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Behind the scenes in our collections storage

Collections Storage
1 month ago

Many basements are used for storage, and ours is no different. Tucked away in the halls of our basement is an area dedicated to our collection, a storage room that’s home to objects currently not on display. It’s a space that has filled up quite a bit over the years—since the Museum opened in 1984, our collection has almost quadrupled in size, now including over 4,000 pieces ranging from tiny Mesoamerican figures to grand, large-scale contemporary pieces.

About half of our collection is on display to the public throughout the first and second floors of the Museum, with the other held safely in our collections storage and taken care of by Christina, our Collections Manager. She recently took us down for a quick tour—read on to discover some of the treasures inside our vaults!

During the Museum’s 2004 – 2006 expansion, the basement was renovated with a compact storage system designed especially for our collection. Smaller pieces, such as cups and saucers, are kept in pull-out drawers to maximize space. This is a bit of a trickier issue to tackle with modern and contemporary pieces because of their non-traditional shapes and sizes.

Part of Christina’s job is to ensure that all the objects in our collection are accounted for and stored or displayed safely. She assigns everything that comes into the Museum a unique accession number, then creates a record in our collections database, allowing her to track the location of every piece in the building. Everything in our collections storage is organized according to artist or factory in numbered shelves, making it easy to find an item when needed.

Accession numbers are physically attached to each object in storage, whether on a tag or directly on the piece between two layers of clear nail polish. Nail polish is commonly used to help label ceramics and other artifacts since it is easily removed with acetone, which doesn’t damage glazes on objects. Accession numbers are created based on the year a piece was donated to us, the number assigned to the acquisition, and the number(s) assigned to the objects that make up the acquisition. For example, G83.1.15 tells us that the acquisition was made in 1983, that it was the first acquisition of the year, and that this particular piece is the fifteenth piece catalogued as part of the acquisition.

The Museum sits on the subway line, which means that vibrations can be felt regularly in the storage room. For the most part, ceramics are fairly durable, but to ensure that the objects don’t fall or bump against one another, the shelves are lined with a layer of quarter inch Volara polyethylene foam.

We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our collections storage! Did you know that you can explore our entire collection, including pieces currently hidden away in storage, online? Visit our online Collections Database to see for yourself.


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