Though visitors to the College this weekend will no doubt be impressed by the newly renovated Walker Art Museum and the exhibits inside, most of the art pieces that Bowdoin owns are not visible to the eye; they are housed in a secure storage vault underground.
The museum's entire collection consists of more than 15,000 works of art, but according to museum Registrar Laura Latman, the museum displays only a few hundred pieces at one time. The remainder of the art is kept in a storage facility, located in an underground room between the museum and the Visual Arts Center (VAC).
Though the space between the VAC and the museum formerly linked the two buildings, it has been redesigned and reconfigured along with the rest of the museum.
"We basically have everything stored in this one room now," said Latman. "It was an opportunity to really condense and organize things."
In years past, the museum stored the art that was not on display in four different areas around the museum. One space was for paintings, another for three-dimensional objects, another for works on paper (including photos, prints, and drawings), and the last space was for furniture.
Only the room for works on paper was climate-controlled, and even so, the room only controlled temperature, not humidity. This situation, according to Latman, was far from ideal.
In addition to controlling for both temperature and humidity, the new facility uses space very efficiently. Cabinets are tracked on wheels, which allows them to fit snugly together, as well as roll apart for access (similar to the shelves in the basement of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library). Flat pieces are stored in flat files, and three-dimensional objects are tucked neatly into drawers. The interiors of the drawers are custom-made and shaped to hold each individual piece perfectly in place.
According to Latman, locating pieces is now much easier than before.
"One of the nice things is that we've organized it so well now that everything has its own home," she said.
For instance, in the past, certain objects like coins were put in boxes.
"You wouldn't know if something was missing unless you went looking for it," said Latman.
With the new system it is immediately clear if something is missing because of the empty space in the drawer.
"It's much more user-friendly," she said.
Also more user-friendly is the new receiving area, equipped with a huge elevator that holds up to 12,000 lbs. of freight. Such an efficient elevator, according to Latman, has made transporting pieces into the museum much more manageable than in the past.
"It could take us three hours to unload an entire truck," said Latman. "Now, we can empty an entire truck in 20 minutes."
Transporting the art back into the museum after the renovations was much faster than shipping the art out, thanks to the new level of efficiency and organization in storage.
"It took us almost five months to pack and ship the collection off-site, and took us about a month and a half to ship everything back," said Latman.
When the collection arrived back at the museum from its out-of-state holding location, the storage drawers had already been set up, and the pieces could be put away immediately.
"Everything was just able to go from the truck into the storage and out of the packing boxes, into the new location," said Latman.
Though the storage facility is currently packed with thousands of works of art, there is still room for more.
"Not only do we have everything in one place, there is definitely room for growth," said Latman.
The College acquires new pieces every year: 41 new pieces were acquired in 2006, 97 in 2005, and 62 in 2004.
Though there is a rumor that, years ago, students were able to borrow art pieces from the storage vault for their rooms, Latman said that she doubts that the museum would have loaned out pieces that were especially valuable, if at all.
"There are posters in the collection. It's possible that, an eternity ago, that might have happened," she said. "As far as actual works of art, I doubt that."
Though students cannot request art from storage for their rooms, professors can request art to be pulled out of storage for their classes. Andrew W. Mellon Curatorial Intern Diana Tuite, who coordinates the classroom collection, said that these requests are "starting to gain momentum."