From the Cleveland Museum of Art, with Love - Stories from Storage

Blog Date
Julie Smith
Stuart O. Smith, Jr.

Stories from Storage Preview from Cleveland Museum of Art on Vimeo

Stories from Storage from Cleveland Museum of Art on YouTube

In 2020, our first adventure out to a public space during the coronavirus crisis was to the Cleveland Museum of Art's #WelcomeBackCMA Reopening. The spaciousness of the museum, along with their coronavirus protocols and site-specific safety measures, allowed us to feel safe while enjoying the artwork.

Now, in 2021, our first excursion of the year was again to the Cleveland Museum of Art. We had not expected to still be social distancing and masking, but here we are, writing another blog post in our "Social Distancing" series.

After the initial reopening in June 2020 for the summer, the Cleveland Museum of Art closed again in fall 2020. On January 18, 2021, the Cleveland Museum of Art reopened again with modified hours of Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. With the 2021 reopening, we learned of a special exhibition created by "the Cleveland Museum of Art, with love," called Stories from Storage.



Announcing Stories from Storage Opening - February 7, 2021

Cleveland Museum of Art's Media and Influencer Invitation to #WithLoveFromCMA "Stories from Storage" Opening
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Rarely Seen Artworks Reveal Untold Stories in New Exhibition

The Cleveland Museum of Art presents Stories from Storage,
featuring 20 stories about works of art from the museum’s vaults

Cleveland (February 5, 2021) — When the pandemic upended international travel in March 2020, temporarily delaying projects that had been in development for years, the museum reimagined its schedule of exhibitions by drawing on its own resources. Stories from Storage offers a thoughtful and focused examination of multiple important themes through seldom-seen works of art carefully selected by each of the museum’s nearly two dozen curators. It conveys not a single, linear narrative but multiple stories that complement one another.

Stories from Storage features an anthology of 20 short stories told by the museum’s director, chief curator, curators and director of academic affairs and associate curator of special projects, all of whom communicate surprising new insights about the objects they have chosen from the CMA’s vaults. Alternately philosophical, humorous, contemplative, playful and historical, each story reveals a unique element within the museum’s encyclopedic collection, representing human creativity across the globe, from the ancient world to today. Stories from Storage will be on view in the museum’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall and Gallery from February 7 to May 16, 2021.

. . .

 While the CMA has more than 63,000 objects in its permanent collection, only about 4,600 are on view in the galleries. Works remain in storage for various reasons: some are light sensitive, some have condition issues, some have contested attributions and others simply do not fit into the narratives or finite spaces of the galleries.

(Please learn more by reading the full Rarely Seen Artworks Reveal Untold Stories in New Exhibition news release online or download PDF 340KB file.)

We were invited to the Stories from Storage opening at the museum, but decided to wait to visit on our own. We also wanted time to read and to watch the videos about the artworks' selection and history before attending. We wrote this blog post to share the resources we found.

We recommend reading Steven Litt's article that gives excellent information about the environment that led to the creation of the exhibition, and the history of some of the pieces on display. Be sure to click on the images at the top of the article to view and read about 35 of the items in the exhibition.

We also want to send a big thank-you to Communications and Media Relations Manager Kelley Notaro Schreiber (@KelleyNotaro) for inviting us to the opening, and for sending us some interesting background information.



Thursday, February 18, 2021 - Virtual Members Opening - Making an Exhibition: Stories from Storage

Virtual Members Opening - Making an Exhibition: Stories from Storage
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Dear members,

My name is Terri Mazzola Gertz, and I am the program manager for CMA Insider members. I hope you will join me this evening for the members-only behind-the-scenes virtual preview of the exhibition Stories from Storage! . . . link to join the live event.

Stories from Storage offers a thoughtful and focused examination of multiple important themes through seldom seen works of art carefully selected by each of the museum’s nearly two dozen curators. Check out the recent coverage of the exhibition on WKYC.

While we were writing this blog post, we found the full WKYC article that contains the video mentioned in the above membership email we received:

We enjoyed attending the Virtual Members Opening - Making an Exhibition: Stories from Storage and hearing the answers to members' questions about the exhibitions. We learned how the different departments of the museum came together to plan an exhibition, and create the display cases, lighting, and educational signage. Curators shared how artwork was selected, and their vision for the individual themes for the 20 stories of the exhibition.



ArtLens App - Stories from Storage Guide

ArtLens App - Stories from Storage Guide
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Stories from Storage Guide

Explore the Stories from Storage exhibition with the ArtLens App. Hear from every curator and see every object in the exhibition with your pocket guide to the show.

