The collection - which has nearly doubled the size of the university's collection - was gathered by Cravens during more than 40 years worth of world travels. The objects she amassed range from sculptures, figurines and tools to ritual objects such as masks, weapons and personal adornment that date back as far as 4,500 B.C. 126 of the objects are showcased in transparent, acrylic cubes that are stacked on top of each other - in the shape of a globe that is open at the back - allowing visitors to view and experience each piece from a full 360 degrees.
The innovative display, which was designed by chairman of UB's architecture department Mehrdad Hadighi and architects Chris Romano and Jose Chang, allows each piece to be showcased in a unique and totally unrestricted way. Peter Biehl, associate professor of anthropology at UB and director of the project, says the globe reflects Annette's "unique way of viewing objects" and is meant to inspire cross-generational and cross-cultural thinking.
According to UB Anderson Gallery's assistant director, Robert Scalise, "Several years went into this exhibit, not only researching the individual objects and their origins, but also determining the best way to display them for both the university and the collection."
Cravens herself was very hands on in the creation of the exhibit, Scalise says, and wanted each piece to be seen for its unique worth. She didn't want the display to be too crowded, or for one piece to take away from another.
"If you're standing in a line of ten people, you're just one-tenth, right?" Cravens asked me at the exhibit's public opening on Sunday, explaining her thoughts about the display. "I didn't want that to happen to these objects."
An additional 451 pieces are also on display in "Craven's World" - a large stark white room located on the gallery's second floor - arranged by geographic region in wall cabinets and drawers. Hundreds more pieces are locked up in the room's highest cabinets that are accessible by appointment only until further research has been conducted. Scalise says they will eventually be curated into the display, however, allowing the exhibit itself to evolve with time.
Thanks to Cravens' careful notes and records while traveling, background information on each artifact is catalogued in binders that are contained in the room, as well as a computer database. A pamphlet produced by the college groups the objects by color and number, allowing them to be easily searched in the database. A unique interactive touch screen off to the left of the globe, which was designed by junior and Anthropology major Alek Ogadzhanov, enables visitors to access information about the cultures, countries, people and artists who created them. Mobile handheld devices are expected to be added within the next year as well, enabling students and visitors to walk around the room and learn about any object while listening to experts talk about its significance. An educational video game is also in the works.
"We are building a virtual museum," Biehl says. "The touch screen is only the beginning."
Teaching and research will soon become a major part of the exhibition, with the construction of both a seminar room and a study room where students will be able to conduct research on the objects using tools such as microscopes. Beginning in the fall, Biehl will teach a class based on the collection, in which students will learn about object identification, classification and preservation, as well as our own culturally-bound responses. Internships in museum studies, anthropology, classics, art history, oral history, education and library science will also be available in the future.
"The collection complements and reinforces the mission of UB Anderson Gallery to serve as a unique academic center for interdisciplinary research focusing on learning from objects," says Sandra H. Olsen, director of the UB Art Galleries.
Modern works of art from Annette Cravens personal collection were also donated and installed at the gallery in the niches and hallway outside of "Craven's World." The prints, paintings and sculptures were added to emphasize the aesthetics that are shared by modern works and cultural objects such as those in "Cravens World." Scalise says that Cravens art collection complements UB's existing collection, as many of the works were created by the same artists - Joan Mitchell, Antoni Tàpies and Sam Francis.
"The collection is a good representation of the way Annette collected her whole life," Scalise says. "I think she collects based on what moves her esthetically. She was always asking, 'How are these works speaking to each other?'"
The UB Anderson Gallery gave kids who attended last weekend's public opening of "Cravens World: The Human Aesthetic" a chance to get involved with the set-up of four interactive stations where they could create masks, design currency, examine weapons and role-play as an archaeologist -which allowed them put on gloves and catalogue objects just as Cravens herself once did.
"I love it! The kids are very interested in the weapons and mask part of it," said mom Julianna Sciolino, who takes her two kids - Dante, 6, and Gianna, 4 - to several exhibits and openings.
Fay and Norman Hambridge, of Snyder, who also often attend gallery openings and exhibits, couldn't say enough about the Craven's exhibit. "We generally come to most of the exhibits here and what they've done with the school is fabulous. If I were to compare this gallery to the bigger one over there, this one now comes in way on top!"
Annette Craven's generous donation and funding truly has provided UB, its students and the Buffalo community with an invaluable gift, one that in the words of her son, Philip Cravens, will "keep on giving for centuries."
If you haven't already, go check it out!
UB Anderson Art Gallery:
1 Martha Jackson Place
Buffalo, NY 14214
Wednesday - Saturday 11 a.m. -5 p.m.
Sunday 1-5 pm