Director's Note: Preservation is Paramount

Submitted by Bruce Barnes,

George Eastman House has been entrusted with one of the world’s leading collections in the fields of photography and cinema, including the foremost collection of photographic and cinematographic technology. We are also the stewards of George Eastman’s historic estate, many of its furnishings, and a large collection of his personal and business papers. Preserving these treasures for future generations is our fundamental responsibility.

The core of our photography collection comprises three of the most important private holdings ever assembled: the Gabriel Cromer, Alden Scott Boyer, and Louis Walton Sipley collections. We have tens of thousands of photographs from the estates of photographers Alvin Langdon Coburn, Lewis Hine, Nickolas Muray, Edward Steichen, and Alfred Stieglitz, among others.

We hold the Technicolor corporate archive and the world’s largest collection of Technicolor negatives, including the original negatives for Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Warner Bros. and New York University have deposited thousands of films in our vaults. Prominent directors—including Kathryn Bigelow, Ken Burns, Spike Lee, Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and Martin Scorsese—have placed their films under our care.

Unfortunately, preservation of these collection objects is very demanding. We hold more than 30,000 films that are appropriately stored at temperatures of 40°F or below and 30% relative humidity. Storage requirements for highly flammable nitrate films are even more stringent. The 450,000 objects in our photography collection and about one million film stills should be stored at temperatures of 60°F or below and 40% relative humidity. Collections of technology, movie posters, books, and archival papers each require specific environmental conditions.

Last year, we commissioned an environmental study of our collection vaults, exhibition galleries, and workspaces where collection objects may be handled. The study was funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and by donors who generously responded to our year-end appeal. The study identified areas where the environmental (temperature and humidity) control systems should be upgraded to meet current standards.

Our collections are continuously expanding. Film holdings have grown beyond the capacity of our own facilities. Storage of the technology and photograph collections is at effective capacity, with particularly limited space for a growing collection of large-scale contemporary photographs.

As we commence a series of restoration projects on Mr. Eastman’s historic estate (see pages 8–9 in the March/April 2015 Bulletin), George Eastman House is beginning to plan for the necessary steps and investments to assure the preservation of current collections and to accommodate their future growth. We rely on our donors and members, and we are deeply grateful for your support of our museum’s efforts to preserve cultural, historical, and scientific treasures far into the future.

Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.

Ron and Donna Fielding Director

March/April 2015 Bulletin

Photo: Alfred Stieglitz (American, 1864–1946). Georgia O’Keeffe, 1922. Platinum print. George Eastman Museum. Part purchase and part gift from Georgia O’Keeffe.

 

Monday, June 20, 2016