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On the Value of Curation

In recent months, I’ve been involved with the publication of a new limited-edition book, America’s Defining Moment: Civil War Portraits from the Collections of Brian C. Boeve and Friends. The project kicked off late last year when I received a package in the mail from Brian containing a pair of three-ring binders. Inserted into each plastic-sleeved page is a modern copy print of a hard-plate Civil War portrait.

Military Images.
Military Images.

These albums reflect Brian’s curation of representative images collected during his lifetime. He spent uncounted hours sorting images, and bringing a discerning eye to select and place them side-by-side on adjacent pages. He then organized the pages in his preferred order. This effort is the heart and soul of the book. Brian continued to tweak the selections as we laid out the pages, taking great care to get the order just right. I came away impressed with the intensity with which he approached this daunting task.

Curating is a creative exercise with the intention of telling a larger story. Brian stepped back and reviewed his collection with purpose, as he makes clear in the book’s introduction: “We are only caretakers of these historical portraits for a short time. And ultimately, it is the desire of most collectors to share their portraits with others who, like us, are touched by the sacrifices of these courageous Americans.”

The power of curating cannot be understated. It can be easily overlooked as you turn the pages of Brian’s book. It adds value by bringing organization and order, providing useful context and insight, fostering community and furthering knowledge and education. If you are a collector, curation will make you a better, more informed caretaker.

Curation is implicit in our motto: Showcase. Interpret. Preserve. You’ll find it in every gallery and survey in the publication. You’ll also find it in other books, museum and library exhibits, online platforms and your own in-home displays. All of these curations help us to better understand and appreciate history.

Huzzah for curation!

Ronald S. Coddington
Editor & Publisher

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