Monday, January 25, 2010

Mining the Archives

I recently watched the movie Angels and Demons. As one of my duties here is being the Addison's "archivist," I was fascinated by the way the movie (and the book) depicted the Vatican's archives. A sleek, modern, and highly-secured space deep below ground, the Vatican's archival treasures were neatly arranged in hermetically-sealed chambers designed to keep humidity levels unnaturally low to preserve their ancient texts. Whether anything like this actually exists at the Vatican (or anywhere in the world) is questionable, but it made me think about the Addison's archives, and where they will be going in our new building addition.

Gallery 1 during the 1993 HVAC installation, note the removal of the glass from the laylightsThe Addison's archives include files associated with the art and artists of our collection, the museum's administration, and every one of our exhibitions (nearly 1400 of them since we opened in 1931). We have thousands of slides and photographs documenting our exhibition installations, and various archives from the museum's special projects including our ship model collection, our 1993 HVAC installation (see left), the creation of our David Ireland Artist Apartment, and all the work and research that went into the making of our 1996 65 Years catalogue. I've always found it fun browsing through our archives: reading letters from our past directors, finding old photographs of our museum, and figuring out how objects came into our collection.

Workers install storage units in the new archives roomUp to now, the archives have been stored in various areas throughout the museum and off site. It's been very difficult to track down certain things and keep it all organized and catalogued. Thankfully, in the Addison's new addition, the archives will all be housed on site, and in a space conveniently located adjacent to our offices (see right). A large compact storage shelving system will keep everything together, in order, accessible, and with plenty of space for expansion. With each new acquisition and exhibition, the archives continue to grow!

Granted, our archive won't be hermetically sealed like it is in Angels and Demons, but it will be kept at our standard museum climate of 70' F and 50% relative humidity, and it will be secure, orderly, and ready for any of the Robert Langdon-like symbologists of the world to make an appointment to peruse.

Posted by
James M. Sousa
Associate Registrar for Collections and Archives

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