New project highlights seldom-seen artworks in Flaten collection
St. Olaf College’s Flaten Art Museum is home to more than 4,000 objects, ranging from a collection of Andy Warhol photos to Southwest Native American pottery.
Yet the bulk of these objects largely go unseen by the greater public.
Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson ’04 and students Ola Faleti ’15 and Liz Brindley ’15 are working to change that. Through a new “Collection Stories” initiative, they have created video tours of the college’s extensive art collection.
In one story, Faleti highlights a woodcut by famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.
In another, Brindley relates a painting by Kurt Larisch to her personal experiences during her Manhattan Art Interim course.
“Instead of relying on art historical genres, or the linear ‘march’ of art history, we decided to pursue thematic stories that focus on how the objects in our collection speak to us today,” Nelson says.
The three recently shared their work at the Universities Art Association of Canada annual conference in Toronto.
Nelson co-presented a talk with Laurel Bradley, the director of the Perlman Teaching Museum at Carleton College, as part of a larger panel called “Art Collections for engagement, teaching, learning, and research in the 21st century.”
Faleti and Brindley jointly delivered a presentation about the student perspectives behind the Collection Stories.
Nelson created the Collection Stories project after seeing a similar initiative at neighboring Carleton College.
“I wanted to present the pieces in Flaten Art Museum in a way that focuses on how the objects relate to our community,” she says.
The project is part of the college’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. The team began the project by researching other existing models of digital collection engagement, including projects out of the Portland Art Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At an early field trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, they met with TDX (The Digital Experience), a cross-departmental team dedicated to enhancing visitors’ digital learning experiences in the museum.
Telling the stories
As curators and storytellers, Faleti and Brindley played integral roles with the Collection Stories. They developed virtual exhibitions, narrated video slideshows, and published them as part of Flaten Art Museum’s online collection. Using artworks as a springboard for interdisciplinary inquiry, their work highlights thematic relationships among works from disparate periods, cultures, and media.
Faleti and Brindley found inspiration in themes that seemed to emerge from the collection as they created ideas for the stories. With Nelson’s guidance, they each developed a core topic, researched related objects, and developed scripts. They recorded their stories, and, after editing videos, they created a website to house the videos and object descriptions.
“My favorite part of this project was getting the unique and rare opportunity to look through our collection and find pieces that I connected with,” Faleti says. “Art is multipurpose, of course, but it also exists to elicit emotions and express the human experience, which can be difficult to remember within a scholastic setting. I’m glad that I got to tap into those feelings through the Collection Stories.”
Only the beginning
Two Collection Stories have been published thus far, featuring roughly two dozen pieces of art.
Nelson says that the published stories are only the beginning of this project. She envisions that the Collection Stories model could be adopted in various fields across the liberal arts.
“As a course assignment, the project would require thoughtful ‘curating’ of visual and interpretive material to create a cohesive whole. This is an important skill for the 21st century,” she says.
The Collection Stories are being screened continuously during the current Flaten Art Museum exhibition, Art Works: Gifts from Dan ’69 and Nancy Schneider, which runs through December 14.
“The intention of this project is to start the conversation around artwork, to begin telling our stories as an invitation for others to do the same,” Brindley says.