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R. Steve Dick/University Relations

Tom Foor, interim curator of art and culture of the Americas and Africa, works with a few of the ethnographic artifacts that will become part of the Spencer Museum of Art.

Ethnographic artifacts to become part of Spencer Museum of Art

Almost 10,000 Native American, African, Latin American and Australian ethnographic artifacts will become part of the nationally known Spencer Museum of Art.

"This collection will strengthen our ability to explore the rich diversity of the human experience through art," said Saralyn Reece Hardy, director of the museum. "It also will put the Spencer museum at the forefront of a national movement toward more innovative integration of art collections."

Moving the stewardship of the collection to the Spencer museum also will lay the groundwork for more public access to these 19th and early 20th century objects, which was limited to scholarly research in 2002 when the public galleries of the university's anthropological collections were closed because of statewide budget cuts.

"The Spencer museum will be an excellent steward for this remarkable collection," said John Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology. "By assuming responsibility for these works, the museum is broadening its ability to promote global awareness through art and is expanding its educational role for the whole university."

The ethnographic collection consists of objects such as Greenland Eskimo clothing, Central African masks, Native American weavings and cradleboards and Australian boomerangs and bark paintings. It also includes artifacts collected by early 20th century KU legends Sallie Casey Thayer, whose donation of art collected during world travels established the original KU Museum of Art in 1928, and Lewis Lindsay Dyche, namesake of the Natural History Museum building.

To oversee and conserve the collection, Hardy will appoint Tom Foor as interim curator of art and culture of the Americas and Africa.

Foor, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Montana, is temporary curator for the collection and overseeing the repatriation of Native American objects as required by federal law. The position will be filled permanently after a national search.

Foor said he is excited by the collection's future at the Spencer museum, where it will be accessible to students and scholars from many academic fields and under the care of Spencer museum professional staff.

"Being connected to a well-known accredited organization of the stature of the Spencer museum will increase the potential for studying and developing the collection," he said.

Hardy said the ethnographic collection will remain for the time being at its current location in Spooner Hall, available for study and incorporation into exhibitions, while planning proceeds for expansion of the Spencer. Installation in March of new cabinet systems will upgrade storage of the collection in Spooner. The Spencer will incorporate the ethnographic collection into its digital database.

The Spencer museum, with holdings of nearly 26,000 objects — not including the ethnographic collection — is widely regarded as one of the nation's top university art museums. It drew more than 120,000 visitors in 2005.

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February 5, 2007 : Vol. 31, No. 10

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