Cravens gives world-class archaeological and ethnographic collection to UB

'Cravens World' public opening set for March 28

By Cynthia Leavell

Release Date: March 23, 2010

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Objects in the Cravens World collection are displayed in a transparent life-size globe designed by Mehrdad Hadighi, Studio for Architecture, with Christopher Romano and Jose Chang. Photo credit: Mehrdad Hadighi

UB alumna Annette Cravens has given a multimillion dollar collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects to UB. Photo credit: Kim Mckinzie

These 20th century ceremonial dolls from Cameroon are featured in the Cravens World collection. Photo credit: Biff Henrich/Keystone

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Annette Cravens, MSW '68, has donated her multimillion dollar collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects -- dating as far back as 4,500 BC -- to the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

The collection has been curated into a world-class permanent installation that will be a resource for the entire UB community. The Cravens collection creates a watershed moment for the university, boosting its profile as a center for world cultural heritage research and extends the vibrant role UB Anderson Gallery plays in the education of students, both at the university and elementary and high-school levels.

The public is invited to the premiere opening of the exhibit, "Cravens World: The Human Aesthetic" at the UB Anderson Gallery on March 28 from 1-5 p.m.

The 1,100-piece collection -- which has nearly doubled the university's collection -- was amassed by Cravens during her more than 40 years of engagement around the globe, often with her husband. She also provided funding so that the collection will be accessible to UB students, Buffalo Public Schools students, scholars and the community.

Phase one of the Cravens project is complete, which includes two rooms for the collection. The largest and by far most impressive room is "Cravens World," where objects from around the world are displayed in transparent, acrylic cubes shaped into a life-size globe that seemingly reaches to the sky. In this display, 126 objects can be experienced from 360-degree views, which are organized into six thematic groups.

"We came up with the idea of the globe to reflect Annette's world travels, and her unique way of viewing objects and of seamlessly moving from culture to culture without borders or bias," says Peter Biehl, associate professor of anthropology at UB and director of the project. Wall cabinets and drawers in the room house another 451 objects organized by geographic location. These objects will serve as teaching tools for students to learn about other cultures.

"Outreach to schoolchildren from kindergarten to high school will be an integral part of the project, and is a piece of which we are proud," Biehl adds. "Not only does this further the mission of UB in educating and reaching out to the Buffalo community, it speaks to Annette's tireless work to support Buffalo's intellectual life via arts, theater and the university."

An interactive touch screen will allow visitors to access information on the objects, and gain information about the cultures, countries, people and artists who created them.

Having a collection of this stature "makes UB a center of excellence in regards to material culture studies and research," Biehl says. "Students have the benefit of access to a collection that can be used to teach them to study, draw, research and curate objects. The experience they will have in regards to the Cravens' collection is invaluable."

The oldest objects in the exhibit are from Asia, Mesopotamia, South America and Europe. Cravens donated her collection so that students, residents and visitors will have a chance to experience diverse cultural traditions. She believes that firsthand contact with these artifacts provides a tangible connection to the aesthetic sensibilities of other people and creates a critical dynamic that can teach others to see and spark appreciation, inspiration and understanding.

"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, PhD, director of the UB Art Galleries.

"It has also positively and dramatically altered the character of the university's collection. Formerly focused on European and American modern and contemporary art, the Cravens collection extends the reach of the visual arts at UB Anderson Gallery from modern to ancient times. The collection represents a significant expansion of the university's collection, nearly doubling its size and exponentially broadening its contents. The unique installation of the objects in the collection advances immeasurably the UB Anderson Gallery's mission of accessing its unique academic resources as broadly as possible."

In addition to the Cravens World open installation, modern works of art from the Cravens collection are installed in the Anderson Gallery. Prints, paintings and sculptures invite guests to consider aesthetics shared by modern works and cultural objects in the Cravens World exhibition.

In fall 2010, phase two of the Cravens' collection project will begin, with construction of a seminar room, research laboratory and a repository and study room for the collection's archives. Biehl will teach a seminar, and UB students will focus on objects from Europe and the Near East. Similar courses using objects from other continents will follow over the next three years. At the end of the fall 2010 semester, students will collectively curate a public exhibition of Cravens collection objects. The collection will also open opportunities for internships in museum studies, anthropology, classics, art history, oral history, education and library science.

The Cravens Collection Project is funded by the UB College of Arts and Sciences with generous support from Annette Cravens. It includes the assessment, research and management of the donated collection of archaeological and ethnographic objects; archives of written documents, oral histories, photos and artwork from around the world; reconstruction of two rooms in the UB Anderson Gallery and outreach activities. The project also includes the creation of a virtual museum interfaced with an online multimedia database, as well as the production of an educational video game.

As well as Biehl and Olsen, other UB faculty who collaborated on this project include Mehrdad Hadighi, professor and chair, together with Christopher Romano and Jose Chang, all from the School of Architecture and Planning, responsible for the concept and design of the Cravens World; Stephen Dyson, Park Professor of Classics; Samuel Paley, professor of classics; Douglass Perrelli, adjunct professor and director, archaeological survey, Department of Anthropology; Phillips Stevens Jr., associate professor of anthropology; Roy Roussel, professor and acting chair, media study; Alexander Reid, associate professor of English; Michael Frisch, professor of American studies; Sarah Robert, assistant professor of education; and R. Nils Olsen, professor of law. Robert, Frisch and Sandra Olsen are contributing to the project "Open Knowledge and Digital Archives: Digitization, Curation and Dissemination of the Cravens Collection." Reid, Roussel, Robert and Martin Danahay and Kevin Kee from Brock University have contributed time, creativity and expertise to the project "Serious Play and the Cravens Collection: Designing an Educational Video Game for the Outreach Program of the Cravens Collection." Both projects have received funding from the Digital Humanities Initiative at Buffalo (DHIB).

Annette Cravens continues a family philanthropic tradition at UB that began more than 75 years ago. Her father, Dr. Edgar McGuire, succeeded Dr. Roswell Park as professor of surgery and medicine at the university until his death in 1931. A few years later, Annette's mother, Mildred, married Thomas B. Lockwood, who built the original Lockwood Library on the UB South Campus and later gave his collection of rare books to the university.

In 1984 she contributed the original renderings of Lockwood Library to the university. She and her children worked with university administrators to establish a lecture series in the poetry collection in memory of her mother. She also donated a medical instruments collection to UB -- dating from the early Roman period to the late 19th century -- in memory of her father. In 2007 the UB Alumni Association gave Cravens its highest award, the Capen Award, for her contributions to the university.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the State University of New York. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.