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Notes from the Director

As many of you know, the building in which the Kelsey Museum collections are displayed was not designed as a museum. In fact, its official name is not the Kelsey Museum but rather Newberry Hall, after John S. Newberry, University of Michigan class of 1847, whose wife Helen largely financed its construction in 1888–91 as a meeting place for the Students’ Christian Association. Only in 1929 was the building selected to house and display the University’s burgeoning archaeological collections, which were rapidly outgrowing their assigned storage spaces scattered across campus.

This was seen as a temporary solution, since it was recognized from the beginning that Newberry Hall did not provide adequate space for the extraordinary finds that Michigan archaeologists were shipping back from their excavations on an annual basis. Professor J. G. Winter, the first director of the Museum, while still unpacking the collections in Newberry Hall, noted with dismay that he was already running out of space. On August 25, 1930, he wrote University President Alexander Ruthven with the plea, “We need permanent quarters urgently and soon. I do hope something can soon be done to give us a home.” On the same day he wrote a second letter to the president addressing the question of financing the new museum building—“I have been turning over in my mind every possible way in which we could possibly raise the money for a new building.”

Winter was the first in a long line of Kelsey Museum directors who recognized that our current building, historic and charming as it is, does not provide suitable space for the preservation, study, and display of our splendid collections. We all have wrestled with the seemingly intractable problem of how to pay for the space we need so desperately. The Kelsey archives are full of letters and grant proposals on the subject. Now, 73 years after Winter’s first letters to President Ruthven, I am thrilled to tell you that, thanks to a very generous gift from our long-time friends, Ed and Mary Meader of Kalamazoo, Michigan, we are on the brink of realizing our dreams with a new exhibit wing for the Museum.

We are still in the most preliminary planning stages for the new wing, but it is clear that it will allow us to display for the public a much larger proportion of our collections, less than 1 percent of which are now on exhibit. The new space will be designed to modern museum standards, with climate control, lighting, and security systems that will ensure the safety of the items on display. Larger and better-designed galleries will allow our curators and staff to create more ambitious and imaginative exhibitions, both temporary and permanent. Moreover, areas freed up in the old building can be reclaimed for much-needed study space. Research projects on the collections that have been delayed by lack of secure study space will go forward.

There is a real sense of excitement in the Kelsey as the staff considers the ways in which the new building will improve all our programs—exhibit, research, and teaching. I look forward to sharing this excitement and our developing plans with all of you as we move ahead with the project over the next few years.

—Sharon Herbert, Director