Treasures from Storage Found in Collection Objects
January 19, 2021
Even without large in-person events or physical exhibitions to plan, the Escalette Collection of Art was as busy as ever during 2020. We spent most of our time finding ways to make the collection accessible virtually through virtual exhibits and events, but we also spent a great deal of time chipping away at projects that take place “behind the scenes,” like doing an inventory of our storage facility. Believe it or not, inventorying storage is one of the best parts of my job as Registrar of the Escalette Collection. What could possibly make any task with the word “inventory” in it fun? Found in collection objects!
You won’t hear them talked about much, but all museums have artifacts in their storages classified as “found in collection” or (FIC), a term used to describe objects that have no documentation or known provenance. Many of these objects are unclaimed old loans, undocumented donations, or objects that were accessioned but whose tags or associated information have been lost. You can see why found in collection objects might be a bit of a sore subject, but the truth is that no matter how thorough a museum or gallery is, there are always a few things that slip through the cracks over the years as staff personnel, storage locations, and collection management policies change. These tricky “found in collection” objects actually became such a widespread legal and ethical conundrum that during the 1980’s museums across the country campaigned for their states to pass legislation to address the questions of legal title to these items.
As a “museum without walls,” the Escalette Collection of Art is, like most museums, faced with the task of finding and documenting its found in collection objects. Still doesn’t sound exciting? Join me in a day of the life of a registrar on a mission to find a FIC: First, I scour every nook and cranny of our storage facility looking for objects that seem unfamiliar or that don’t have obvious documentation. Before long, I find a work that has not been seen or touched in years, and it feels like I’ve just struck gold! From that moment on, I take off my treasure hunting hat (Indiana Jones’ hat, naturally) and put on my detective hat (Sherlock Holmes’, obviously) as I try to uncover the lost history of the work. Like a detective at the scene of a crime, I use every possible scrap of information in our database and any written clue on the piece itself to piece together the history of the work. Some pieces present a harder challenge than others, but usually, one way or another, the artist and their connection to Chapman becomes apparent. My reward? Being able to share the work, the artist, and their story with you! Once we have enough documentation about the work and its history to know that it does indeed belong in the Escalette Collection (which includes a lot of paperwork and processes of approval that I won’t belabor here), I get to officially add it to our database and online eMuseum so that it can be enjoyed and used by the Chapman and Orange communities. There’s something so rewarding about being able to put a registration number on an object for the first time… maybe that’s just a nerdy registrar thing.
Now – the moment you’ve all been waiting for – I’m proud to introduce some of 2020’s formerly found in collection objects!
These works, especially New World Order, were perhaps the most fitting objects to find in the middle of a pandemic, economic collapse, social justice crisis, and everything else that 2020 had to offer. When I saw the masses of masked soldiers in this print, my heart skipped a beat.
Sue Coe is a contemporary English artist, noted for her intensely political graphic illustrations and activism. Born on November 28, 1951 in Staffordshire, England, she grew up near a slaughterhouse, which helped instill a lifelong passion for animal rights activism. This political sensibility characterizes Coe’s work, which often explicitly makes animal rights and other social issues its central subject. The artist uses painting, printmaking, and a realistic drawing style to depict scenes of animal suffering. Her work is notably influenced by Chaïm Soutine, Käthe Kollwitz, and Francisco de Goya, among others. Along with her investigation of cruelty against animals, Coe has also explored topics such as sweatshops, prisons, AIDS, war, and anticapitalism throughout her work. Her illustrations have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Nation. She lives and works in upstate New York.
This work might look familiar to you, because it’s currently featured in our Begin/Again: Marking Black Memories physical and virtual exhibitions. The identity of this amazing print was hidden from view for many years by some unfortunate framing choices. The timing of finding this work couldn’t have been better – we were in the midst of planning Begin/Again when we re-discovered that we owned a work by one of the most well-known and accomplished Cuban artists. We were so thrilled that we had it re-framed and hung in Roosevelt Hall in the span of a week!
Manuel Mendive is an eminent Afro-Cuban painter, sculptor, and performance artist. His colorful, evocative paintings and carvings—as well as his dynamic performance and body art—pay tribute to the historic and religious art forms of Africa and Cuba. Altars, masks, and dance associated with Santería have inspired his work, which brings a contemporary insight into the history of slavery and African mythologies as they transformed the Caribbean Islands. Born on December 15, 1944 in Havana, Cuba, Mendive studied at the San Alejandro Academy of Plastic Arts in Havana. In the 1970s, the artist gained recognition for his unique combination of European and African styles in promoting Afro-Cuban culture. His works are in the collections of the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana, the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and the Ethnographic Museum of Budapest, among others. The artist lives and works in San Jose de la Lagas, Cuba. You can read more about Mendive’s work here.
This show-stopping photographic print was a bit of a tough nut to crack. Fast-forward through hours of searching online. After a bit of very careful excavation on the frame, I discovered that the artist not only signed her name, but also wrote out the title, medium, and even the year on the back of the print – a woman after my own heart! I discovered that Rankaitis used to work at Chapman University before accepting a position at Scripps College where she still teaches.
Susan Rankaitis (born 1949) is an American multimedia artist working primarily in painting, photography and drawing. Rankaitis began her career in the 1970s as an abstract painter. Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago while in graduate school, she had a transformative encounter with the photograms of the artist László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946), whose abstract works of the 1920s and 1940s she saw as “both painting and photography.” Rankaitis began to develop her own experimental methods for producing abstract and conceptual artworks related both to painting and photography. Rankaitis draws on science in her work—particularly ideas generated through research in the fields of biology and neuroscience and she collaborates regularly with scientists on interdisciplinary projects. Rankaitis is currently an Art Professor at Scripps College in Clairemont, CA.
We invite you to explore all the works in the Escalette Collection by visiting our eMuseum.
Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences is the proud home of the Phyllis and Ross Escalette Permanent Collection of Art. The Escalette Collection exists to inspire critical thinking, foster interdisciplinary discovery, and strengthen bonds with the community. Beyond its role in curating art in public spaces, the Escalette is a learning laboratory that offers diverse opportunities for student and engagement and research, and involvement with the wider community. The collection is free and open to the public to view.