The staff of the RISD Museum stewards works of art representing diverse cultures, from ancient times to the present. The Museum carefully considers the material conditions and ownership history of its collections, supported by archival, scientific, and humanities-based research. This research is often conducted in partnership with artists and scholars working in related fields and in consultation with members of the cultural communities from which the objects originated. The online collection is a living document, and the RISD Museum is committed to new modes of discovery, collaboration, and knowledge creation.
- Nazi-Era Provenance
With 175 other museums in the United States, the RISD Museum is a participating institution in the American Alliance of Museums Nazi-Era Provenance Internet Portal, a database established in 2006 to help researchers identify works of art that might have been confiscated by the Nazis and never restituted to their legal owners. In order to facilitate this research, NEPIP provides a searchable registry of objects currently in U.S. museum collections that “were created before 1946 and acquired after 1932, underwent a change of ownership between 1932 and 1946, and were or might reasonably be thought to have been in Continental Europe between those dates.” This broad inclusion is intended to ensure that all stages of ownership can be appropriately reviewed, encouraging the establishment of more accurate and complete provenance.
Descriptive summaries of 358 works from RISD Museum collections that fall into these categories are posted on the NEPIP website, where they may be searched by artist, title, or keyword. The entire list of RISD Museum submissions may also be viewed in the Participating Museums section by entering “Rhode Island School of Design” in the Museum Name field.
Provenance records will be updated as information becomes available. Researchers are encouraged to request images of particular works of art and specific details of provenance by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
The RISD Museum is committed to complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”), Public Law 101-601, which provides for the repatriation and disposition of certain Native American and Native Hawaiian human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony. The RISD Museum does not own, nor will it acquire, Native American or Native Hawaiian human remains. The museum will not acquire Native American or Native Hawaiian funerary objects (associated or unassociated), sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony. The museum’s Native American collections comprise approximately 700 items, including works by contemporary Native American artists and objects of cultural heritage originating from communities in Hawaii, Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Southeast, Plains, Great Lakes, and Eastern Woodlands. In 1993 the RISD Museum submitted summaries of its Native American objects to tribes across the US and to the National Park Service (NPS), listed online here. Out of respect for tribal communities, the RISD Museum does not share with the general public photographs of or information about culturally sensitive objects. As a result, information that is broadly shared regarding these objects may be limited.
The RISD Museum recognizes that NAGPRA work is a long-term commitment that involves consultation and collaboration with tribal governments and community members. To date, the museum has not repatriated any objects under NAGPRA. The museum staff continues to research its collections and welcomes queries from tribes regarding any items that may be of interest. Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs) and tribal community members can contact the museum regarding NAGPRA or other inquiries at email@example.com.
- Restitution of African Cultural Heritage
The RISD Museum is committed to researching the provenance of its collections objects and will update its online object records to reflect new findings.
The RISD Museum returned the Head of a King (Oba), known as a Benin bronze, to the Nigerian National Collections in October of 2022.
For more than 80 years the RISD Museum held Head of a King (Oba) in its collection. In the Fall of 2020 the object was formally deaccessioned with recognition of its looted status and in anticipation of its repatriation to Nigeria. This work, which probably dates to the 1700s, was made by Benin royal artists in West Africa. In 1897, following unsuccessful attempts at annexation, British forces sacked the Benin Kingdom, burning cities, forcing the reigning king into exile, and looting works of art and other treasures in a campaign known as the Benin Massacre. Soon after, museums and individuals throughout Europe and the United States began collecting Benin bronzes. The Head of a King (Oba) was given to the RISD Museum in 1939 by Lucy Truman Aldrich.
After four years of working with community partners in Nigeria and the United States, as well as the Benin Dialogue Group (a group of museum colleagues around the world working towards the return of these objects), President Williams and representatives from the RISD Museum participated in a transfer ceremony on October 11, 2022 in Washington, DC to sign official documents returning Head of a King (Oba). Soon after, the object was physically transported from the RISD Museum and delivered to Nigeria.
- Provenance and Acquisition of Asian Art, Ancient Art, and Archaeological Materials
The Museum follows guidelines set forth by the American Association of Museum Directors (AAMD) Report on the Acquisition of Archaeological Materials and Ancient Art (revised June 4, 2008). These guidelines adhere to the policies of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Export, Import and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (November 17, 1970) and the implementing provisions adopted by the signatory states. The RISD Museum practices due diligence in establishing the provenance of any proposed acquisition and does not acquire any object that, to the knowledge of the Museum, has been stolen, illegally imported, or removed from its country of origin without appropriate approval before November 1970, the date of the UNESCO convention. The RISD Museum continues to research its collection and will update records as new details regarding the provenance of its objects are discovered.