Associate Registrar, Brandywine River Museum of Art

The Brandywine River Museum of Art has taken its online initiatives to new heights. As an early adopter of eMuseum with an expansive online collections site, the team was already actively engaging its web audience. After temporarily closing for facility renovations, the Museum further expanded its online program by launching the Brandywine at Home project, an ambitious array of opportunities for online visitors to virtually experience its collections, special exhibitions, and verdant property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

To learn more, Gallery Systems caught up with Amanda Shields, Associate Registrar. Amanda shared details on recent projects, including her role in creating virtual tours and furthering the Brandywine’s digital preservation efforts. We also covered her thoughts on the future of museums—as they evolve to increasingly serve their local and global communities—and how she has been staying motivated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?

Like many registrars, I can find it difficult to prioritize the numerous projects and goals that always seem to fall at the same time. The Brandywine River Museum of Art converted to TMS only a few years ago in 2016. With that transition, new goals of data standardization and digital preservation arose. Projects like data cleanup usually fall behind, but with the help of summer interns, we will be able to make some headway.

How do you see the use of technology evolving at the Brandywine River Museum of Art?

Now more than ever, technology is integral in accomplishing our goals. In the past year, my colleagues and I—along with the rest of the world—have adapted to working remotely using various platforms to manage projects and share information and digital assets.

With that, I have seen a huge increase in image requests from eMuseum for various digital projects, both internally and externally. One example is our initiative, Brandywine at Home, which has enabled new audiences to engage with our virtual tours, gallery talks, at-home art activities, nature videos of our trails, recipes from our café, staff pick videos, and our eMuseum online collections.

The Museum's Brandywine at Home initiative is the visitors' gateway to attending virtual tours and gallery talks led by its curators.

The Brandywine at Home initiative’s website is the visitors’ gateway to virtual tours and gallery talks led by the Museum’s curators.

What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?

As part of the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s digital preservation efforts, I am developing a file-naming policy for our digital assets and creating a register of digital assets to assess our long-term preservation needs. In addition, the Brandywine acquired its first time-based media artwork from artist Dylan Gauthier.

Using various resources including Gallery Systems’ blogs and webinars, I drafted a time-based media questionnaire that will assist with cataloguing the media and its associated equipment in TMS, documenting procedures on how to recreate the installation, and acquiring preservation quality formats.

How do you think the role of museums will change in the future?

2021 has become a launching point for museums to reevaluate themselves from the inside out. Institutions across the board are reexamining their policies, programs, and culture to become increasingly diverse, inclusive, equitable, accessible, and sustainable, while trying to navigate through a pandemic.

Though this new terrain is challenging, museums can become role models as nonprofits that connect with their communities by contracting with small businesses, exhibiting underrecognized artists, or collaborating with underserved groups and schools. To help achieve these new goals and grow their impact, museums must also invest in the acquisition and training of digital technologies, both in the short and long term.

Do you have a favorite book, event, or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?

I have participated in more webinars this year than any other and I love it. Some of my favorites are hosted by Gallery Systems, Association of Registrars and Collection Specialists, FAIC’s Connecting to Collections, and my alma mater, Johns Hopkins University’s Museum Studies program, among others.

My go-to resource as registrar is the publication Museum Registration Methods, edited by John E. Simmons and Toni M. Kiser. This past year the blogs Leadership Matters and Museum Hue have also helped to ground me, motivate me, and inspire me to continue with my museum career.

Mary Page Evans, Peonies in June, 2013. © Mary Page Evans, courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum of Art

Mary Page Evans (b.1937), Peonies in June, 2013, oil on canvas, 54 × 44”. Brandywine River Museum of Art, Gift of Page and John Corey, 2020. © Mary Page Evans

What is one of the most interesting projects you’ve worked on and why?

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brandywine River Museum of Art temporarily closed its historic properties, which include the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, Andrew Wyeth Studio, and Kuerner Farm. Luckily, we received a relief grant from the Connolly Foundation—a Pennsylvania foundation that supports education, human services, and culture—to create virtual tours of the artists’ studios.

My role was to collect digital images to be used as highlights during the tour, including historical photographs of the artists and spaces, as well as to coordinate new photography of objects collected by the artists—from miniature toy soldiers to a Penobscot birchbark canoe.

Exploring the studios virtually helps audiences understand the artists and will encourage online visitors to return in person once we reopen. This project will also lead us to develop more digital initiatives to increase accessibility to these unique historic spaces.

If you had to choose a favorite item from your collection, what would it be and why?

Peonies in June by Mary Page Evans (b. 1937), a recent acquisition, is one of my favorites. The work not only evokes one of my favorite French impressionists, but the artist’s loose brushstrokes also remind me of how I liked to paint. The large 54 x 44-inch canvas allows me to dive into the landscape as if I were standing next to Evans. Her freeform style and bursts of color capture the movement and beauty of nature that I am lucky enough to see every day in the Brandywine Valley.

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