Working in a museum can sometimes seem like an exercise in eternal patience. You seem to always be planting the seed of something that will only come to fruition weeks, months, or even years from now. One such project has been my dream of having the Chinese paintings in our collection (some of which have been published) re-housed onto a painting rack that would be safer for research and class use. I started by talking to some vendors about painting rack systems at the AAM Conference when it was in Philadelphia last year. I was able to get a few proposals and then picked one that fit our needs. Thanks to a grant from the Carpenter Foundation and our Development team at the museum along with a visionary idea from our head of Conservation we were able to create a rack system that could be retrofitted into our storage room. Here is how we did it:
The above photo illustrates the problem with the old painting rack system, a wood rack on wheels with slots for paintings. Getting these in and out of the rack was a dangerous affair for the pieces as they were quite heavy and there was little room to maneuver them out of the corner where they resided. The plan was to use a painting rack system that would use our already exisitng compact storage units which used L brackets to hold 3-D objects like weapons:
We removed all the L brackets so that the painting rack units could be installed. The unused brackets were relocated to another section of the storage room to hold Near Eastern textiles.
The demolition of the old unit took a few days and included taking out everything except the system that allows the aisles to move back and forth on a track:
The old floor had to be taken off so a new floor with a lip that could accept the painting rack panels could be installed.
This is what the painting rack looks like with no paintings. The canopy had to be bumped up in order to accommodate some of the larger paintings in the collection. One of the difficult parts that we had to deal with was the layout of the paintings. The different sizes had to be taken into account as did the triangle brackets which prevented some painting from being hung in certain places. This coupled with the subject matter of the paintings (landscapes, birds, figures, etc.) and how to display them for classes created a somewhat complex case of scenarios for laying out the paintings on the rack itself. I decided to put my drafting skills to work and made a scale drawing to help with the lay out. The paintings were also cut to scale so that I could mix and match them easily and make the most of the space:
Next came the step of actually attaching the hardware to the paintings. This was accomplished with the help of some conservation interns at the museum who are currently enrolled in the Wintherthur Conservation Program. The process involved drilling holes in the frames, attaching the brackets, putting in hooks, and then moving the painting to the rack.
Once the brackets were securely attached to the paintings we put hooks in the brackets. These hooks would hold the paintings to the rack and allowed for some wiggle room when attaching the rather heavy paintings to some narrow fitting spaces.
Below is what the finished painting rack looks like with the paintings attached! It is double sided so were were able to get the majority of paintings onto the rack. Now researchers and students can come and look at the paintings with greater ease. They are much more accessible this way and should facilitate some exhibits in the future.
So a year in the making and quite the collaboration between many departments. The Carpenter Foundation really came through for us on this and we couldn’t be happier with the results!