Director’s Post – Letter from America

Published on: Author: Harriet Gaston Leave a comment

A post from Hunterian Director, Steph Scholten.

Recently Mungo (Campbell, Hunterian Deputy Director) and I visited New Haven in the US to consult with the colleagues from the Yale Center for British Art about the William Hunter exhibition. It will open there in February 2019, in a slightly adapted version. Later in the week, I travelled to Washington. For me it was a first visit to both Yale and the Smithsonian.

Yale proved to be the perfect bubble I expected: a perfectly groomed campus, anachronistic architecture (even some of the recently built colleges look like 19th century Queen Anne Style), fantastic collections in the Yale University Art Gallery, the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History and the Yale Center for British Art and welcoming colleagues. Things are a lot grittier if you go off campus, where New Haven looks a lot more like Glasgow. Safety has improved though, Mungo told me, after our evening walk from the food truck paradise on the waterfront there.

Mungo and I discussed a wide range of issues connected to the Hunter exhibition. We also spent time on more general topics: we spoke to some of the digital professionals at the Peabody who seem to have cracked all the intricacies of EMu (museum collections database software) and discussed their renewal plans for the museum, for which they had just received a large donation! We had an extensive visit to the new offsite facilities on the West Campus that include open and closed storage facilities and conservation studios. Very impressive.

In Washington, I spent two whole days with Smithsonian colleagues and discussed collaborative potential. Besides talking about provenance studies, I had extensive visits to the oldest building, ‘The Castle’ and the connected Arts and Industries Building that has been sitting empty for the past 13 years. It is like Kelvin Hall – very large with enormous possibilities, but no concept has yet fully materialised. So we are not the only ones challenged to come up with good ideas for sustainable concepts for spaces like that.

I also had the great pleasure of a tour of the newest Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Very interesting for its subject matter, but also because of its immersive exhibition design. Of course, I paid a lengthy visit to the Freer|Sackler, primarily to discuss international Whistler cooperation, but also to finally see the Peacock Room for real. That is quite something! Other visits (over the weekend) were to the Hirshhorn (contemporary art), American Art Museum and the National Air and Space Museum. And still I didn’t see even half of all Smithsonian museums…

I also spent an afternoon with colleagues at the Textile Museum of George Washington University. A university museum like us with a very specific collection focus. They are well connected to the Textile Conservation Centre at the University of Glasgow and will probably do an exhibition project on bark cloth based on the research in Glasgow. That afternoon ended with beers and pizzas at the Corcoran, formerly an art gallery, but now mostly an art school next to the White House.

I also had a tour around The Mall, where all famous Washington Buildings sit, on little electric scooters that you can pick up almost anywhere in the city. I also had a look on the campuses of Georgetown University and George Washington University. It was quite a visit!

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