BIG HORN — The Brinton Museum serves as an art and culture landmark for Sheridan County, but much of the art on site waits in the depths of the museum’s archives. Thanks to the monetary gifting of Forrest E. Mars Jr., as well as millions of dollars from local stakeholders and patrons back in 2015, The Brinton stores an ever-expanding collection in state-of-the-art storage facilities in the basement of the building.
“They’re both, what we call, state-of-the-art humidity-controlled, climate-controlled in accordance with what is referred to as the American Alliance of Museums guidelines and standards,” said curator of exhibitions and museum education Barbara McNab.
Two rooms remain regulated at 60 degrees by an HVAC system and hold ample room for future collections, as well as the 2,000 plus historic images on loan indefinitely through the Endow Fund and Mars.
“It’s an incredible historic collection,” McNab said.
Two summer interns continue to work on cataloging all the photos and entering them into the in-house database only accessible by certain museum staff members.
The storage areas remain an important aspect of The Brinton as a way to preserve art for generations to come.
“It’s a repository for future generations to keep it housed safely and preserve it,” Brinton registrar Lacasa Michelena said.
McNab noted that the more the museum can gather from personal collectors now, the better.
“You cannot care for things and preserve in this manner in your home, humidity controlled and not touched and out of the light,” McNab added.
McNab said traditionally, museums showcase only 5 to 10 percent of their total collection at one time.
“The smaller the museums, depending on what exhibition space they have, that percentage goes up because they just don’t have as much they need to keep in storage,” McNab said. “We actually have quite a bit in storage because our collection is growing and growing and growing.”
Because of the building completed just a few years ago, The Brinton has been able to acquire more collections that were once impossible to house appropriately.
“Certain pieces couldn’t get here because they didn’t have proper storage,” McNab said. “It’s not the sole reason (we have a large collection) by any means, but it’s certainly played a large role in the Forrest E. Mars Jr. Building being realized was the Gallatin Indians collection material because it was in safekeeping at the Chicago Art Institute for a long time with the understanding that if this museum ever had the means or the exhibition space to properly exhibit and store it, it would come back here, and it did.”
When collections are acquired, the pieces are labeled with an identification number.
“Cataloging and tracking is a big part of storage,” Michelena said.
McNab said the numbers help those not as familiar with the collections to easily find a piece.
Pieces are labeled with removable marks in order to avoid altering the piece. The team uses graphite pencil for paper items, archival acid-free tags tied or looped onto other pieces and an archival poly resin for items like copper plates.
Pieces move from storage into galleries based on committee decisions years in advance.
“There’s a committee that meets every December and decides on the schedule,” Michelena said. “It’s scheduled out two or three years ahead.”
Another committee reviews guest artist applications in December to coincide with Brinton collections. When chosen, guest artists bring their work to The Brinton a few weeks in advance and store the artwork in the large storage facility until setup for the gallery commences.
Michelena and McNab said they are grateful for the growing room available at The Brinton. The space allows for The Brinton’s collection to continue growing and keeps precious artwork well-preserved.