UMMA Insight Article

Featured in the Museum’s Insight magazine, it was my responsibility to research and write this article on the Museum’s furniture selections. Karen Goldbaum, Director of Communications, is the official author of this piece; I was her assistant.

Michigan Firms Furnish the New UMMA

As readers of Insight may recall, the display furniture in the collections galleries in the new and improved UMMA were designed by Allied Works Architects to perfectly compliment and bridge the architecture of Alumni Memorial Hall and the Frankel Wing. For this project we needed an expert team of woodcrafters and fabricators to work to exacting specifications on the dozens of pieces of gallery furniture to hold the treasures from our collections on public view.

For furniture needs in the rest of the Museum—including gallery seating, furnishings in the café and offices—the challenge was to find commercially available options to harmonize stylistically with the diverse renovated and new spaces. Ideally, both the custom-made and ready-made furniture would be sourced locally or regionally, made from environment-friendly materials, and be of a suitable quality and price to fit our needs and budget.

Supporting Michigan businesses has been an important goal throughout the process of building and preparing to reopen the Museum. The project has been 90% funded with private support; employing local talent as much as possible in creating the new and improved Museum of Art has helped to return that investment back to the residents of our state and region, providing an important public benefit even before the doors reopen.

So how did we do on this quest to buy local, well made, green, beautiful, and affordable? Very well, we believe. As this issue goes to press, gallery display furniture is being fabricated at Exhibit Works, one of the world’s largest producers of exhibits and displays, conveniently headquartered in nearby Livonia, Michigan. The team of crafts people at Exhibit Works are making bases, table cases, wall cases, print drawers, and other art storage and display throughout the Museum out of a mix of painted and stained walnut, all finished using material rated low for VOC emissions (volatile organic compound emissions), thus improving the indoor air quality and making the Museum interiors safer for visitors, staff, and art.

Installation Project Manger Lynne Friman knows well the advantages of working with a nearby display fabricator. She has partnered with Exhibit Works on many projects at The Henry Ford and many other museums large and small in Michigan. They bring their shared experience and practiced collaboration to UMMA’s project. “It is a great advantage to work with such an expert fabricator with such strong museum experience within a short drive of Ann Arbor. Being able to easily and quickly inspect the work in progress, fine tune plans, and resolve discrepancies without the need for air travel, time away from the project site, huge savings in trucking costs and the confusion that can inevitably result from remote communication brings huge efficiencies, cost savings, and peace of mind,” said Lynne.

Many may not be aware that western Michigan is the center of American office furniture design, production, and distribution—making the “buy local” portion of our search for ready-made products much easier. Industry giant Steelcase, headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, supplied the handsome wood and stainless steel office systems installed in staff offices and the Curatorial Research Center. Founded in 1912 as the Metal Office Furniture Company and renamed Steelcase in 1954, the company remains headquartered in Grand Rapids and has approximately 600 manufacturing and distribution points across the globe.

Visitors to the galleries and other common areas will sit in style on furniture made by Herman Miller, a global leader in office and commercial furniture located in Zeeland, Michigan. Known since the 1940s for its keen design sensibility, the company has produced numerous trendsetting products created by such visionaries as Isamu Noguchi, Alexander Girard, and Charles and Ray Eames. Many Herman Miller pieces designed in the 1940s through the 60s are style icons that are still in production—and many of the originals can be found in the permanent collections of the nation’s leading museums.

UMMA’s Chief Administrative Officer and building project manager Kathryn Huss, working with Director James Steward, selected pieces from Herman Miller’s mid-century modern seating collections for the galleries, conference rooms, classrooms, and other public areas. “These pieces are durable and well-made, and their timeless style not only meshes well with our interiors but will also prolong the life of our investment,” said Huss.

In addition to the impressive efforts of these companies to manufacture green, ergonomic, and durable products, other benefits of UMMA’s decision to go local with its furniture purchases include regional transport of product to our site, and close proximity of suppliers during the installation process. Last but not least, the satisfaction of supporting Michigan workers has been redoubled by the hundreds of new friends and contacts who have taken a new or renewed interest in the Museum and will bring their friends and families back to admire their contributions to the rebirth of a historic Michigan museum.

Karen Chassin Goldbaum

Executive Editor

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