Museum officials cleaning through collections during temporary c - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Museum officials re-discovering hidden treasures while during temporary closure

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Officials at Kentucky's largest art museum announced the museum will be reopening sooner than they thought. One building is being renovated and another demolished. Something else is occurring on a much smaller scale inside of the building that still stands.

While the demolition began earlier this week at the J.B. Speed Art Museum, officials and curators say they are starting to clean from the inside out.

"It is a little bit of house cleaning," said Kim Spence, Curator of Collection Research and Special Projects.

Spence said they have had several specialists like Elle Shushan come and feast their eyes on what lies within.

"We are trying to identify the very best pieces, pieces that we will want to re-exhibit when the museum reopens after renovations," said Spence.

Shushan was flown in from Philadelphia to take a hard look at the miniature portrait collection.  Shushan, an expert on miniature portraits, said the tiny treasures have been around for centuries and actually began in Europe in the late 1400'.  She said the miniature masterpieces were designed to mirror the faces of loved ones.

"You had them painted for occasions, like an engagement, a wedding," said Shushan. "You would go to several sittings and they would cost just as much as a huge oil painting."

The art expert said people would give the piece to their significant other or loved one. Shushan said each piece told its own story.

"This guy was going to America, looking for a place to move, it would take him probably two months just to leave London and get to America," said Shushan. "He went, he was gone for a year, so this is what he left behind with his wife."

In many of the European lockets, woven hair was included to create an even more personal touch. She said wearing the object was to reflect love. 

"They wore it, stuck into their cummerbund ... so it was next to their heart," said Shushan.

Shushan said some people often wore the objects around their neck as a locket or on their wrist, similar to a watch.  Shushan's job is to categorize and grade the itsy-bitsy Ivory water color paintings, based on their age, shape and significance.

"You can determine the age based on the costume of the sitter and how it is set," said Shushan.

Shushan said she became interested in miniature portraits as part of a family tradition which she has carried on herself.  She now teaches graduate courses on miniature portraits.

Both said the wearable artifacts are one of many to be examined during the downtime.

"This is part of a much larger project, we are looking through all 14,000 objects in the collection," said Spence.

Shushan said there were artists who created the lockets, broaches and jewelry pieces today.  She said a sitting could usually cost around $1,400, but the canvas is different.  Modern miniature portraits are now painted on Mammoth Ivory instead of elephant Ivory.

For more information on the Speed Art Museum, click here

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