CLARKSVILLE, TN – For more than a year, the director of Austin Peay State University’s art collection has worked with several students to make the school’s vast collection more accessible to the public.
This week, those efforts have culminated with a newly unveiled online database that allows people to search for and see the university’s collected artwork.
“Even though we’re a public university and our campus is open to the public, it can be difficult for people to see our collections,” said Michael Dickins, Austin Peay’s director and curator of The New Gallery and University Collections. “Our gallery assistants have been working hard this semester to get selections from the collection into the database, allowing more people to see the incredible that we have here on campus.”
The database will launch with more than 300 pieces listed. Dickins and his students will continue to add pieces from a collection of 3,000 paintings, photographs, prints, sculptures, drawings and historical objects.
Enhancing public access
The project began with one student. In fall 2020, graphic design major Katie Boyer began researching and documenting pieces from the Nan and Jim Robertson Photography Collection and the Ned and Jacqueline Crouch Folk-Art Collection.
As a Jewel Birdsong Curatorial Scholarship recipient and then as the inaugural Hazel Smith Summer Research Fellow, she worked with Dickins to establish the database, adding 65 pieces by mid-summer 2021.
This year, Boyer is the chief gallery assistant, and three other gallery assistants – students Sara Roach, Rheanne Bouchard and Lena Castillo – have helped to expand the database, adding pieces displayed in galleries throughout campus.
The database includes pieces from the Hazel Smith Student Art Collection – works that Austin Peay acquired from former students such as Khari Turner’s “Woman in a Rocking Chair” – and The Silverstein Collection – a collection of 16 Frank Paulin photographs donated by Bruce and Silke Silverstein.
The database allows anyone to browse Austin Peay’s collection, and if they note a piece they want to see in person, they can visit campus to see the artwork. Turner’s “Woman in a Rocking Chair,” for example, is hanging in the main hall of the Art + Design building.
Enhancing student experiences
The database not only helps to fulfill Dickins’ mission to make the university’s art collection more accessible to the public, but it also gives students the “hands-on experiences of documenting, researching and handling works of art,” he said.
The work has been meticulous, requiring research and double-checking that entries are correct, Bouchard said.
“Since we have so many pieces in the collection, we really have to take the time to check each one, making sure the photographs are clear and that the information is up to date,” the studio art major said. “It takes time to get the pieces recorded. We have to go to each building and find all the works that are displayed, taking notes on their categorical numbers as well as who created the pieces.”
Working with the collection and the database gave Boyer a head-start for a career working in a gallery or museum space, she said.
“I am able to learn about the different processes involved in creating and maintaining an art collection, as well as the process of curating the collection’s works,” Boyer said. “It is a great hands-on opportunity that will give me a good foundation of knowledge to take with me as I continue down this career path.”
Boyer will represent Austin Peay this summer at the renowned Chautauqua School of Art Residency Program. She will be in residency working with the Chautauqua Art Galleries, courtesy of Austin Peay’s Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts and Six Talents Foundation.
Bouchard too hopes to work in a gallery after graduation.
“Being able to have experience while getting an education is amazing,” she said. “It’s a real-world practice that you can’t really learn from taking a class.”
Animation and visual effects major Castillo agreed, adding, “It means so much that I have a chance to work with great people and to understand what gallery assistants have to go through.”
Even though the work can be “physically and mentally taxing,” animation and visual effects major Sara Roach – this year’s Jewel Birdsong Curatorial Scholarship recipient – said she has enjoyed the experience.
“I do enjoy what I do,” she said. “It keeps me on my toes. This exposure to new things, people and ideas simply wouldn’t have happened had I not received this opportunity, so I’m grateful that I did.”
How you can help
The New Gallery offers gallery assistantships, curatorial scholarships and a summer research fellowship to Austin Peay students. These opportunities are provided by funding and support from the Department of Art + Design and the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts.
If you want to support Austin Peay’s art collection and the university’s preservation, outreach and student scholarship efforts, visit the collection’s financial support webpage or call University Advancement at 931-221-7127.
Also, Austin Peay’s annual day of giving, Govs Give, starts at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19, and runs until 7:27 p.m. on Wednesday, April 20, a span that runs 1 day, 9 hours, and 27 minutes in honor of the school’s founding year, 1927. To give, visit govsgive.com anytime during the event.