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On show in the Perlman: Curious Objects: Learning and Teaching with the Carleton Art Collection


The Curious Objects: Learning and Teaching with the Carleton Art Collection exhibition is the first of its kind to be put on in the Perlman Teaching Museum since the collection’s inception in 1997. Despite housing a permanent collection for a relatively long time, there has never been an exhibition exclusively showcasing it. As such, a collection exhibition was of high importance to Sara Cluggish, Mary Hulings Rice Director and Curator of the Perlman Teaching Museum, who recognizes the educational value in displaying objects permanently housed in the Carleton College Art Collection. 

Cluggish described the permanent collection as the DNA of the museum; it represents the museum’s purpose and the goals. As such, every work in the collection is carefully selected and acquired. Each piece demonstrates great potential for education and can be used as a pedagogical tool for a variety of disciplines. With over 3,200 objects in the collection, it was not possible to display them all, so Cluggish chose “just a smattering of works from the collection that are unbeatable.” The aim of this exhibition “was to show how faculty and students engage with artworks as a teaching tool.”

Curious Objects is split up into seven smaller ‘shows.’ The displayed artworks include Japanese prints, Chinese ceramics, Malian portrait photography, a 15th century illuminated manuscript, botanical illustrations by 19th century naturalists and Roman antiques. Most of the objects in the exhibition are a testament to the versatility and merit of artwork as an educational tool. Many have also been used in classes to complement curricula; Cluggish has welcomed classes ranging from studio art to computer science to history and language to the Perlman, hosting a total of 30 class visits last year. Different classes and departments use the artworks to cater to their needs. As an example, while observational drawing classes use botanical illustrations to inform their own artwork, other classes use the works differently.

“For instance, a sound design class took a more creative approach where the students created soundscapes or narratives that depart from the artworks themselves,” said Cluggish. She also described the utility of the French and Francophile artworks currently on display: “French language professor Christine Lac routinely uses them in the classroom as an opportunity for her students to kind of write museum-quality wall labels, translate them into French and then record themselves speaking French.” 

Education in the museum extends beyond this exhibition and the classes that utilize the collection. Even the work done by students leading up to the exhibition reflects the purpose of the Carleton College Art Collection and the Curious Objects exhibition. Cluggish noted that student workers “helped with the research and writing of the wall labels…so every single label in the exhibition was drafted by students.” Ella Johnson ’24 was one of the student workers who helped with the Curious Objects exhibition. Her duties included selecting what would be exhibited, framing works and writing wall labels. Working at the Perlman in this capacity was an educational and worthwhile experience for Johnson. She said: “I normally work in the archive, not the museum, so this was a really interesting opportunity to explore museum work, which I might pursue in the future.” 

Johnson enjoyed working on the exhibition, noting that “this is a great opportunity for students and the whole community to learn that Carleton does have a permanent art collection and that the collection provides an invaluable resource to teach and learn with.” 

Rylyn Monahan ’23 visited the exhibition earlier this term and both enjoyed and appreciated it. “It is important to highlight what Carleton already has to offer as opposed to constantly acquiring new objects,” said Monahan. “So much of the collection just sits in storage, so it’s nice to see it having its day in the limelight. Art is a really powerful tool for observation, and combining it with classes helps to anchor what people learn with tangible works. I also think it is important to elevate and value the makers of the world.”

   Curious Objects: Learning and Teaching with the Carleton Art Collection will be on display until November 16, 2022.

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