Aug. 28 – Missouri Southern State University’s African Art Collection, which includes more than 300 works by diverse tribes from across Central Africa, will continue to receive support with a recent grant from the Department of Art and Design Administration.
The $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for Humanities will be used for equipment purchases, disaster supplies, safety upgrades, a consultation with a restorer, and emergency preparedness training. The department was informed that it had been approved earlier this month.
The MSSU African Art Collection includes masks, statues, weapons, clothing and textiles, and more.
Christine Bentley, director of the MSSU Spiva Gallery, said she can live her dream every day by working both as a curator of the African Art Collection and as a professor of art history at the university.
“Teaching is my first passion and this has become a close second,” she said. “I love taking care of the collection and that’s why I was so excited about this project. That’s why I also love teaching because I can share this passion and talk about objects all day long.”
Located in the Spiva Library in Room 109, the African Art Collection must be maintained at a specific temperature and humidity level to keep around 300 fragile works of art and artifacts safe. It also includes an immersive museum studies classroom to provide first-hand experience in cataloging, researching, conserving, and handling museum-quality objects.
Bentley said it’s important to keep humidity at a certain level to ensure the delicate artifacts and items aren’t damaged by moisture. Some of the items are made of wood, as well as raffia, rope, paint, iron, copper, and other materials. Handlers wear gloves when touching the items.
“We have dehumidifiers in this room that run constantly, and we have air purifiers to help with mold,” Bentley said. “The students also come in every day and log the humidity and we want the humidity to stay between 55 and 65.”
The collection of African art was assembled by a former assistant professor of art from pieces donated by John and Pam Finley in 1997 along with several other contributors. In 2020, it was selected as one of 75 institutions in the United States to participate in the Collections Assessment for Preservation program, which offers small and medium-sized museums partial funding for an overall conservation assessment.
The earlier grant funded a visit by both a conservator and a historical architect to examine the collection, the building and building systems, and the policies and procedures related to the collection and its management, to arrive at a prioritized set of recommendations to improve the care of the collection to develop.
“We successfully completed this program and were then immediately referred to the American Alliance of Museums-funded Museum Assessment Program, which we conducted in 2021,” Bentley said. “It was a bit different because we had an assessor who was more specific about what we needed to do for conservation and how we could evolve into a small museum.”
Bentley said the recent grants will be used to ensure the collection is kept in proper and stable archival conditions. Funding will be used to purchase light monitors, fans, storage materials and furniture, disaster supplies, dust and UV filters, security, as well as to consult with a conservator to create a collection care policy, update a disaster plan, and Receive training in emergency preparedness.
“The assessor that has come out for the Museum Assessment Program will help us work through the program we have put in place with the NEH in terms of what items and equipment we will purchase and how we will install and use the collection,” said Bentley. “She’ll also be conducting a few workshops for us, including a disaster preparedness workshop. She’ll also help us create some required administrative documents. The ultimate goal is to categorize this as a standalone museum at some point.”
The $10,000 grant also helps purchase display cases, as the objects and pieces cannot be permanently displayed. Bentley said the collection allows students to have real-world experiences of what it’s like to work in a museum.
“I have a gallery settings class where they act as assistant curators and fill out collection maintenance reports,” she said. “Students get a lot of hands-on experience doing things they would do as a curatorial assistant.”
Weapons were made primarily of metal and may include feathers and other decorative elements. Bentley said a majority of the weapons in the collection are ceremonial, but there is evidence some have been used.
“It is a pleasure to look after these properties and to know that we are doing everything we can to support them for the property’s longevity and that we have done our best,” said Bentley. “I am so grateful to have an administration that supports us and sees the value of this collection.”