While researching the museums in Denmark, I have been amazed by the number and variety of cultural institutions. Denmark is 16,573 square miles, approximately the size of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Despite its size, it has over 600 museums. This high number is a testament to support from the government and the Danish people.
Museums range from the internationally known institutions like SMK National Gallery of Denmark in Copenhagen to local museums like Kokkedal’s Fredensborg Local History Museum. Denmark even has four Viking museums. However, I was fascinated to learn about there are two museums solely dedicated to glass as an art form. I have been interested in this art form ever since visiting Venice over twenty years ago, and this interest inspired me to learn more about these museums. In the port town of Ebeltoft is Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, and Hempel Glasmuseum is located in the southern city of Nykøbing.
Danish glass artist Finn Lynggaard, along with Erling Rasmussen and Bent Fredberg, created Glasmuseet Ebeltoft in 1986. It is a private institution directed by the Foundation for the Collection of Contemporary, International Glass Art. Even though it does not receive financial support from the government, the staff regularly informs the Ministry of Cultural Affairs about their projects. The museum exhibits contemporary, international glass art. It takes an interesting approach to collecting. They select artists to join the collection; once the artists accept, they send objects as a donation or loan. Artists even exchange work or send new items in order to keep the collection current. There are approximately 1,500 items in the permanent collection. It highlights over 700 artists. The museum has integrated into the town of Ebelfort through events like lectures, concerts, and children’s programs and by offering a studio space.
Nykøbing is twice the size of Ebeltoft with a population just over 16,000. Its glass museum Hempel Glasmuseum grew from the collection of industrialist J.C. Hempel (1894-1986). Similar to Glasmuseet Ebeltoft, it is a private museum. Hempel Culture Foundation manages it. In contrast, the Hempel Glasmuseum focuses on the history of glassware and not just contemporary glass art. The museum claims to have Northern Europe’s largest private collection of European glass from 1500 to 1900, as well as the largest collection of ornamental glasses and decorated goblets. In order to promote Danish glass artists, it awards the annual Hempel Glass Prize to a prominent Danish glass artist and displays their work. The museum provides similar programming with concerts, lectures, and children’s activities. Hempel Glasmuseum also tries to create an immersive experience when visiting. As visitors drive up, they see life-size bronze figures surrounded by shrubbery in the Viggo Jarl Sculpture Park.
While these museums have slightly different focuses with contemporary glassware versus historical, they both provide valuable insight into the art medium of glass.
Last semester I spent becoming familiar with the Georeferenced Cultural Repository Inventory Codebook. For example, I had to research sites in order to rank them by cultural significance. Some sites proved easier to rank than others. I also became familiar about how to use Google Maps to mark a precise latitude and longitude. The focus of our information gathering had an almost frenetic feel because we were researching sites in the Caribbean, many of which was affected by Hurricanes Rita and Irma.
This semester has started with a continuation of locating and describing relevant institutions. However, there is a different feel to the approach and pacing because I am researching the developed Western European country of Denmark. Unlike the Caribbean islands, De Gruyter’s Museums of the World is filled with sites for Denmark. However, there is still a need for in-depth research and digging. Names need to be translated as best as possible and double checked to see if they still exist. Some museums are part of a larger complex which can present issues when creating tidy or manageable data. There are still some strange cases where museum associations are included, and the decision needs to be made on whether to include them or not. I was grateful that our supervisor Gracie Golden has answered our questions in a timely manner. Because of this, I was able to determine that two of the museum associations did not need to be included in the dataset. I have also been able to make final decisions about translations.
Overall, I’m looking forward to seeing how the individual information we have been collecting will play out in the larger mapping project.
Even though this is a virtual internship with the potential to be isolating, the Cultural Rescue Initiative has worked to build connections. We have had ongoing phone meetings as part of the larger group and as the smaller group of George Mason interns focused on the Caribbean. Our smaller group often emailed and shared documents as well. Another valuable connection has been reading their intern blog posts. This communication provides insight into other aspects and geographic areas of the project. Ultimately, this helps us as virtual interns to see the larger picture and the need for this project.
In addition, this internship has sparked conversations with my colleagues at work. Today, I discovered that the science librarian I work with at UNC Charlotte helped preserve the papers of the Hiẓb al-Ba’th al-‘Arabī al-Ishtirākī Records (Ba’ath Party Records). As a student in her library science program, she contributed to the digitization project. We talked about the overlapping concerns with preserving information. Just as terrorist groups have destroyed museum objects and cultural sites in the Middle East, Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the records of his opposition. Thankfully, the need to preserve as many documents as possible was recognized and acted upon. I’m grateful for the dialogue this internship has created.
Connections to My Teaching
The internship has provided some challenges as well. Many of the Caribbean islands we are researching did not have any sites listed in De Gruyter’s Museums of the World directory. As a result, I had to utilize the advice I give to students when conducting research and evaluating online information. Much of the information I used to find and evaluate potential museums came from Google searches. Some website came from the government and universities, but many of these were travel websites. As I result, I had to be even more careful about the information source. I chose to ask a combination of the questions from the University of Maryland Libraries. Questions 6 and 7 gained added importance because of the hurricane damage.
1. What are the qualifications of the author or group that created the site?
2. What is the purpose of the web page or site?
3. What kind of information does the web site provide?
4. Does the web site provide any contact information?
5. When was the web site last updated?
6. Is the site well maintained?
7. In your opinion, how does the web site appear overall?
In addition, I tried to find information about the museum’s mission when available. Sometimes, a museum or gallery was simply a hobby or vanity project. I think the one that will stay with me is the “bird sanctuary” and accompanying “museum” that turned out to be some birds put in the backyard by a man whose wife liked birds. Their tax status was also an important question to ask, whether they were for profit or not for profit. Many institutions fell somewhere in between the bird sanctuary and clearly qualifying museums like Trinidad’s National Museum and Art Gallery. This project has helped me to practice what I preach and reconnect with my teaching material.
While working to collect information on the museums and related sites in the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative, I am reminded of a library assignment I used with students to teach them about the lifecycle of information. The assignment focused on the reporting and discourse surrounding Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The cycle starts with information posted online with blogs and other social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, usually on the same day. The next stage quickly follows with newspapers as seen with articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post about Hurricanes Rita and Irma. In the following weeks, we can find articles in popular magazines. A notable example that was brought to my attention by a fellow intern is the December 14 article “What It’s Like to Evacuate a Museum in a Natural Disaster” in The Atlantic by Sarah Zhang. Of course, this article is of particular interest to me working on the virtual side of the process with my internship. However, it will be months before information is published in scholarly and trade journals because of the process for submissions and peer-reviewing. It could then take years to see academic discussions of the events and their effects in book form due to the formal publishing timeline. This publishing timeline makes the work of the Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative all the more urgent and necessary. As Zhang notes in her article, “not all museums are impenetrable fortresses.” As a result, it is critical that this information is recorded as quickly but also as thoroughly as possible.