Jonathan Bucci, curator of collections and exhibits at Hallie Ford Museum of Art, pulls out a print by artist Rick Bartow. The museum recently received a grant to preserve and digitize Bartow's print collection. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Every year, the Oregon Heritage Commission, awards grants to museums.
This year, two of the 11 museums receiving funds are in Salem: the Hallie Ford Museum of Art and the Bush House Museum.
The art museum, located at 700 State Street in downtown Salem, was awarded $7,856. Museum officials plan to use that money to mat and store more than 577 prints and other paper works created by Oregon artist Rick Bartow.
Bartow was a Mad River Wiyot tribe member, and he lived in Newport. During his 35-year career, he used paint, prints, drawings, and sculptures to explore personal identity, Native American culture, ancestry, and identity.
"He's certainly one of the most important Oregon artists," said Jonathan Bucci, museum curator of collections and exhibits. "His work has elements of humor in it, but it also has elements of personal struggle and anguish, so it represents the duality of human existence. It's very expressive."
Bartow's work appears in many museum collections, including the Brooklyn Museum in New York and the Portland Art Museum. He's perhaps best known for We Were Always Here, a pair of cedar sculptures commissioned by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
In 2016 and 2017, the artist and his estate donated materials to the art museum, and it's critical to protect them for scholars and art enthusiasts, Bucci said.
"I think oftentimes the general public, when they think about museums, they think about the things that they see publicly, the things they see in the galleries," Bucci said. "But we also preserve art."
The project will progress in stages, Bucci said. First, a framer will mount each piece in the collection and cut mats to protect them. Then, a photographer will take digital photos of each item. Next, interns will load those images into the museum's website. And finally, the archive will be stored in museum-quality boxes.
"Making sure things are properly cared for is a way of preserving them so that they can be shared and studied and exhibited in the future. This grant allows us to do that, and it's really wonderful that the Heritage Commission provides these kinds of management grants," Bucci said. "It's not necessarily something that has a tangible, immediate experience that the public can see. But it's something that the public benefits from over time."
Bucci said the collection is filled with items that will pique the interest of art historians and students. For example, in addition to known prints of Bartow's work, the archive includes proofs.
"You'll see the same plate printed in different colors and on different papers. So you can see his thought process as he decides how this print would best be seen," he said. "For art students or anyone who is interested in art processes, it's a really interesting archive."
When the project is complete, the entire collection will be available on the museum's website. Bucci said he expects the catalog will be online in January or February.
The Bush House Museum, located at 600 Mission St., was awarded $6,000.
Ross Sutherland, museum director, said it's the first time the organization has ever been awarded a grant from the Commission. He credits a new focus for the success.
The Bush House was built in 1878, and each of the 12 rooms has been lovingly preserved. The museum complex also includes a conservatory built in 1882, a root house, and the family's original barn. The museum opened to the public in 1953, and the house and adjoining property are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Bush House was home to Asahel Bush and his family. Bush was the founding editor of the Oregon Statesman newspaper, and he co-founded Salem's Ladd and Bush Bank.
He also had a troubled relationship with race, and he was an outspoken critic of abolitionism. The Salem Leadership Foundation reports that Bush often used his newspaper to express his cultural views.
In an editorial published in June of 1851, he wrote: "“Their assertions that Negroes are entitled to approach our polls, to sit in our courts, to places in our Legislature are not more rational than a demand upon them that they let all bulls vote at their polls, all capable goats enjoy a chance at their ermine, all asses (quadrupled) the privilege of running for their General Assemblies and all swine for their seats in Congress.”
"Last year, when they reviewed our grant, they asked if we were telling a complete story about Asahel Bush, and at that time, they wanted us to address some of the problematic statements he had made," he said. "Over the last year, we have been working to understand the issues surrounding museums and white privilege and instructional racism, and other similar issues."
Sutherland said his team also heard comments from the community about the Bush House focus. Tours focused heavily on the work done by Bush in the early days of Salem.
While the museum holds plenty of interesting family artifacts, some people wanted to learn more about the others that lived in the house and the workers that supported the family.
In its grant proposal, the Bush House team proposed to tell the stories of marginalized Salem community members.
"The idea was: What if museums in Salem had developed around sites that were related to traditionally underrepresented Oregonians? From that idea, we thought we could take these histories and then flesh them out and find out where they actually happened in town," Sutherland said.
A team of three will mine printed documents, looking for Salem stories. Sutherland said his team would also conduct interviews with Salem residents.
Sutherland said his team plans to research a school for Black children that once stood where Macy's stands now. He also mentioned a long-gone photo studio that once stood in the site of the Night Depository bar. It was used by Chemawa students.
But Sutherland said his team would also create an online submission form, so Salem residents can share their stories, artifacts, and memories.
"We're going to be speaking about people, rather than speaking for them. And that's really an important point. We're passing along and organizing information rather than speaking for others," Sutherland said.
The money comes at a timely moment. The Bush House Museum has been closed to visitors since March, and no opening date is set. The house has tight corners and narrow hallways, which makes social distancing difficult.
"Plus in terms of sanitation, you can't just wipe down historic woodwork with a standard cleanser," Sutherland said. "We're happy to look at other ways we can interact virtually with the public."
The archive will appear on the organization's website. When research is complete, stories will publish. The Bush family will remain prominently featured in the archive, Sutherland said. The team will look for ways to highlight how stories shared intersect with Bush family members and house residents.
Jonathan Bucci, curator of collections and exhibits at Hallie Ford Museum of Art flips through a book of prints by artist Rick Bartow. The museum recently received a grant to preserve and digitize Bartow's print collection. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
Prints by artist Rick Bartow will be processed into a digital archive. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)
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