Institutional partnerships can be particularly effective at producing results that satisfy common missions. Art in Clay: Masterworks of North Carolina Earthenware is a museum partnership that captured the attention and energy of a collective of independent scholars, foundations, collectors, and other museums, whose expertise, resources, and objects made this project possible.
In today’s challenging economic environment, joint ventures must be well planned and well focused. The sharing of staff expertise, facilities, research resources, and ideas not only saves money, it enriches the curatorial experience. Such a team-oriented approach, which has much to offer under any conditions, is often an ideal mechanism for promoting new, dynamic, and at times nontraditional approaches to the study and display of decorative arts.
When institutions collaborate—and by this we mean more than just support each other’s traveling exhibits—many beneficial things happen. The sheer volume and breadth of ideas and themes that are explored often yield innovative and well-rounded scholarship. Team projects encourage transdisciplinary thinking, which has been reshaping most fields within the humanities for several decades now. We embrace such a notion of partnerships and working with outside scholars, and choose it as our model for ongoing research and curation.
Initiated by the Chipstone Foundation and Old Salem Museums & Gardens and supported by the Wisconsin-based Caxambas Foundation, an institution dedicated to advancing scholarship in the decorative arts field, Art in Clay is a multifaceted undertaking. The project, which represents more than four years of research, documentation, and production, is centered on a traveling exhibition and encompasses the 2009 and 2010 volumes of Ceramics in America. The educational initiatives associated with Art in Clay required the commitment of three institutions, a dedicated group of scholars, and numerous outside professionals.
Art in Clay will also launch an online database of information and high-quality images, including a virtual presentation of the touring show. Institutions like ours can and should dedicate themselves to the creation of truly useful websites and networks. Connectivity, sourcing, linking, suring—these are words that not only hint at what we should do on a technological level but serve as a guide to how we should interact with our audiences and each other. It is true that the digital age has brought formidable challenges to capturing the attention and interest of museum and historic site visitors. Perhaps the digital experience pales in comparison with viewing firsthand the breathtaking variety and beauty of objects and architecture that have survived the ages. Technology does, however, orchestrate the possibility of presenting these artifacts—in full color and with up-to-date scholarship and commentary—to an unprecedented number of people worldwide, and for this reason we view it as a new, and welcome, partner.
Luke Beckerdite and Robert Hunter originally envisioned publishing one or two articles on North Carolina earthenware in Ceramics in America, and with the assistance of Gavin Ashworth began to photograph and record objects in the collections of Old Salem Museums & Gardens and at Ker Feal, Albert Barnes’s home in Chester County, Pennsylvania. It soon became clear that the subject of North Carolina earthenware required significant, substantive reconsideration. Documentary and artifactual evidence for new, more complex patterns of production and interaction emerged and subsequently yielded a series of groundbreaking studies by Beckerdite, Johanna Brown, Linda Carnes-McNaughton, Michelle Erickson, Mary and David Farrell, Michael Hartley, Lisa Hudgins, Hunter, Alain Outlaw, Victor Owen, and Hal Pugh and Eleanor Minnock-Pugh.
The scope and depth of this new scholarship conform with the stated goals of this publication. In the introduction to the premiere volume in 2001, Rob Hunter wrote that the journal “seeks synthesis by crossing many of the traditional boundaries that demarcate disciplines of the ceramics world.” He also pointedly noted that consensus among participants was not the goal. Since its founding, Ceramics in America has facilitated lively discourse and debate, which happens when people with like interests but different backgrounds tackle related topics. It is fair to say that a veil of decorum has muted critical commentary in our field, inhibiting the type of scholarly interactions that have enabled other fields to make crucial theoretical and methodological advancements.
Old Salem Museums & Gardens, the Chipstone Foundation, and the Caxambas Foundation are fully invested in promoting progressive thinking in all areas, and we look forward to seeing this initiative continue to evolve. It is hoped that this joint venture will encourage other institutions to find ways to benefit from the powerful properties of a well-conceived partnership.
Executive Director, Chipstone Foundation
Lee L. French
President, Old Salem, Inc.
President, Caxambas Foundation