We often use the ArtLens App (see our @sos_jr #ArtLens tweets) when visiting the Cleveland Museum of Art, so we were interested when they recommended using the app for touring the current exhibition.

During the Virtual Members Opening we attended, we learned how this exhibition was using the ArtLens App in a new and very creative way! The museum has taken using the app to a new level of excellence by going well beyond the capabilities of the audio tour device that the museum normally uses. In addition to the audio narrative, the app provides text and links about the pieces in each of the story areas.

Download the ArtLens App for FREE, and read the Stories from Storage Guide information online to learn more.

See our Art Lens blog posts to learn how we use the app, and about our attendance at both the 2012 Gallery One opening and the 2017 new CMA ArtLens Gallery "Crash Party" opening.



ideastream video: Cleveland Museum of Art Curators On Pandemic-Inspired Art From Storage

Curators dug into the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection for its latest exhibition. “Stories from Storage” features a range of works, some rarely displayed, as well as details behind the selections. When choosing what to highlight, several curators drew inspiration from the pandemic.

We highly recommend viewing ideastream's video before visiting the exhibition. It will give you a better understanding of the Stories from Storage artwork before touring:

One of the Cleveland Museum of Art curators featured in the video is Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art Sonya Rhie Mace, who we recommend following on Twitter as @CMASonya. We learned of her work when we attended her #MixAtCMA curator tour of Art and Stories from Mughal India (#CMAMughal) in 2016, and in 2017, when we saw the Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar (#CMACambodia) exhibition. We highly recommend taking the tours that are offered during the #MixAtCMA parties at the museum to learn from the museum curators (learn more in our #MixAtCMA blog posts).



#WithLoveFromCMA Tweets

Here are tweets from others about the exhibition. Be sure to look at articles about the exhibition in some of these tweets.



The 20 Stories from Storage

The 20 "Stories from Storage"
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Here are the descriptions from the museum's press release of each of the 20 stories. We re-arranged the order of the descriptions to coincide with how we saw the stories as we followed the map and videos in the ArtLens App:

  1. Trauma and Transformation

    William Griswold, director, and

  2. Key Jo Lee, director of academic affairs and associate curator of special projects
    This story demonstrates that a single work of art—Kara Walker’s monumental drawing The Republic of New Afrika at a Crossroads—may be interpreted and enjoyed through multiple lenses. The drawing is light sensitive and may be displayed only for a few months every several years.

  3. Art in the Time of the Black Death

    Gerhard Lutz, Robert P. Bergman Curator of Medieval Art
    The COVID-19 pandemic not only has a profound impact on our lives but also opens a new perspective on the late Middle Ages. This story, told through the CMA’s rich collection of medieval art, including manuscripts rarely on view because of their light sensitivity, gives insights into the thinking, piety and artistic production in Western Europe in the 14th century before, during and after the Black Death.

  4. (RE)search and (RE)store

    Cory Korkow, curator of European paintings and sculpture, 1500–1800
    One monumental sculpture and five once-celebrated paintings, whose condition prevents them from being ordinarily on view, reveal mysteries and problems that audiences rarely see. This story provides an enticing peek at artworks waiting in the wings to be researched or rehabilitated, while highlighting the unseen story of the compromised condition of these objects and their need for conservation.

  5. Urban Isolation

    Nadiah Rivera Fellah, associate curator of contemporary art
    Each of these works epitomizes the larger theme of exclusion or isolation that creates the sense of a strange world within everyday landscapes. For this story, artworks from across the globe and of different mediums, periods and art movements evoke a sense of urban isolation or dislocation, uniting a range of perspectives on the same theme.

  6. Threads across Time: African Textiles, 500–1993

    Kristen Windmuller-Luna, curator of African art
    The CMA’s first focus on African textiles in nearly 50 years includes exquisite works from across the continent that have never been on view, as well as some unseen for decades. Despite their importance, African textiles have rarely been shown because of their size, light sensitivity and past collecting focuses on sculpture. Spanning garments, furnishings and contemporary art, these works describe the important role textiles play in many historical and present-day African cultures.

  7. Playbook for Solitude

    Sooa Im McCormick, curator of Korean art
    By juxtaposing historical and contemporary Korean works of art made in different periods and mediums, this story creates a moment of solace and inspires a dialogue about resilience, empathy and social justice during the forced solitude caused by the global pandemic.

