NEWS RELEASE, 5/4/99
UC Berkeley's anthropology museum gets money to preserve endangered collections, including 9,000 California Indian baskets
By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs
BERKELEY--UC Berkeley's anthropology museum has received a $700,000 federal grant, allowing the overcrowded museum to take a giant step this summer toward preserving its endangered collections.
The money from the National Endowment for the Humanities 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. Currently they are at risk of deteriorating from poor storage conditions.
The artifacts include 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 Rosemary Joyce, director of the Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. "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 campus for a more than $1 million 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 UC Berkeley's 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 to a priceless Chinese imperial robe.
Many of the items were collected by UC Berkeley's 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.
The total Hearst Museum collection of four million objects will be impacted by the new facility. Moving the baskets and textiles out of Kroeber Hall will release compression on the entire collection, said Joyce.
"This single grant will both intervene in the condition of one of the museum's most priceless and significant collections, but also will start us down the path toward improving all the collections by easing overcrowding in general," she said.
The museum will begin this summer to install storage units, and will begin moving objects in the fall. Work on climate controls already has begun.
Fortunately, the museum will not need to remove the entire basket and textile 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.
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