From the Curator's Desk

What is a Permanent Collection?

Rusty Freeman - Saturday, August 22, 2020

What is a Permanent Collection? 

A way to study History. And Art. Certainly a permanent collection can be used to study art history. The study of form and stylistic change. To study how new technologies inform and change the style and content of art. 

This blog compares Tradition and Innovation as themes in the Cedarhurst permanent collection. Here, this George Inness painting, (Durham, Connecticut, 1879, oil) may be considered following tradition when compared to Prendergast's innovative and colorful By the Seashore.  All artworks from the Cedarhurst collection.  

A public art museum’s permanent collection reflects the tastes and values of the institution much in the way a private collection reflects the owner’s worldviews on art. What an individual or public institution collects says much about who they are and their aspirations.    

But a museum’s permanent collection is open to being freely interpreted by the communities the institution serves. The museum helps their communities achieve those interpretations.  

Innovation in the work of Maurice Prendergast, By the Seashore, 1905, oil.  

To study the Cedarhurst permanent collection is to see the history of the United States through art objects.  

Art in America has a long history of maintaining traditions with the innovations of each new generation running alongside. Collections reflect traditions and innovations.  

To study tradition and innovation we ask what historical events were significant during the making of this or that artwork. How did the historical event affect the people’s lives? How does this artwork reflect or embody that historical event?  How did people in the past view their world? How does the past help us make sense of the present?  

The objects in any collection are layered with buried stories of identity, representations, ideologies, conflicting messages; they give shape to our mythologies, to create our sense of place, to our dreams of new worlds.

Giovanni Maria Benzoni, Veiled Rebecca, 1872, marble; follows Neoclassical tradition. 

All collections lie in a state of suspended animation, like Sleeping Beauty, awaiting that one curious person to say, why was this object made, why this way, for what purpose, who benefited, how did this object lead to the next great thing, and a host of other as-yet unimagined questions.

The historical context of any object, be it a 100-year-old oil painting or digital photograph, is so important for understanding the many stories that came together in the making of the object. Some of the stories are known; some are unknown. It is discovering the unknown that makes the objects come alive again and can benefit us in the here and now.  

Our stories change. Over time, the ways collections have been valued evolve. For example, the notion of “beauty” has changed, and objects formerly valued as “scientific” or “naive” can become valued for their “beauty.” The next younger generation will see things differently, and that's important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the continuing evaluation and appreciation of our historical heritage. 

Innovation in the art of Annelies Heijnen, Jeu de Boule, 2007, white earthenware. 










The design of this chair is over 300 years old. Its origins reach back to the 18th century in England's countryside. Known as the Windsor chair, its eloquent design features graceful curved spindle back, saddle shaped seat, sturdy arms, and splayed legs. This chair was handmade in 2004 by John Quick, titled Sack-Back Windsor and used walnut, tulip popular, and white oak. This is tradition.  

The Cedarhurst collections offer many opportunities for young scholars to explore the ethos, characteristics, principles, beliefs, customs, assumptions, and values of social and cultural life in the communities of southern Illinois.

In the end, what do you value in these art collections of American History?   



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