Saturday, January 30, 2010

Bird Etching - Using Museum Study Collections to Inform your Art


Spirit Rising
Many artists, and people in general, do not realize that museum collections are often available to them. I am not talking about what is exhibited, I am talking about what is NOT on exhibit. Of course, each institution has its own protocol, so it is important to contact the curator to find out what rules apply to visiting that particular collection. A few years ago, I became deeply interested in birds so I contacted the curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia to ask if I could draw from the specimens. Not only did the curator say yes, but he gave me a wonderful tour of the collection, showed me how they prepare specimens, and (most importantly)showed me how to handle the specimens. I spent one day a week for an entire summer there, and have visited off and on since. Though I mostly drew in a sketchbook, I also took an etching plate with me once and started a plate of a male robin. Being able to hold the birds and look at them close up provided me with a whole different experience than observing from afar.

In addition, I have also visited the print collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Many of these institutions are very happy to help, so long as you are respectful of their rules and have a real plan for what you want to accomplish. Of course, afterwards, it is important to follow up with a thank you.

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