Do Museums Still Need Objects?

Guest post by Stacia Kuceyeski, Ohio Historical Society

Week one of SHA is a wrap! In today’s review session we discussed some of the overall themes of the week.  While discussing “do museums need objects?”  John Durel mentioned a study by Reach Advisors which focused on different types of moms who take their children to museums.  The “Curious Moms” are described as having had special museum experiences as children which were usually tied to objects.  These experiences sparked their imagination: placing themselves in the painting; the time period; the object.  As I processed this a vivid image of a jewelry store window popped into my mind.

The Toledo Museum of Art was a staple school field trip for me as a child.  I still love that museum, and when I go home to Toledo I like to visit some old friends who still live there.  One of which is the Don Eddy painting Jewelry.  I can still remember the docent sitting my class in front of this painting year after year and going through what I now identify as visual thinking strategies to guide our inquiry about the painting.  I always loved this painting.  I loved the bright, flashy colors.  I loved the shapes.  I loved that I understood what was happening in the painting, which made me feel smart.  I imagined walking past that shop window, going into the store, and trying on jewelry.

This is my transformative object.  This is what sparked my imagination as a child.  Sure, the mummy was super cool, but as an adult, when I think of my museum experience as a child, my warm and fuzzy memories consist of sitting on the wood floor in front of a flashy jewelry shop window.  When I decided I’d wax poetic about my childhood art museum experience for this blog I had this terrifying thought: I wanted to post an image of the painting, but I had no idea its title or creator.  I literally knew nothing about this piece.  I had forged this weird bond with a painting from my childhood and after years of visiting my friend I never thought to look and see what the title of the painting was or who the artist was.  Or if I did I certainly didn’t retain this information.  It didn’t matter.

What does this all mean?  Did this painting shape my love of bright colors and flash?  Maybe.  Did it instill in me a love of sassy earrings?  Possibly.  Did it make me want to work in a museum?  Perhaps.  So do museums still need objects?  I can argue both sides.  I do know I’m certainly glad the Toledo Museum of Art had this one.

FOUND IT! Jewelry, Don Eddy, 1974. From the Collection of the Toledo Museum of Art

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Posted on November 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I am so glad to see that y’all are giving so much consideration to what I believe to be one of the most crucial discussions in our field going forward. While I maintain that yes, we need objects still–they are our compelling competitive advantage–we do need to reconsider the cult of the object somewhat.

    We ran a pretty thorough discussion of this in History News and History News: Your Turn last year. Check it out here http://aaslhcommunity.org/historynews/history-museums-objects/

  2. Rachel Desgrosseilliers

    We are facing that right now. We are a new Museum and have lots of stuff that has not been accessioned or recorded yet and are starting to think about “you keep-you need to store, take care of etc.” How much is enough??? Does the thing tell a story???

  3. Stacia, I am looking forward to meeting you later this week because I suspect we are going to have some rather interesting conversations on objects! I’m really glad you shared this . . . and the painting.

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