As a teaching museum, Denison Museum engages in and supports learning and inquiry in the liberal arts and aims to serve all divisions of the college. The Denison Teaching Collection includes cultural heritage, historical, scientific, and artistic objects. With its broad range of objects, the Museum is in a unique position to contribute to the college mission by aiding in the integration of object-based learning into the Denison curriculum.
The Denison Museum is committed to the transformative power of liberal arts learning and strives to provide inclusive and interdisciplinary learning experiences that reach all students and faculty and enhance the intellectual life of the college.
Denison’s commitment to building an art collection, initiated in 1945 by Trustee Edmund G. Burke, marked a clear recognition of the importance of art to a liberal education. In addition to fine art, over the following decades Denison acquired important Burmese and Guna Indian artifacts as a result of the college’s historic affiliation with the Baptist missionaries and Denison alumni active in East Asia and Central America.
Today, about a third of the collection is made up of objects from East Asia, including Burma (Myanmar), Vietnam, Thailand, China, and Japan. Highlights include the collections of Burmese textiles, Thai and Burmese Buddhas, Japanese netsuke, and Chinese rubbings.
The Museum also has substantial holdings from the Central American Guna culture, including ritual objects, wooden sculptures, and Mola textiles. Other notable collections include prints, drawings, and paintings by European and North American artists, as well as items from Africa and from ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome.
The Museum’s collection has been located on the lower level of Burke Hall (now part of the Eisner Center) since 1973.
Initially housed in an “Art Treasure Room” in the Denison library, the Museum’s collection has been located on the lower level of Burke Hall (now part of the Michael D. Eisner Center for the Performing Arts) since 1973. After decades of neglect, major upgrades to storage facilities and environmental, security, and pest control systems were made starting in 2003, and the teaching collection was fully re-housed during the construction of the Eisner Center in 2018-19.
Grant-funded initiatives supporting curatorial research, collection inventory, and the creation of a digital catalog have given the Museum intellectual control of the collection and made it publicly accessible for the first time.
Formally designated a museum in 2006 and a teaching museum in 2011, the Denison Museum focuses on helping faculty members integrate objects from the teaching collection and exhibitions into the core learning objectives of their courses. Over a hundred classes—in studio art, art history & visual culture, modern languages, anthropology and sociology, women and gender studies, education, and history, among many others—make use of the Museum’s collections and exhibitions each year.