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CMU students prepare Carroll Shelby collection for public museum

Collector enlists museum studies program to bring private car collection up to museum standards

Contact: Dan Digmann

​​Entering William Deary's private Carroll Shelby collection is like walking into the world of the legendary automotive designer and race car driver.

Deary has a vision of bringing the expansive collection – known as The Carroll CollectionSM – into a public museum space. To help make this happen, he enlisted an elite team from Central Michigan University's museum studies program.

"Our goal is to ultimately create an accredited museum," Deary said. "We engaged Central Michigan University and the museum studies program to come in and help us turn our collection into a proper museum."

CMU's team, including graduate students in the cultural resource management program, undergraduate students in the museum studies program and faculty advisors, began working with the collection in 2014. They are documenting each of the items, including several cars, one of which was personally owned by Shelby, as well as an array of memorabilia, original documents, Shelby American employees' personal items and collectibles.


"Our role is to help document this collection and prepare it to not only meet the highest museum standards possible but also to prepare it for a public space," Jay Martin, director of CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History and director of CMU's museum studies program, said.

Martin says this project is giving the students an incredibly unique, hands-on museum studies experience.

"The kind of work our students and faculty are doing here is the kind of work you would actually see done in the Smithsonian or the Museum of Science and Industry," he said. "So when you think of a relatively small museum studies program at CMU that produces students that can go directly to work in one of those major institutions, that is a very substantial thing.

"In most museum studies programs, students never get near a collection as significant and valuable as this," Martin said.

While the project is a learning experience for the students, it also is for Deary. Working alongside the CMU team, he has learned about proper software for a museum, cataloging and categorizing, and much more.

"Watching the faculty work with the students, I have gotten a feel for the underpinnings and the foundation of a museum operationally and logistically, as opposed to just being a place where you go and enjoy experiencing something," Deary said.

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As the CMU team continues to work on the project, which likely will last several more years, Deary is planning for the future of his collection.

"One of the things we have proposed – and are in initial discussions with Ford and the Henry Ford Foundation – is actually building a recreation of Carroll Shelby's shop in Venice, California, at the Henry Ford Museum and bringing our collection there," Deary said. "Our goal would be to proliferate The Carroll Collection in a more public space, ideally the Henry Ford. This would allow people to enjoy the history of Carroll Shelby and the legacy of the employees of Shelby American who were an important part of the world championship dominance of Ford Motor Company throughout the 1960s, for many, many years to come." ​

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