New OU Museum Research Center presents academic research opportunities

The Oglethorpe University Museum of Art has launched a new research center that is giving greater accessibility and visibility for its ever-growing permanent collection—and growing academic research opportunities for students.

The research center had inauspicious beginnings as a workroom in the museum, but with the help of continuing education student Grady Clinkscales III, the museum began, with its own funds, to transform the space into a resource for students. When OUMA advisory board member and OU alumna Dr. Karen Head ’98 learned of the project, she immediately stepped in and provided the additional resources to complete the research center.

Karen Head ’98

“Without Dr. Head, we wouldn’t have been able to finish this space. Her commitment to the students at Oglethorpe immediately helped us—the very first day she joined the board. It was a wonderful present,” said Museum Director Elizabeth H. Peterson.

In the new center, researchers will be able to search the collection database and closely examine many of the museum’s prints, drawings, porcelains and paintings in detail. Many of the works of art previously in storage will now be available to view.

“[The OUMA Research Center] will contain the bulk of the museum’s collection of works on paper. The goal here is to ‘un-frame’ much of the work on paper both to consolidate storage needs, and to facilitate access for our students and faculty and community members,” said Curator of Collections John Daniel Tilford.

Since Peterson and Tilford’s tenure at the museum, the permanent collection has grown from just under 200 pieces to nearly 700.

“About once a month, if not more often, we get an unsolicited call, or email from a potential donor, or contacted by an appraisal firm representing a client who is interested in donating one or more works of art to our permanent collection, “said Tilford. “We are also fortunate to have several dedicated collectors whose generous gifts have greatly augmented the collection and whose relationship with OUMA we greatly value.”

Peterson added, “The collectors are really the life-blood and there are very beautiful, rich collections in Atlanta that are often never seen, so we end up with acquisitions that are newly in the public eye. We’ve received so many pieces, it really behooves us to have them on view and not store them away.”

Although the new space will be especially beneficial for art students, the museum hopes that anyone with an interest in art will use the research center, including other academic departments.

“Starting in January 2018 we will devote the Skylight Gallery at all times to the permanent collection. It will be densely installed and changed each semester to make an even stronger connection with the curricular offerings and to better connect with faculty and students,” said Peterson.

Anyone interested in using the research center can contact the museum in advance to book an appointment. A staff member will then select relevant works and be available for assistance during the appointment. OUMA Research Center will also have weekly open hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. An OUMA staff member will be available to answer questions and assist with research.

The opening of this center marks yet another opportunity for students to benefit from the rich holdings of the OUMA collection and the expertise of museum staff. Over the past 5 years, OUMA has introduced student-led lectures, docent tours, performances, internships, independent study, museum studies courses, and volunteer opportunities.

OUMA’s first two student lectures were presented by Antonio Mántica ’14 and Ruwa Roman ’14. More recently, Caitlin Tabilog ’18 and Jordan Michels ’17 lectured. Larissa Randall ’18 has been acting as curatorial assistant for the better part of two years during the development of the Hattie Saussy retrospective, curated by Tilford. As a direct result of Larissa’s work at OUMA, which included publishing credit, she received a grant to travel to the AAMG (Association of Academic Museums and Galleries) conference in Oregon and was able to secure an internship with the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

“Opportunities like these prepare students for postgraduate work,” said Peterson. “Student involvement with the museum at OU has great meaning, and practical application. One of our aims is to be both an academic support and an opportunity for students to get real-world experience.”

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