  8. Green Tara and the Art of Protection

    Sonya Rhie Mace, George P. Bickford Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art
    In this installation, ten rarely seen objects from India and Nepal, dating from about the 700s to the 1600s, explain and illuminate the elements of the exquisite, intricate 13th-century Tibetan thangka painting of Green Tara. Together they introduce audiences to the direct transmission of the sacred arts of protection.

  9. Protection and Preservation of the Word

    Sinéad Vilbar, curator of Japanese art
    The recently completed restoration of Shakyamuni with the Sixteen Benevolent Deities presents an opportunity to display the painting likely for the first time in a generation. This story explores the painstaking conservation process as well as its relationship to the Repository for the Great Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, a rarely exhibited work also on view with rediscovered sacred texts it once housed.

  10. Lenore Tawney: Postcard Collages

    Emily Peters, curator of prints and drawings
    On view at the CMA for the first time since 1985, textile artist Lenore Tawney’s 41 postcard collages—mailed between 1969 and 1981 to her friend, the art dealer, curator and critic Katharine Kuh—illustrate the artist’s personal visual vocabulary and poetic response to materials, while at the same time engaging with universal themes such as vulnerability, resilience and spirituality.

  11. A Focused Look

    Mark Cole, William P. and Amanda C. Madar Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
    Yet to be shown because its intimate scale makes it difficult to hang among other, larger canvases in the permanent collection galleries, Sanford R. Gifford’s Haverstraw Bay, of 1868, is displayed in an isolated setting to help reduce distraction and maximize the potential for contemplative viewing.

  12. Things That Don’t Fit (Here)

    Susan Bergh, curator of Pre-Columbian and Native North American art
    Many museums have artworks in storage that don’t fit into the histories their collections have been shaped to tell in the galleries. This is due in part to how histories are constructed—always from points of view and, in museums, with finite resources. So it is with the four diverse groups of objects in this section, all having their first public outings in years. They hail from the Pacific Islands, eastern South America and Mexico.

  13. Mise en Page

    Heather Lemonedes Brown, Virginia N. and Randall J. Barbato Deputy Director and Chief Curator
    Mise en page is the French term for “placement on a page,” referring to an artist’s careful arrangement of numerous elements on a sheet of paper. A selection of 16 drawings traces the development of mise en page from its earliest expressions in the Renaissance through its refinement in 18th-century France, concluding with two sheets by artists in the 19th century who self-consciously paid homage to this tradition.

  14. Paper Airplanes

    Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography
    These 15 photographs of tourist destinations whisk viewers off to distant locales, offering the fantasy and romance of travel without its travails, while demonstrating the depth and breadth of the museum’s photography collection.

  15. A Painting Is a Sculpture

    Emily Liebert, curator of contemporary art
    This story stages a dialogue between Sarah Sze (American, b. 1969) and Marcel Broodthaers (Belgian, 1924–1976) through works that have never been displayed in the contemporary galleries. During their respective eras, both artists redefined the possibilities of sculpture and installation by integrating painting, photography, film and language.

  16. Replication and Reinterpretation, Old and New

    Seth Pevnick, curator of Greek and Roman art
    Replication and reinterpretation occur frequently in Greek, Etruscan and Roman artwork, with artists adapting and reproducing familiar forms, motifs and images for new uses. Alongside modern scholarly reinterpretation, a range of replication also continues today, creating fascinating tales within the lives of museum objects usually kept in storage.

  17. Have a Seat! From Floor Culture to Furniture of Ming and Qing Dynasty China

    Clarissa von Spee, James and Donna Reid Curator of Chinese Art
    China is the only culture in East Asia that moved entirely from an original “floor culture,” as still practiced in Japan and Korea, to high seats and tables, developing a unique tradition of craftsmanship in furniture. As museum gallery space is limited, Chinese furniture has had to remain in storage; this is a unique opportunity to show five major furniture pieces for the first time since they were acquired.

  18. Open Windows

    Britany Salsbury, associate curator of prints and drawings
    Throughout history, artists have used windows as both a subject and a compositional device to convey a range of experiences and emotions, from longing to comfort. The artworks in this section encompass a variety of mediums, including drawing, painting, and photography, and reveal the different ways artists from varied times and places—from Rembrandt van Rijn to René Magritte—have represented a single theme, allowing visitors to reconsider and compare their approaches.

  19. Nature Transformed

    William Robinson, senior curator of modern art
    Providing an overview of four modes of modern landscape painting—ideal, natural, imaginary and abstract—the paintings offer evidence of the richness and depth of the museum’s collection of academic, naturalistic and avant-garde art.

