A Happy Chapter in Hearst Museum's Space Odyssey
$700,000 NEH Grant Will Help Provide a New Home for Precious Basket and Textile Collections
By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs
The money will provide the first adequate housing and climate control for almost 12,000 precious Native American baskets and 6,000 textiles from around the world that are currently threatened by deterioration due to poor housing.
The group includes more than 9,000 California Indian baskets -- the largest such collection in the world and one that is heavily used by researchers and students of Native American history.
"This is the single, most used collection in the museum," said Museum Director Rosemary Joyce. "These baskets are also the most vulnerable to climate damage."
The NEH grant will be combined with money from the National Science Foundation and the university for a $1 million-plus project to rehouse the entire basket and textile collection in renovated space in the Marchant Building on San Pablo Avenue. Most of these objects are currently kept in crowded quarters in Kroeber Hall, home of the museum and the Department of Anthropology.
Many items are inaccessible because of stacking; others risk being damaged as they are moved around to gain access to other objects.
The museum's textile collection has been drawn from every corner of the world to represent exemplary designs and techniques, both western and non-western, ancient and modern, historic and ethnographic. Its scope ranges from North American quilts to mud cloths from Africa and a priceless Chinese imperial robe.
Many of the items were collected by campus' design department over the years, but some were provided by Phoebe Hearst, the museum's founder, who had a passion for textiles. She donated ancient Andean cloth, Navajo and Pueblo weavings and a wide range of Asian fabrics.
The new facility, comprising 18,600 square feet, will be a combined storage and study center with space for researchers to work. It also will have enough shelving so that fragile objects need not be moved unnecessarily, said Joyce, who is currently on leave as a research fellow at the UC Humanities Research Institute on the Irvine campus.
While directly affecting only a small portion of the museum's total collection of four million objects, moving the baskets and textiles out of Kroeber Hall will have an important impact on the entire Hearst Museum collection.
"This single grant will both intervene in the condition of one of the museum's most priceless and significant collections," Joyce said, "and start us down the path toward improving all the collections by easing overcrowding in general."
The museum will begin this summer to install storage units, and expects to begin moving objects in the fall. Work on climate controls has already begun.
Fortunately the museum will not need to remove the collection from use during the three to five years it will take to complete the project.
"We are going to move the collection one van load at a time," said Joyce.