The museum collects mainly in the seven areas outlined below. Collecting is executed with a goal of providing the NMU and wider community access to historically significant artworks through exhibitions and research opportunities. All acquisitions are approved by the Permanent Collection Committee and done in accordance with national and international laws and high standards of provenance documentation. For more information on our permanent collection procedures, download the full document below.
This collection includes contemporary regional art, largely comprised of gifts made directly from artists in 2005, known as the Northern Collection. This area also contains prints and negatives of nighttime wildlife photography from the late 19th century by George Shiras III, photographic prints of architecture in Marquette County, and artwork from former NMU faculty including Grace Spaulding. The museum is actively seeking to add to the collection of self-taught and trained artists from the Upper Peninsula.
The largest body of work by a single artist in the collection is that of Ishpeming, Michigan native N. Cecelia Kettunen. This collection contains approximately 75 paintings, 100 works on paper, and over 300 pieces of ephemera, photographs, letters and sketchbooks. The collection came from a donation by the artist shortly before her death after the art was saved from the Kettunen family cabin in Three Lakes, Michigan. Copies of a manuscript hand-written by the artist’s niece, originally from the Ishpeming Public Library, contains an autobiography and detailed accounts of the camp in Three Lakes and homesteading in the Keewenaw Peninsula of Michigan in the early 1900s.
This collection consists of approximately 300 original works on canvas, paper and illustration board including large holdings in lithography and screen printing.
Approximately 200 works on paper and 70 works on canvas and board were donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Secord. It includes works by American illustrators dating between 1890 and 1970 and includes original illustrations from books, magazines, comic strips and animation cells. Of note in this collection is work by the “Golden Age of Illustration” artists James Montgomery Flagg, Harrison Fisher, Charles Dana Gibson; original artwork from the John Steinbeck book Of Mice and Men by Fletcher Martin; cover art for pulp fiction books published by Ace and story illustrations for magazines such as Life, Saturday Evening Post, Redbook, Liberty and McCalls. The collection also contains a series of comic book illustrations from Marvel and DC Comics and animation cells from the cartoons Peanuts and Tom and Jerry.
Holdings in lithography and screen-printing, given by several different donors, include works by individual artists including Salvador Dalí, László Dús, Théo Tobiasse and Helen Giardia, and Yaacov Agam, among others.
Holdings in Photography span the 20th – 21st century. The collection contains several vintage prints by George Shiras 3, J.M. Longyear photographic travelogues and glass plate negatives, color negatives and prints of architecture in Marquette County, and works by Lucienne Bloch, Jerry Uelsman, among others.
The Dorothy Lewis Collection and Arthur and Jo Bennett Collection of Japanese Prints, Artifacts and Craft consists of approximately 300 two and three-dimensional objects dating between the mid-19th and 20th centuries. The collection contains functional and decorative objects including tools, pottery, wood crafts, toys, bronzes, masks, Kutani porcelain, Geisha dolls, scroll paintings, miniatures, woodblock prints, monographs and books.
Of note in this collection are woodblock prints from the Utagawa School, including Utagawa Kunisada (Toyokuni III; 1786-1865); Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861; and Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando Hiroshige; 1797- 1858) as well as Shin Hanga prints by Kawase Hasui (1883-1957) and Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950). Also of note are a traditional Saki still, a 250-piece Yamaguchi ceramic tile gateway, and guidebooks to Japan from the 1930s and 1940s.
The Indigenous Art and Craft collection consists of functional and decorative objects made by indigenous peoples from a variety of regions, with an emphasis on Native American and Inuit objects from North America and Canada.
This collection began with a gift from Elizabeth Losey and continues to grow with gifts from Diane Kordich and Russ Magnaghi, and Lew and Kathy Peters. The collection contains approximately 200 objects from Native American artists from Alaska, the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest regions, and Inuit artists from Northwestern Canada. It also includes a variety of functional and decorative items including boxes, vessels and containers; miniatures carved from stone, ivory and bone; ceremonial corn husk dolls and masks; and rattles, clothing, jewelry, drums and tools. Items of note include a series of baskets and boxes made from quill and birch bark.
Modern and Contemporary Design is currently a small area in the collection, consisting of furniture prototypes and finished pieces from artists such as Frank Gehry and Eero Saarinen. Additionally, the collection contains architectural prints by Frank Lloyd Wright. The museum plans to expand this collection to include two and three-dimensional media (graphic design, furniture design, human centered design, etc.) representing contemporary and historic innovation in design and craft.
The sculpture area began with a letter-writing campaign in 1994. The Director and Curator Wayne Francis and School of Art & Design Department Head Michael Cinelli wrote letters to well-known artists asking them to donate a work to Northern Michigan University. The same year NMU received donations the sculpture exhibit on Navy Pier in Chicago. Today the sculpture collection is primarily located outdoors on the green area in front of the School of Art & Design at Northern Michigan University. Artists include Rico Eastman, Laurie Goulet, Sol Lewitt, Ann Melanie, Michael Todd, and Dale Wedig.
The Study Collection allows the Museum to offer materials used in educational programming that can be handled by visitors with certain restrictions, determined by the Museum Director and/or Collections and Outreach Curator. Objects in the Study Collection will be made up of materials that are inappropriate for the permanent collection, typically because they are not considered to be authentic but which still embody the aesthetic of genuine items (i.e. a reproduction manufactured for popular consumption) or materials that are authentic but not sufficiently high quality for the permanent collection.