Collections are the objects (including human-made objects called artifacts) a museum holds in trust for current and future generations. Museum professionals and the leaders of their boards often refer to the care of their collections as a “sacred trust.” They recognize that there are many solemn obligations associated with accepting objects into the collections and also obligations associated with sending expeditions into the field to acquire new objects.
Museums realize that they are caretakers with a responsibility to the present as well as the future. That’s why, in overseeing collections, museums are greatly concerned with ethical issues, as well as the physical care of objects in their trust.
The objects in the Cranbrook Institute of Science (CIS) Collections are important for a variety of reasons. Often they are the basis of scientific research. Even specimens collected 100 years ago can be analyzed to answer puzzles about the world we live in today.
Researchers often use new technology to examine “old” objects in the CIS Collections, or to refine old theories and test new ones; or to answer questions about extinct or vanishing resources. They also study new “finds” collected in the field. Sometimes they compare the newly collected objects with those acquired many years ago.
Objects in the CIS Collections document the richness and complexity of the natural world; and artifacts in the CIS Collections illuminate the creative and practical applications of human effort. They (objects and artifacts) help curators formulate and illustrate theories.
The CIS Collections are more than a resource for research. They are the central feature of many CIS exhibits where they help curators tell stories to thousands of visitors each year. Over the years the same object or artifact may even help tell different stories. Sometimes these stories surprise, and sometimes they fascinate and inform. The best stories inspire us to want to learn more.
While many venues offer virtual experiences, at CIS and other collections-based museums, visitors often get to see real objects in the exhibits. Just as our lives are enriched by travel and by visiting real historical sites and natural wonders, so they are enriched by seeing eal objects. At CIS one can be astonished at the detail and craftsmanship of an ancient Northwest coast basket, or delighted by the opportunity to view a seldom-seen bird up close, or marvel at the age and size a fossil skeleton as one stands next to it!
There are over 150,000 objects in the CIS Collections. During the next few years, CIS will be featuring more of them in its exhibits. Since they range from natural birds’ nests and eggs collected in southeast Michigan, to opulently jeweled turquoise and coral bird figures from India; and from feudal Japanese armor to drawers full of beetles, there will be no end of the stories they can help to tell.
The research staff of the Cranbrook Institute of Science consists of museum professionals with advanced degrees, adjunct curators from nearby universities, and dedicated volunteers.