When museums receive new objects as a donation or bequest, multiple questions need to be answered before anything can be added to the permanent collection. How does the object fit within the museum’s mission? Does the museum have the resources to properly care for it? Are there similar objects already in the collection? How may the object be used? Is the object’s provenance known? Are there ethical questions that need to be answered before it can be accepted?
The curators make the majority of these decisions and a tremendous amount of work goes into finding the answers. As the Crow Collection of Asian Art’s summer intern for the Collections Department, I spent most of my time cataloging a recent donation of over 600 objects related to Daruma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. I combed through the collection, compiling all of the known information about each object, with a photograph, into an Excel sheet. This document was then passed to the museum’s curators, Dr. Jacqueline Chao and Dr. Qing Chang, who will use it to make the final decisions about accessioning.
Although it was tedious and slow, I enjoyed the project. As a master’s student in a Museum Studies program, I am often reminded that gaining intellectual control over a collection through documentation and organization is a crucial part of museum stewardship. Compiling information into an Excel sheet may not seem important, but it provided me with a glimpse into a career in collections management, and provided the museum with more control over this group of objects.
Working on the Daruma project also offered me an introduction to Japanese Buddhism. I was familiar with the story of Bodhidharma in Chinese history, but knew less about his presence in Japan. Known as Daruma, his influence has grown and become an incredible force in popular Japanese culture. This existence is reflected in the variety of objects in the collection: I sorted through information about scrolls, sake sets, dolls, key chains, books, Hello Kitty banks, and more, all related to Daruma.
Wondering what will happen to objects that don’t meet the curators’ criteria? Not to worry! Because an object may not have the necessary provenance or quality to be added to the permanent collection does not mean that it will be thrown away. Oftentimes, these objects are added to the museum’s education collection – a special collection that is used for hands-on learning and exhibitions.
[Check back in the coming months to learn more about Daruma and new additions to the Crow Collection’s permanent collection.]