Oklahoma City University’s New Art and Photograph Collection

special collectionsIn the fall of 2010 Robert Henry, former Chief Judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, became the president of Oklahoma City University. Prior to his judicial appointment President Henry served as the dean of OCU School of Law and a tenured professor of law.  Along with his many skills and energy he brought with him an impressive art collection some of which he generously donated to the law library. The diverse collection of donated and loaned artwork included signed United States Supreme Court photos from the early 20th century, numbered and signed prints of work completed by Oklahoma’s most famous Native American artists, artwork by Oklahoma and federal judges, group portraits of the Tenth Circuit judges in their chambers and courtroom, and a Ukrainian campaign poster from the 2004 presidential election; the results of which sparked the Orange Revolution.  We have appropriately named our new collection of art “The Henry Collection.” What made this project interesting (and fun) is that it went beyond a simple redecorating project; temporarily turning this law librarian into an art curator and self-appointed docent.

Built in 1954 Oklahoma Gold Star Memorial building originally housed the School of Religion before eventually being converted to a law library. Others with older buildings and constrained budgets know the maintenance alone can be overwhelming; trying to keep the décor modern and pleasing is even more difficult.  The installation of this collection has substantially added to the aesthetics of our aging building. The artwork and photographs fit well with OCU Law Library’s growing Native American print collection and collection of Oklahoma Supreme Court photographs and memorabilia. But our project went beyond hanging pictures. To add value for our patrons, we thoughtfully developed displays with museum style labels that provide the physical details of the artwork as well as background about the artist. This aspect was particularly challenging.  First we had to identify the author, title of the piece, and date of the work.  To do this we consulted resources ranging from the artists’ personal website, online retailers selling prints, discussion forums, and even Wikipedia.

Cumbo trioThe construction of the museum style labels presented the next round of challenges. We discovered that the equipment often used by art museums such as foam board cutters and screen printers were beyond our price range and expertise level for this project. We were finally able to find an art supplier who sold pre-cut foam board. Then we printed the information on white card stock and glued it to the foam board with spray adhesive. Finally, our reference assistant spent a great deal of time carefully trimming the cardstock on the labels with an exact-o blade.

Henry The Henry Collection breathed new life into the building and the pieces have started a number of lively conversations between patrons and staff.  The art and their labels have provided another mechanism to engage students and faculty and build a sense of community pride in our library and school.

Jennifer Prilliman is reference and student services librarian at the Oklahoma City University Law Library.

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