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Students examining an outfit.

Objects from the Goldstein collection can help students learn more about topics such as culture, time period, and method of construction.

Goldstein museum is 30

By Pauline Oo

June 12, 2007; updated June 20, 2007

Star Wars isn't the only thing turning 30 this year. The Goldstein Museum of Design at the University of Minnesota is also celebrating the big 3-0. The museum recently held a shindig on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul to mark its anniversary.

"The Goldstein is the only design museum in the upper Midwest, and as far as we know, it's the only strictly design museum within a design college," says Lin Nelson-Mayson, museum director. (The Goldstein is part of the U's new College of Design.) "Often, other museums at design colleges combine art and design--known at one time as 'applied arts.' The U is able to offer the resources of both an art museum--the Weisman--and one devoted to design--the Goldstein."

The University created the Goldstein Museum, initially the Goldstein Gallery, in honor of sisters Harriet and Vetta Goldstein, who joined the home economics faculty in 1913. What started as a modest endowment of funds and objects from the sisters' personal collection of textiles and decorative art has today grown into more than 27,000 objects.

Most people know the museum as an exhibition space on the second floor of McNeal Hall, a stone's throw from the St. Paul Student Center. Affordable housing is featured in the current exhibit; past exhibitions have focused on items we usually take for granted, such as clothes, LP record covers, cereal boxes, and chairs. The Goldstein, though, is more than 1,200 square-feet of gallery space. It's also a workspace and hubbub of research and study.

Administrative offices are located on the third floor, along with the Goldstein Research Center, which is the place to view and perhaps handle (with special gloves) an item from the museum's collection or to peek at Vogue magazines dating back 115 years. The Goldstein library offers more than 3,000 noncirculating books and periodicals.

"Our library was initially assembled," says Nelson-Mayson, "as a resource for students working with our collections. Today, we get people like avid glass collectors and renowned textile researchers seeking our reference services." While the museum subscribes to such magazines as Vogue and catalogs from JC Penny and Sears, its library has amassed many of its treasures thanks to gifts or donations from current and retired professors.

In the bowels of Goldstein

Like all other museums, the Goldstein has a place--four storage rooms, to be precise--under lock and key to store its permanent collection.

Items from the decorative arts collection
A selection of objects from the Goldstein's decorative art collection.

In the Decorative Arts and Textiles Room, items are arranged by medium and culture. For example, a row of shelves holds Korean and Native American baskets; another displays pottery from the southern region of the United States. "The Goldstein sisters started this collection, and items from it are used [in classes or exhibits] to demonstrate what good design is like," explains Nelson-Mayson.

The Apparel Resource Room, complete with temperature and humidity control and more than 10 monstrous movable storage units, is organized by clothing designer. Casual wear and evening gowns hang on racks, and accessories, such as beaded clutch purses and fancy barrettes, nestle in drawers lined with acid-free paper. The room--Goldstein's only one outfitted with updated cabinetry appropriate for preserving delicate cloth and paper--also houses a shoe collection that can put Imelda Marcos's to shame.

The Textile and Historic Apparel Room is where the museum keeps rows and rows of floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of textiles and historic apparel from the 1700s to the present. There are baby blankets, mid-century-party dresses, hats, undergarments, and ethnic clothing.

The final storage room holds the museum's furniture collection, the source of last summer's chair exhibition.

(Pop quiz: Where can you find a woman's court shoe from the 1900s at the University of Minnesota? Yes, right here at the Goldstein.)

What the future holds

Recently, the Goldstein Museum received a Preservation Assistance Grant for Small Museums from the National Endowment for the Humanities to thoroughly assess the environment of its collections. Although the museum has had professional evaluations of its operations in the past, this is the first general survey of this type.

How can you help the Goldstein?

Give an item
If you think you have something of interest, call the museum at 612-625-2737. Assistant curator Kathleen Campbell can give you an answer over the phone, or she may have you bring in the item for further inspection.

Give some money
You can contribute funds to buy preservation equipment or an item for the museum's collection, to host an exhibition, or to create the Curatorial Fellowship or Endowed Directorship programs. Call 612-624-7434 or e-mail for more information.

"Space is a problem for us right now," says Nelson-Mayson. "We're growing, and we want to develop--in addition to properly preserving--other collection areas so we can address the needs of our college."

While the museum has no immediate plans to move, rumor has the Goldstein relocating to the U's East Bank and adopting the space left when the Bell Museum of Natural History changes residence.

"The long-term goal is to have all parts of the [College of Design] together," says Nelson-Mayson. "The ideal home for us, of course, is a museum like the Bell or the Weisman that is more accessible to the campus and the community and that would have the space to display more from the collection."

The Goldstein Museum of Design is located at 241 McNeal Hall on the Twin Cities campus in St. Paul. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday; and 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The Goldstein Research Center and Library are open 10-4, Tuesday through Thursday. To make an appointment to view an object from the collection, call 612-625-2737.