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Reece Museum renovation project expected to wrap up next month

Rex Barber • Jul 21, 2012 at 10:42 PM

A renovation project at East Tennessee State University’s B. Carroll Reece Museum should allow for better preservation of the more than 20,000 artifacts in the museum’s collection and perhaps allow for the viewing of some traveling exhibits previously unattainable, according to the museum’s director.

The $1.7 million project began about a year ago and is expected to wrap up by the end of August, though it will likely take months to return the artifacts to the museum from storage at ETSU’s Valleybrook Campus 15 miles away in Sullivan County.

Director Theresa Burchett said the main improvement from the renovations is a new HVAC system that is more efficient and better equipped to keep temperature and humidity stable inside the building.

“One of the best ways to preserve artifacts and antiques and paintings is through proper temperature and humidity control,” Burchett said. “And that sounds really small to most people, but, you know, just the slightest change in humidity can ruin a painting. Temperature going up a few degrees can cause an oil painting to melt.”

New windows also will help with energy use and keep the building climate stable.

The windows will have an ultraviolet light filter that will stop damaging rays from reaching artifacts and keep them from fading as a result.

These upgrades in particular should help different exhibits become available, Burchett said. Other museums are hesitant to loan certain traveling exhibits if the climate can not be controlled to a specific degree.

The Reece Museum is accredited by the American Association of Museums, so the facility gets pretty good exhibits already and will continue to do so, Burchett said. In fact, one of the first exhibits scheduled to arrive at the museum after it reopens next year is from the Tennessee State Museum called “We Shall Not Be Moved” about the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement’s sit-ins in this state.

This will be on display the same time as a planned Civil War exhibit. Burchett said the museum has put together an exhibit called “I Live Until I Die” that features soldiers from this area who served for the Union and the Confederacy, as well as some slaves from this region.

“So I’m really excited that exhibit is going to dovetail with this sit-in Civil Rights exhibit,” Burchett said.

An exhibit on Abraham Lincoln also is scheduled to be displayed at the museum in the future.

Burchett said she is always looking for regional artists and graduate students to display their work at the venue.

Of the tens of thousands of artifacts at the Reece Museum, the largest of the collection is textiles, which includes clothing, hats, quilts and uniforms.

The collection also has many archaeological artifacts, including arrow points and pottery from the region. Old furniture, spinning wheels, looms, carpentry tools and saddles from Appalachia are also in the collection.

International items are included too. Kimonos, Asian dolls, 18 Salvador Dali prints and other 19th century master artists, including Picasso, as well as regional art are featured at the museum.

“Our collection really is pretty expansive,” Burchett said. “I think we are sort of one of those treasures in Northeast Tennessee that a lot of people don’t know about or maybe take for granted. So I’m hoping that when we reopen people will take the opportunity to visit us for the first time or revisit us.”

Besides the HVAC and window upgrades, contractors have upgraded the electrical, lighting and sprinkler systems. Asbestos abatement was done and the restroom was made compliant with ADA standards. An elevator also has been added.

“It’s just going to be more comfortable, I think for people, more inviting and overall a great place to be,” Burchett said of the museum.

If anyone wants to help move the artifacts back to the museum and get some museum experience, call the Reece Museum at 439-4392 or email reecemus@etsu.edu.

It will take four months at least to put everything back in order once the renovations are complete. The museum, located on the campus of ETSU, should reopen by the end of January or the beginning of February.

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