under the Wings,” right?

One of the most important and perhaps most buried “under the wings” duties of the curatorial department is the care of the art collection (housing, safe transport, conservation) including the proper organization of what we have, where it is, who made it, how much it is worth, etc.

As the Museum acquires new objects, we make a new TMS (our database, The Museum System) record that tracks everything from insurance values to the artist’s nationality and birth date. As time progresses, TMS becomes rich with information, but that is entirely dependent on constantly adding new data.

A small thorn in our side was an old record saying “188 glass paperweights” and the location of four high-density storage boxes.  And, that’s all it said.

Were these 19th-century French millefiori paperweights? Folk art advertising paperweights? Tourist paperweights from 1950s Venice? We didn’t know.

Enter our Milwaukee paperweight expert.

Categories
Art Curatorial

From Museum Storage—C. A. Buffington & Co. “Automobile Folding Chair”

C. A. Buffington & Co. (Berkshire, NY), Automobile Folding Chair, patented 1912. Milwaukee Art Museum, Gift of David and Toni Damkoehler, M2011.10. Photo by John R. Glembin.

Do you think this rusty iron folding chair deserves a place in a world-class art museum alongside priceless paintings by Mark Rothko and Vassily Kandinsky?

It looks like something you might find in a barn.

Well, in fact, it did come to the Museum from a barn, and we are thrilled to have it.

This metal folding chair is a patented design made sometime in the late 1910s by the C.A. Buffington & Co. manufacturers in Berkshire, New York. Buffington specialized in designing all sorts of equipment for the newfangled automobiles of the “Horseless Age“, including special jacks for changing tires, luggage carriers, and special automobile folding chairs like this one.

So how and why did this chair come to be part of the Museum’s Collection?