In the Fall of 2020, Dr. Sarah Buchanan was teaching an Honors seminar on material culture and had planned to exhibit work created by her students. Restrictions on gallery visits due to the pandemic meant that her students would be accessing materials primarily online, with the possibilities for displaying their work curbed greatly. Buchanan conferred with Kelli Hansen, Head of Special Collections, and Marie Concannon, the head of government information at Mizzou Libraries, who had collaborated with her to display the physical exhibit in Ellis Library in previous years. Concannon brought in Shannon Cary, the Libraries’ communications officer, who offered to display the exhibit on the Libraries’ website.
The exhibit “Making Art for All/Our Time” showcased work by undergraduate students for the Honors seminar “Get Real, Go Places! Let Objects Take You There.” Over eight weeks, the students gathered on Zoom to peer inside the galleries, shelves and sidewalks of campus where objects of material culture are prudently managed for public interactions. The course introduces students to the practice of interpreting, inspecting and writing about objects through regular use of a sketchbook journal and weekly syntheses shared with classmates. The course is taught by Dr. Buchanan of the iSchool at the University of Missouri along with gallery, library, archive and museum (GLAM) professionals based on the Mizzou campus who contribute to the Material Culture Studies Group, established in 2014.
The Mizzou Libraries were also able to contribute to the class by providing some of its own material culture for the curriculum. The students were introduced to Special Collections through a Zoom session that focused on a broad range of items, including cuneiform tablets, maps, artists’ books and works of art. Items selected for this class are browsable on the Special Collections website.
Buchanan stated that, her “desired outcomes for the exhibit of Honors student works are to showcase themed explorations of objects we encounter across Mizzou’s galleries, libraries, archives, and museums – promoting collection uses while introducing students to material culture research.” The seminar is a central part of Buchanan’s research and teaching activities focused around provenance research, recently funded by an IMLS Early Career Development grant (the first to MU). Provenance research when applied to objects from cultures past and present can foster stronger connections between a person’s heritage, homelands, and present-day learning.
The digital display, which is still available online, includes a clay sculpture recreation of a political cartoon, a colored pencil response to works shown in the Bingham Art Gallery, and an embroidered fiber art piece depicting the plants and native species of Missouri, among others. “One digital artwork revisits the 1916 Golden Lane protest in St. Louis,” according to Buchanan, “and reminds us that art persists and connects our communities to each other.” She says the exhibit title also sought to capture the alternating sense of time being suspended yet urgent in the virtual semester, when “traveling” involved more screens and fewer miles.
The Libraries were happy to contribute to the success of the exhibit by displaying it on our website. Buchanan said she appreciated the “librarians’ flexibility in transitioning from a planned in-person exhibit to a digital post, given the physical risks right now. The students are thankful and happy to see their work alongside their classmates’.”