Ohio museum back in tune with musical instruments
CINCINNATI (AP) – The recent rediscovery of a collection of more than 800 antique musical instruments, stored beneath the Cincinnati Art Museum and largely forgotten for decades, has caught the attention of curators in some of the nation’s top museums.
The items span four centuries and represent more than 20 countries, making it an important collection in the eyes of museum officials and instrument specialists, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported Saturday. The instruments include African drums, a Burmese crocodile zither, a Chinese version of a hammered dulcimer and a Native American ceremonial raven rattle.
“You don’t find these things in many places,” said J. Kenneth Moore, curator in charge of the Musical Instruments Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “You just find them in a handful of places. It’s something that, I think, should be put on display and should be appreciated by Cincinnatians, and people who visit your city. It should be a point of pride.”
Cincinnati museum director Aaron Betsky said the instruments, like other collections, had not been given due attention because there wasn’t enough room for them at the museum, which put off a planned expansion and has laid off workers.
Conservators plan to clean dozens of the instruments to use in an exhibition to go along with the 2012 World Choir Games next summer in Cincinnati. Some of the pieces may then be integrated into the museum’s collection but likely won’t be displayed in a dedicated gallery.
“This is really about instruments from around the world,” Betsky said. “And it was collected for the visual intensity of the pieces, not necessarily for their functionality. It shows the delight that people took in designing and decorating these objects.”
Many of the pieces came from wealthy Cincinnati industrialist William Howard Doane, who collected instruments as he traveled around the world. He started lending them to the Cincinnati museum in 1887, a couple years before the Metropolitan Museum of Art began its instrument collection, and he ended up donating about 650, the newspaper reported.
The instrument collections at the Cincinnati and New York museums are similar, both formed in the late 19th century, though the Metorpolitan Museum’s collection is larger, said Charles Rudig, an antique instrument expert and former head of musical instruments for Sotheby’s Auction House. The Cincinnati native has been hired to help catalog and evaluate the rediscovered collection, along with Amy Dehan, the Cincinnati Art Museum’s associate curator of decorative arts and design.
“As it turns out, I’m learning about world musical instruments via one of the best collections in the country, a collection that has been under our nose for 100 years,” Dehan said. “I can’t tell you how exciting this is.”
Ethnomusicologist Stefan Fiol, an associate professor at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, said the collection can be an asset for scholars and teachers, even if only part of it is refurbished to erase the effects of time, humidity and soot.
“Because they’re very old and rare, they are a piece of that historical time, and depending on how they’re displayed, they can really shed light on practices of the period,” Fiol said. “In that sense, they’d be invaluable.”
Information from: The Cincinnati Enquirer, http://www.enquirer.com
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