Harvard Art Museums Collections Management Department

April 11, 2017

Emilie Puttrich, Jessica Diedalis, Steve Mikulka

Harvard Art Museums (HAM) Collections Management Department provides access to HAM’s remarkable collection by installing and caring for Harvard artwork all over campus, for all to see. If your day is made a little better by coming across one of HAM’s treasures, Emilie Puttrich, Collections Administrator and Assistant Registrar, Jessica Diedalis, Curricular Registrar, and Steve Mikulka, Preparator have played a part.

What do you do and what is your team's biggest contribution?

Emilie Puttrich: Our team manages artwork that’s located throughout Harvard’s campuses (works that are not in the Harvard Art Museum buildings) through three major collections. The University Loan Program, which is a collection of artwork, mostly paintings, that is available for loan to buildings on campus – ours is the most comprehensive program of its kind! A second collection is Print Rentals, which is a collection of prints available for rent for student rooms. And we take care of the Harvard University Portrait Collection, providing care and conservation expertise for these portraits wherever they are across campus.

Our office also participates in the House Renewal project. When one of the Houses is being renewed, we remove all the artwork and use that time to do conservation work so that when the House reopens the artwork will look as refreshed as the rest of the House. Overall, we deal with the collections that people at Harvard see everyday!

Jessica Diedalis: As curricular registrar, I help coordinate the student print rental program and art going on view in the university galleries as well facilitate access to original works of art for the art study centers. These programs contribute to the Art Museums’ mission by enhancing access to the collection. We provide an opportunity for students to have original art in their living spaces, classes to select objects to have on view in the museums in support of coursework, and study visits where anyone can request to see works from our collection that are not currently on public view.

Steve Mikulka: I support collections care at the Art Museums and perform on-site inspections, maintenance, and installations of the works on loan around campus through the University Loans and the other collections. I appreciate being part of a team that brings this art into people’s offices and campus spaces.


What don't people know about what your team does?

Jessica: I think that most people do not realize that anyone can request to view art in the art study centers. The Harvard Art Museums has an incredible collection that has something for everyone. I encourage everyone to browse our collection online. My personal favorite is a spirit photograph of Mary Todd Lincoln with Abraham Lincoln’s shadow (object number: 2010.88).

Emilie: Everyone on campus is connected to the Harvard Art Museums, even if they don’t visit the Museums (which I encourage them to do). People see this art in spaces on Harvard’s campus. For example, we just installed a new set of artwork for the reopening of the Harvard Faculty Club, with some wonderful pieces that people will see when they go there.

Steve: An important part of our mission is protecting this art from damage. Sometimes we need to install Plexiglas over the paintings to protect them or remove them when there’s construction or painting, and then install it when the construction is completed. Also, we take care of the wall clocks and tall case clocks around campus.


What is the most challenging thing about your work?

Emilie: Managing expectations! People are so excited when they make a request and want to see their artwork. But it takes several months to visit and approve the site, prepare the works for the loan and do the installation.

Steve: When you have to say “no” to a request. It doesn’t happen often – we try to work with a building manager to address issues – but there are certain criteria, such as security or light levels that are required to protect the artwork and have to be met for an installation. Also responding to emergencies, where we might have to pull out artwork immediately or a large-scale movement of art that has to be done on short notice.

Jessica: My role challenges me to approach collections management in new ways. Most museum collections do not leave their buildings unless they are on loan to another museum, but we have a special collection of prints for students to rent. It is such an interesting opportunity and I love that it is solely for the benefit of the students.


What are the professional backgrounds of your team members?

Emilie: People have a variety of art backgrounds – art history and academics, art installation as well as artists. I started as a hands-on art installer and art handler and moved into administration from there.

Jessica: My background includes history, education, and museum studies, but the path I took to where I am today was varied. This has helped me to be flexible and understand different perspectives.

Steve: I have a fine arts degree and a background as an artist, although I’ve probably spent more time as an art installer now. I’ve also worked in the film industry, getting sites ready for filming, and I have done construction. I worked in galleries and at the Graduate School of Design’s gallery as an installer before coming to the Art Museums.


What does your best day look like?

Steve: People at Harvard are dedicated and intelligent and it’s a pleasure to be able to go out and meet them in their workplaces. And to have the chance to go to buildings throughout campus, and see the beautiful architecture we have here. Today, for example, I went to Elmwood (Harvard’s presidential house) to dust the artwork and check on security. But I especially enjoy the interesting people at Harvard. If they’re happy with an installation, that’s a great day.

Jessica: Every time a student has a wonderful experience to share about their rented print, a visitor is moved by seeing a work of art in person, or a class has a lively discussion about our collection, I leave work happy. They are the reason why the Harvard Art Museums exist and it is so satisfying to know that I was able to play a part in their positive experience.

Emilie: Seeing a space on campus that’s improved with the art and everything has gone smoothly with the installation. Everyone is so grateful, and the students or faculty who have picked out the works and have been waiting, so that moment when it’s done and everyone is smiling – that’s great. We have many opportunities to do this, so we have a lot of good days.