Students at a table looking at art in the Collection Study Center at WSU
Assistant professor Michael Holloman leads Masters of Fine Arts students through class at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU’s Collection Study Center.

The airy space west of the Fine Arts Building formerly served as the Museum of Art gallery, but it’s been transformed into a versatile space where WSU’s art collection is taking on new life. The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU’s Collection Study Center is unearthing works that have been stored in the building’s vault for years and they’re now being displayed and studied by eager students.

A $270,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation helped create the Collection Study Center, which welcomed its first visitors last spring. Collection Manager Ann Saberi oversees the space and manages more than 4,000 fine art objects owned by the Museum.

“We had visitors the day after the first artwork came upstairs,” Saberi says. “This space is different from the museum because students are able to see the art in an intimate way. They’re able to pick it up and take a deep study of the work that they would not get in a museum or a gallery.”

Michael Holloman, associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts, has his students getting up close with pieces of WSU’s rich history and culture at the Collection Study Center. Masters of Fine Arts students studied portraits by Worth Griffin, a longtime Washington State College faculty member who helped build the Department of Fine Arts in the 1930s. Griffin was commissioned to paint portraits of dozens of prominent Native Americans in the Northwest in the years before World War II and several of those portraits were donated to the Museum’s collection.

“Our coursework is looking at the historic portrayals of Native people and questioning issues of stereotypes, audience expectations and historical value,” Holloman explains. “Working with the Collection Study Center was a great opportunity because one of the greatest things we can do for our students is to move beyond the text and give them a hands-on experience.”

Associate professor Dennis DeHart took three groups of his History of Photography students through the Collection Study Center. They studied everything from some Polaroids by Andy Warhol to a 90-inch print of a more contemporary photo by former WSU professor Fran Ho.

“I think one important thing is for students to see something in scale,” DeHart says. “Most people just see photos on their phone now, so to see it and pick it up is a lot less common. The students are able to physically see a real photo in a day and age when it’s not as common, it’s good to realize that it can exist physically.”

Saberi is still in the process of moving and cataloging the Museum’s collection, but students and faculty appreciate the custom table in the middle of the room where they can, with curator’s gloves on, pick up the art and inspect it closely. There are large movable walls and sliding display panels where art can be stored in an efficient, accessible space. The facility also includes a matting, framing and photography shop to assist in the cataloguing and displaying of items.

“We are dedicated to the preservation and safe-keeping of the art works,” says Debby Stinson, marketing and public relations manager for the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU. “But we also want to make the art accessible and available to students and the community, and this space allows us to do that.”

Robin Held, executive director of the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU and director of the Collection Study Center, is excited to see the space utilized and the Museum’s collection appreciated in new ways. Holloman says the Collection Study Center is also providing students chances to peek behind the curtain of a museum or gallery and gain invaluable perspective.

“For studio artists to be able to engage artwork and have that relationship with museums and their collections is very important,” Holloman says. “It’s something we always emphasize through their schooling, but to get behind the scenes is something we are excited to now have available to them.”