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NDSU shares its art collection via the Internet

Published November 14, 2013

The secrets of the “Vault” have been revealed.

The “Vault” is the nickname of the NDSU Memorial Union Gallery’s climate-controlled collection storage room. The space contains dozens of impressive art pieces, but for years many of the works have been locked away for safekeeping, seldom seen by the public.

That, however, is changing. Through the diligent efforts of two NDSU student employees, 138 of the more than 400 items in the collection are now available for viewing through the gallery’s website. The pieces include works from such renowned artists as Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns, as well as outstanding artwork of NDSU alumni and regional artists.

Senior Michael Baumgartner, a history and philosophy major from Fargo, and senior Jordan Nelson, a visual arts major from Hebron, N.D., carefully photographed the art pieces May 14-20. Putting in about 100 combined hours, the students meticulously lit each item and used a digital camera borrowed from the Memorial Union Graphic Services to capture images of the collection for a new audience.

“I chose some of the most iconic pieces to represent our gallery because some of them may never see the light of day or may be tucked away in a corner,” Baumgartner said. “There are only six people on campus who have access cards to the vault and can see all the objects and artifacts in there. So, I saw this as a good chance for others to view these pieces and be affected by them.

Nelson, who painstakingly edited the photographs before posting them to the website, considers the online collection as an important contribution to the public and fellow NDSU students. “It was fun to actually be able to hold a Dali or Jasper Johns and document it, but what we did was definitely a public service,” he said. “I think putting the collection online brings the gallery into the modern age – a little more professional, a little more up to speed.”

The Memorial Union Gallery’s collection has been building for decades. Started in 1969 with the advice and urging of Catherine Cater, professor emeritus of English, NDSU Student Government invested a portion of the student activity fee to purchase fine art. Through the ensuing years, artwork was purchased directly from artists or came as donations to the university.

“We have a collection with an impressive history, so the idea of accessibility is very important in a contemporary and cultural context,” explained Netha Cloeter, Memorial Union Gallery coordinator. “All of the stored art is owned by the student body. They should be able to access it, as well as the larger public.”

And the online collection adds to the gallery’s image and prestige. “It certainly puts us in the conversation with museums and institutions nationally and internationally by having our collection online,” Cloeter said, noting support for the digital online collection project came from former NDSU employee Lourdes Hawley’s Pay it Forward gift through Bell State Bank, where Hawley is a graphic designer.

More sharing of the seldom seen NDSU artwork is yet to come. Baumgartner said his goal is to eventually post an additional 60 to 100 items to the current online collection.

“An online gallery really allows people to see the art at their own leisure,” Baumgartner said. “Our students also can be inspired by the pieces, and, at the same time, they can see what’s going on here at the gallery.”

An exhibition recognizing the online collection, called "Open Access, Reposted and Revealed: Selections from the Permanent Collection Live Online," is scheduled to run from Oct. 25 to Nov. 23 at the gallery, with a reception planned for Thursday, Nov. 21, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.

You can view the Memorial Union Gallery’s online collection at and click on “View our online collections gallery.”


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North Dakota State University
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