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Stumbled Upon Treasures
December 15, 2011

Santa Cruz Museum's Carranza Collection

The Santa Cruz Museum's Carranza Collection

I am a huge museum nerd. Well, this shouldn't be too much of a surprise since I work in an art museum! I love finding small, sometimes off the beaten path, museums. While walking around Toledo, Spain last summer I came upon the Santa Cruz Museum. Much like our museum's nineteenth-century building, which originally housed government offices and was used as a hospital during the Civil War, the Santa Cruz Museum also is housed in an historic building that was once a hospital (their building dates to the sixteenth century). Initially, I was excited by the museum's collection of assorted artifacts and paintings by El Greco, whose elongated figures seem so dramatic, yet life-like. But as I was about to leave, I made an exciting discovery: an area that looked like American Art's Luce Foundation Center.

Bright tiles and architectural details hung on screens. Giant urns were displayed behind glass and stacked on plinths. Unlike the Luce Center, which displays a sampling of our folk art, sculpture, and contemporary craft collections displayed on shelves, as well as paintings hung on screens, the Santa Cruz Museum's area only displayed objects from the Carranza Collection, an important collection of Spanish pottery.

I left the museum wondering about the collection and why the museum decided to display the objects in the way they did. Was this open storage with the idea of showing as much of their collection as possible like we do in the Luce Center? Or did they want to display the objects like people would have once seen them when they were first made? Also, how did people learn more about the objects? We display basic information about the artwork, including its accession number (the unique number the museum gives each piece when we acquire it). If you want to learn more we have computer kiosks nearby where you can read about the object and the artist who created it. But I don't remember seeing any text in the Santa Cruz's exhibition area. Since I work in a museum, I'm always interested in how other museums operate.

What about you? What's the most memorable or intriguing place that you have ever stumbled upon while traveling?

Posted by Tierney on December 15, 2011 in Behind the Scenes, In This Case: Luce Foundation Center


I love the Luce Center. No visit to SAAM is complete without a stop there. It has a sort of up close feel to it that makes me imagine I'm peeking over the artists' shoulders as they're finishing up their masterpieces. Recently though I had a similar experience outside of an art museum that gave me an insight into the nature of an artist's vision.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I visited the birthplace of Edward Hopper in Nyack, NY. Slated for demolition to make way for a parking lot, the place was rescued by a group of activist art lovers some twenty years ago. Now it's the Edward Hopper House Art Center.

Only the lower floor is open to the public. Containing galleries devoted to regularly scheduled art exhibits, it also has a gallery holding Hopper artifacts including his bicycle, an early easel he painted on, and his paintbox full of worn brushes and well squeezed out tubes of oil pigments.

I got to talking with the volunteer sitting behind the front desk about my long term interest in Hopper. Kindly he offered to take me upstairs to see among other things Hopper's bedroom. Up we went and after a full minute of him struggling with the over 100 year old lock on the bedroom door, we were in.

This was the room where Hopper was born. He lived in it for the next 18 years. It was a modest room but what immediately struck me were the three windows through which the light was streaming in. Two faced due east. Gazing out one of them, I could see the Hudson River one block away half obscured by a jumble of slanting rooftops. The late November sun was sharply hitting the roofs and casting those long evocative shadows so typical of that time of year.

I was looking at a view that looked for all the world like most of Hopper's most powerful paintings- seemingly ordinary architecture illuminated by brilliant sunlight. SAAM's famous Hopper oil Cape Cod Morning comes to mind.

Through those two east facing windows the morning sun would have blasted in and awakened Hopper all through the eighteen years he lived in that room. I realized this view was the original source for Hopper's remarkable sense of sunlight. It was an image that embedded itself deep in his mind. He spent his entire life painting pictures that evoked that image. It may well have been one of his happiest memories from his childhood.

Much later in his life, Hopper had a studio for himself built on the shore of Cape Cod in S. Truro, MA. Through a stroke of good fortune I have been given opportunities to stay and work in that studio. Since 1983 I've had 13 residencies there so I know the place well. Hopper designed the studio himself down to the last detail. It's very modest, but dominated by windows all around designed to catch the light. When I entered his childhood bedroom last month I realized how much the Cape Cod studio he built in his '40s looked and felt like his early bedroom. I don't think that's an accident. It was his way of summoning up one of the Muses of his early creativity.

Hopper shows us that maybe, through his paintings, you can go home again.

When I lived in New York in the early '70s I used to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to spend a quite day. The most amazing thing I saw there was a collection of HOTEL ROOMS from the 16th through the 18th centuries! They were fascinating (and small), but the idea that a major museum would have such a surprising collection astounded me. I understood the Egyptian artifacts, but hotel rooms? What imagination from a curator.

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