Cataloging Collections at The Fabric Workshop and Museum
Semester: Spring 2023
Praxis Course: HART 420 Museum Studies Fieldwork Seminar
Faculty Advisors: Matthew Feliz & Monique Scott
Field Site: The Fabric Workshop and Museum
Field Supervisor: Justin Hall
This semester I worked with the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia in their collections department. I had two main tasks in my work this semester—gathering contact information for all artists that have complete residencies with the FWM and digitally cataloging the Artist Boxes that are stored in collections. I spent about 5 weeks locating and documenting contact info for the 400+ artists that have work with the museum’s Artist-in-Residence program; the rest of my semester was spent on cataloging Artist Boxes.
My first objective of the semester was to use a list of over 400 names of artists that have worked with the FWM and to locate contact information for them. This task was important to the collections department as having a resource in which collaborators’ information is neatly compiled and readily available makes it much easier for staff to contact artists about the status of their works that exist in collections. If a question of ownership is to arise regarding objects made by a certain artist, it is helpful to have their contact in an easy to locate file. To make this file, I was first to make note of whether each artist was deceased or living—and if living, where—then to find their gallery representation. For some names, this process was quite easy, especially if the artist is well known; however, for others this was a bit tricky. I searched each name in a search engine and did my best to find the information I needed. I found that if artists had their own websites this search was a bit easier as they tended to list their gallery representation(s), and if they were really thorough, they even included phone numbers and emails for those galleries. For many artists, I was able to locate gallery representation directly through the galleries’ websites that tended to be top results when I searched their names. There were also many artists on my list of much smaller acclaim that were challenging to gather information for; many of them had websites that seemingly hadn’t been updated in years or simply had Instagram pages with little information about location and representation. While this task was tedious and time consuming, I actually quite enjoyed it as it was satisfying to go down a list knowing I would eventually complete it.
Once I completed my list, I began working on cataloging the Artist Boxes that are held in collections. The FWM has a special practice of archiving certain objects from each artist that completes the Artist-in-Residency in boxes known as Artists Boxes. These boxes contain a wide variety of objects that illustrate the artists’ process working with the FWM and often have prototypes of the final design or material that is used for the artists’ exhibit with the FWM. My supervisor Justin was very flexible with letting me choose which boxes I’d like to open and catalog. I was able to complete the cataloging process for nine different artists. To catalog each box’s contents, I photographed each item, making note of whether it was loose in the box or stored in a bag. I also measured each item and made a note of the dimensions. Once I had finished photographing and measuring all contents, I put the box back in its proper location and started digitally documenting each box. I compiled all the pictures into a single document that I titled “[Artist and year of residency] Artist Box” that also included a photograph of the final work and information regarding ownership of the work. Once I had all photographs inserted into the document, I began to describe each item visually, making note of any writings or distinguishing marks, and noting the measurements of each item. After I finished describing each object, I uploaded the file to a SharePoint folder that my supervisor has access to so that he has the ability to review the content and add any information that I may not have access to. These documents, once fully completed and double-checked for errors, are uploaded to the FWM website as educational materials. These documents allow interested parties to access objects in collections and to learn more about artists, their process, their works, and the FWM’s practices. I found cataloging the Artist Boxes to be incredibly interesting and fulfilling. I took great pleasure in seeing what kind of objects existed in these boxes and being able to physically see and touch art made by artists that I enjoy or am learning about in other courses.
I had a great experience working with the FWM as I was able to immerse myself in museum work and explore my personal interests as well as opportunities that exist in museums. Working at the FWM opened my eyes to all the different roles that exist in museums and showed me how museums can differ from institution to institution. Being able to work closely with work belonging to artists whose work I enjoy and artists that I was learning about in other courses created a dynamic and fulfilling semester at the FWM and on campus.