Following A.J Drexel’s Footsteps

A student curator's perspective on a growing collection.


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Drexel University Main Building Exhibitions
Open every day during University hours

I have always had a passion for museums and art, and it turns out A. J. Drexel did too. Anthony Joseph Drexel founded the Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry on December 17, 1891, with the philosophy that education should be both practical and cultural. A year after Drexel opened, A. J. Drexel created a museum in the Main Building displaying art he loved and collected. The Drexel Collection now holds over 6,000 objects, old and new, including objects from A. J. Drexel’s original museum. Art and culture was a founding principal of Drexel, and still stands today as an important part of our university. Have you ever wondered about the art in the Main Building? Starting with A. J. Drexel and continuing today, the collection has been growing to culturally expand the university. We have some pretty amazing objects, which I’m lucky enough to work with first hand as an Assistant Art Collector.

I was hired to help photograph, catalogue, and organize the collection. I get to work directly with our objects, from handling spoons to wheeling paintings on carts around campus. I started out organizing object files which sounds easy but is a big task when there are 6,000 to put in order! As a student curator, I started photographing the 19th century silver. The process consists of a little more than clicking a shutter release button. I had to wear white museum gloves, to keep from tarnishing the silver, and upload the photos and a brief description onto the online museum database. Now you should know that 19th century silverware is not limited to spoons and forks, but goes from pickle forks to ice cream hatchets. Yes, I got to research pickle forks, olive spoons, and sugar tongs, and couldn’t be more excited about it. I came across my favorite object we have, which is a very decorative sugar tong with claw-footed ends. I wish I had one of my own.

Cataloging silverware can be tricky, since 19th century silver is so specific. Seriously, they had a spoon for everything. And spoons have many different parts–including bowls, shoulders, handles, drops, tips, patterns, marks and inscriptions. My job was to go through books of silverware patterns, and match the pattern on the spoon to the name in the book. When cataloging you have to write down all of the parts for a description, as well as, take its measurements and examine the condition. When it’s done, you end up getting a dessertspoon with a downturned fiddle handle, vestigial midrib, pointed oval bowl, olive pattern, and round shoulders. I loved getting to research the different parts, and finding out that what I think is a normal knife is actually a fruit knife.

I’m now working on a project to update the display cases in Drexel’s Main Building. I work under our Assistant Curator Lynn Clouser, who has recently started updating the display cases on the 3rd floor. You may have noticed the beautiful porcelain dining set that just appeared in a case, but did you know that they belonged to the French Kings Napoleon III and Louis Philippe? The dining sets come complete with each of the Kings monogram and crown, in elaborate decorations and gilded plates. Louis Philippe’s collection is marked with the name “sevres” on the bottom of the plates, which means it came from the Sevre’s Royal Factory of France. You can see this mark on the back of the plates, which are displayed to show you the markings of the set. The dining ware on display is in the works of being turned into a “mini-exhibition.”

As a collaborative effort between myself, Lynn, Curator Jacqueline DeGroff, the Communication Department’s Graphic Designer and Vice President, we’re taking the display case up a notch. The case will have the objects of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III, along with displayed facts that provide insight and context for viewers. Facts like, “Napoleon III created the Salon de Refuses, the first public gallery of France,” and other interesting art history details about the two kings. The case is big, colorful, and will have a huge sign and a large image of Napoleon III’s dining room behind the case. It’s going to be elegant and updated, and definitely draw your attention to the special objects we have at Drexel.

As to the future of the collection, we are working to upgrade the cases, facility, and to incorporate more objects and information to our displays. When I asked Assistant Curator Lynn what she had in mind when creating the case, she said her goal was to “catch your eye and give information about where the objects came from, and where they were used.” You can expect to see the Louis Philippe and Napoleon III’s “mini-exhibition” by the end of January, so be sure to look for the art in Drexel University’s Main Building.


Jeana Mobley is a Sophomore Custom-Designed Major at Drexel University.

Photos courtesy of Jeana Mobley.