Diagram of the contents that were once displayed in a single case of the now entirely dispersed Steinheim Museum

Image courtesy: Alfred University Archives


2008 / found document, glass shelving, various collected materials

A contemporary recreation of the contents of a 34 shelf case in a now empty museum, made using only a wobbly, hand-drawn diagram as a guide.

During a four-month residency at Alfred University, New York I became interested in the story of the Allen Steinheim Museum; an eclectic cabinet of curiosities founded on campus in the 1870's, the first museum in Western New York and the second biggest college museum in the US. It once housed a collection of hundreds of thousands of objects including birds, fossils, plants, pottery, oil paintings, statuary, shoes, stuffed animals, basketry, costumes, historical implements, relics, rocks and other curiosities. Slowly over the last century the collection dwindled and then vanished due to political changes, damage to the building and mismanagement. Almost every last artefact was sold, looted, hidden for safe keeping, lost or damaged beyond repair.

In the University Archives I found an anonymous, undated document (see image above). In wonky hand-writing and two pens it lists categories of artefacts on each shelf of a single museum case. The sketch has a sense of desperation about it, as though the author was single-handedly trying to keep the collection intact. It was clearly made when parts of the collection were still there but many were starting to disappear, hence categories such as "EMPTY" or "ITEMS IN BAD SHAPE". "EVERYTHING CHEWED BY MICE".

Now that the case and its artefacts are gone and the document the only remaining evidence categories such as CHINESE, JAPANESE, JEWISH, WOOD FRAGMENT, COLONIAL AND GENERAL are absurdly broad and give only the slightest hint of what may had once been on the shelf.

Using this document as a strict set of instructions, I recreated the possible contents of the six shelving blocks of the case using objects found, bought, made or borrowed from around the village.

Intact was made during my tenure as Theodore Randall International Chair at Alfred University, New York. An article about several works made during this tenure was written by Laurence Biemiller for the Higher Education Chronicle. Curator and critic Antonia Marten wrote an in-depth analysis of Intact by for a project on artists & museums by Bielefelder Kunstverein, Germany. The Wikipedia article on The Steinheim Museum mentions Intact and other related projects. I kept a studio diary of stories from my time in Upstate New York.