Henry Behind the Scenes: Visiting the Eleanor Reed Collection Study Center

This is a guest blog post by Dawn Cerny, artist and Cornish Faculty, who recently visited the Henry’s Reed Collection Study Center with her students.

For most artists a trip to an art museum is a means to see and understand materials, scale, color, texture, and thinking in a way that is impossible to do from a reproduction. Yet, in most institutions, your ability to get close to the work can be mediated by vitrines, framing, and security devises that make it difficult to see a work.  Museums are a wonderful resource for studying the work of artist and the Study Center at the Henry is an incredibly helpful resource for getting closer to the work in order to understand how it is doing what it is doing.

Students getting an up-close view of artwork in the Reed Study Center

I can cruise through the online database for objects that relate to material, thematic, or technical subjects I am teaching in class, then send my requests to Rachael Faust (who is Assistant Curator of Collections and manages the Study Center) and show up with my class, a few weeks later, to get incredibly close to examples of what I am talking about in the classroom.

It’s one thing to see a photo of an Elsa Schiaparelli dress in a book; but when you are able to look at that same dress in person, you start to comprehend that even the buttons and hand-stitched beadwork are part of a larger narrative the garment is exploring. There is something to be said for looking at a Rembrandt drypoint with a magnifying glass and seeing where he too was using hesitant marks to try and figure out the form and composition.

The Study Center acts as a wonderful satellite classroom. Faust has a tremendous working relationship with the collection and she is committed to contextualizing the objects within time, medium, or landscape. Student questions are met with enthusiasm and curiosity—if Faust doesn’t have a ready answer she will help guide a student to the answer as best she can.

My students come away from our trips to the collection buzzing with ideas and the general feeling that they have witnessed a work of art behind the curtains of the institution. I think the Study Center also serves young artists by helping them begin to comprehend the amount of labor and education that goes into taking care of a work of art decade after decade—especially in relation to their own emerging practice. It is an important part of their education that they begin to comprehend the things that artist make are in relation with larger conversations and academic dialogs—and that what they do in their studio practices matter to other people and have larger consequences.

The Henry’s Eleanor Reed Collection Study Center is open to individuals and groups of 30 or less by advance appointment. Up to 20 objects from the collection may be requested for study per visit. Study Center hours are Tuesday–Friday from 9 am–5 pm. A limited number of evening appointments between 5-9 pm are available on Thursdays and Fridays. To make an appointment, contact Study Center staff at 206.616.9630 or contact collections@henryart.org.

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