Beneath the museum are the vaults that house more than 95 percent of the museum’s collection at any given time. It’s a place that most of the museum’s staff rarely get to see. But last week Paul Lavy’s Art 791 class from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa got the chance to view a few works in the vaults and discuss 20th-century arts of the Philippines.

The discussion is part of Lavy’s art history master’s student seminar that involves independent research projects for three graduate students—Emily Hebert, Caroline Baicy, and Kristin Remington. The projects focus on objects relevant to the students’ chosen field of study. Since Sept. 3, the trio has visited the museum’s Asian galleries on a weekly basis to research these objects, and last week was their first vault viewing.

“This is part of a longstanding collaboration with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa,” says Stephen Salel, Robert F. Lange Foundation assistant curator of Japanese art. “This collaboration is beneficial to both institutions. Our museum offers an opportunity for students to see rare artworks in person and allows them the ability to learn about the works first-hand, while the students and their professors share with us the fruits of their research and help us to more fully understand the artwork.”

Lavy adds that the class is unusual in that the group has “more or less been making it up as we go. The students have been determining the discussion topics based on the research projects and the objects. They assign readings to each other and to me each week based on how their research develops. To keep things reflective of what real research is like, we’ve left the course pretty open ended.”

One of the objects discussed: 'Portrait of Ms. Carmen Reyes-Bayot (Callahan),' by Anita Magsaysay-Ho

One of the objects discussed: ‘Portrait of Ms. Carmen Reyes-Bayot (Callahan),’ by Anita Magsaysay-Ho

Baicy, who is researching arts of the Philippines, appreciates the opportunity to see the actual works. “For my area of interest, unfortunately not many images exist online,” she says. “Being able to see the quality of the works in person—as opposed to seeing visitor snapshots, which I tend to rely on—it’s a very different experience. You see a lot more subtle qualities that you don’t necessarily see in a photograph or a painting.”

The students will return to the museum vaults every week until Nov. 19 to look at Cambodian and South Asian Art, which are Remington’s and Hebert’s areas of interest respectively.