Fly Now! Making the National Air and Space Museum's Poster Collection Accessible, Online

Posted on Sat, October 17 2009
  • by: Amelia Brakeman Kile is an intern in the Collections Processing Unit at the National Air and Space Museum's Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility.

As mentioned in Dom Pisano’s recent post “From Collecting to Curating,” six interns, including myself, and two volunteers (with our supervisor, enough for a baseball team!) photographed, scanned and catalogued much of the museum’s collection of over 1,300 posters at the Paul E. Garber Facility's collections processing unit this summer. It sounds like a lot of posters, but you may not have seen any of them, unless you have a great memory of advertisements you glimpsed in airports over the years while running to catch your plane. Selections from the posters have been published, but the collection is now receiving the "full treatment" by museum staff, interns, and volunteers.


Intern Mark Leadenham prepares to examine posters with a microscope to determine what printing method was used. Photo by Amelia Kile.


Intern Katy Osterwald measures and cuts archival folders to appropriate sizes for housing the posters. Photo by Carl Bobrow.


This marks the first time the poster collection, which includes graphic art published from as early as 1827 up to the twenty-first century, has been accessible to the public as an archive, since the majority of it has remained in storage in Suitland, Maryland. The collection provides a wealth of information related to balloons, early flight, military and commercial aviation, and space flight, documenting aerospace history and technology while providing a window into popular culture. As a student of art history, I found the collection visually engaging and historically significant. As a young museum professional, I gained experience physically working with the objects, recording and organizing information, photographing, identifying methods used to print the posters, and even had a lot of fun!


The “Artbox,” where the unframed art is stored, before the new storage cabinets are installed. Photo by Katy Osterwald.


Contractors, volunteers and interns install all the shiny new cabinets in 3 hours. Thanks everyone! Photo by Ben Sullivan.


Now that the collection is online, scholars will be able to contribute to knowledge, study and discussion of this valuable resource. Working hands-on within a collection that was not accessible to many people, the group working on the project developed the feeling that this was “our” collection in a sense, and it is a thrill to now be able to share it. It is a diverse collection, wide-ranging in terms of subject, country of origin and time period, and thus it will make an excellent educational tool. Photographing and documenting the posters was part of a larger, ongoing effort to provide images and relevant information about the National Air and Space Museum’s art collection to the public, all while preparing the collections to move to the new Phase Two Collection Storage Facility at the Steve F. Udvar-Hazy Center. So, take a look at the collection and tell us what you think!