  20. All Creatures Great and Small

    Stephen Harrison, former curator of decorative art and design
    In the 1920s, educators at the CMA began acquiring art from around the world to be used as teaching aids in schools and libraries. Because of their artistic significance, many of these objects were later transferred to the museum’s permanent collection. Within this material, there exists a substantial group of miniature figures of animals and children made in Austria and Germany during the 1920s and 1930s, before Nazi rule. These small sculptural works in cloth, metal and ceramic reflect the creativity of designers following the premise that within every child there is an artist, and in every artist is a child. This story explores the connections between childhood, artistic expression and whimsical design.



February 23, 2021 - Our Relaxing Afternoon at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Explore all the stories at once or spend several visits carefully delving into several at a time. Stories from Storage is free for CMA members; adults $12; seniors and adult groups $9; students and children ages 5 to 17 $6; children under 5 free. The exhibition is on view in the museum’s Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall and Gallery from February 7 to May 16, 2021.

As Cleveland Museum of Art members, we get free tickets for special exhibitions. With tickets in hand, we headed to the museum for a relaxing afternoon of enjoying artwork.

We happened to enter the museum at the same time as Steven Litt, and had a chance to say hello to him. We saw him enter the Second Careers: Two Tributaries in African Art exhibition, and noted that it looked interesting. Learn more about this exhibition that is at the Cleveland Museum of Art until March 14, 2021 in:


We were next greeted by the Life-Size Snowman Sculpture in the Ames Family Atrium of the Cleveland Museum of Art. We were glad that the Snowman was still here, since it was originally only scheduled to be on loan to the museum in 2020.

Since the Snowman lives in an active microclimate, his form is always slightly in flux.

Apparently, many other people enjoy this sculpture, since the photo we shared on Twitter was our "Top Tweet" for the month of February 2021 (5,478 impressions and 285 engagements). Part of the interest might by how the Snowman changes in appearance over time (click here to see all our @sos_jr tweets about the @ClevelandArt Snowman).


We recommended that Mike Brookbank take his daughter to see the Snowman at the Cleveland Museum of Art, since it will stay intact even as the weather gets warmer.


Stories from Storage is a narrative told through art about life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Think of the exhibition as an anthology of twenty short stories authored by our curators. In preparation for Stories from Storage, we asked that each of our curators develop a stand-alone presentation of objects not currently on view in the galleries.

As you view the photos we shared on Twitter, please note the incredible variety of artwork presented. We highly recommend seeing the exhibition in person, since photos can't capture all the details.


The exhibition is large -- covering both sides of the special exhibition space on the lower level.

We think it is great that halfway through the 20 stories, the museum reminds you to take some quiet time to focus on Haverstraw Bay.

  1. A Focused Look

    Mark Cole, William P. and Amanda C. Madar Curator of American Painting and Sculpture
    Yet to be shown because its intimate scale makes it difficult to hang among other, larger canvases in the permanent collection galleries, Sanford R. Gifford’s Haverstraw Bay, of 1868, is displayed in an isolated setting to help reduce distraction and maximize the potential for contemplative viewing.




It was fun to hear another visitor personally relate to the artwork shown, by saying that the Corinthian Helmet reminded him of a villain in Marvel comics. Stuart joked with the young man, asking him if he led tours of the museum, since we would enjoy hearing his perspective of the artwork we were seeing.





Thank You!

We appreciate this special exhibition created by "the Cleveland Museum of Art, with love." It was a fun way to spend the afternoon. 




Stuart often enjoys Jeff Suntala's artwork that he shares on Twitter as @JeffSuntala, so it was great to have him enjoy our Tweets from the exhibition.


Related Blog Posts

We had a great time attending the Cleveland Museum of Art Stories from Storage exhibition. The museum is the only public venue we have visited since the coronavirus crisis began in mid-March 2020. If you are interested in related blog posts from times when life was more normal, please take a look at our past blog posts about fun we have had at:

Until the reopening of the Cleveland Museum of Art for the the second time in January 2021, many of the venues in the Cleveland and Akron area that we write about in our have been closed. Please read our "Social Distancing Series" blog posts, since they capture some of our current activities. Once the coronavirus crisis is over, it will be interesting to read these 2020 and early 2021 blog posts to see the contrast between these times and "normal life."

We expect to continue to practice social distancing for the foreseeable future, so please come back to read more and...

Stay well!