Backstage is an occasional series covering the behind-the-scenes actions that are part of collections care. We’ll delve into the decisions regarding rehousing collections of all kinds, and explore different methods of collections processing, from manuscripts to panoramic photographs to ephemera. We’ll tackle the tug of war between preservation concerns, the commitment to access for researchers of all stripes, and the cost of archival materials; talk about collections care conundrums; and highlight easy preservation steps that repositories and individuals can take to maintain their collections.
Back in June, we were thrilled to find out that the Historical Society was one of four D.C. repositories chosen to receive the White Gloves Gang (WGG) treatment, during the fall conference of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums. Thanks to the efforts of the WGG, in late October six volunteers spent a full day helping us with a project that was identified as a priority during our CAP assessment site visit: deframing and rehousing artwork.
Elizabeth Alberding, Collections Manager at The Kelly Collection of American Illustration, is the mastermind behind the WGG, securing sponsorships, rounding up supplies, and matching expertise with specific projects at the chosen repositories. (Tudor Place, Dumbarton House, and the Woodrow Wilson House also received WGG volunteers this year). The WGG program is an initiative of the MAAM Registrars Committee, for which Alberding serves as chair and Jobi Zink of the Jewish Museum of Maryland serves as vice chair.
So what goes into a project like this?
First you need folks with collections handling experience as well as some knowledge of the intricacies of deframing artwork. For that, the WGG paired the HSW with six folks who lent their expertise and elbow grease: Manda Kowalczyk and Patricia Raynor of the National Postal Museum; Danielle Bennett of the Walters Art Museum; independent collections professional Tom D’Amore; Marta Zlotnick of Dumbarton Oaks; and Javier Martinez-Baez of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Next you need supplies, including scalpels and blades, pH pens, bone folders, needle-nosed pliers, buffered interleaving paper, and large acid-free folders. (The Society received more than $200 worth of donated supplies for this project, thanks to WGG sponsers Crozier Fine Arts, Huntington T. Block, U.S. ART and Willis Fine Art!). You need space to spread out, and worksheets to track the steps taken with each piece as well as record condition reports. You need some good mood music. And you need to identify collections items that due to space concerns or suspected acidic materials are better housed in folders and drawers than left framed.
Let’s start off with a feel-good example. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post about a less fortunate piece that was in as-received condition, and which required ordering the full deframing and rehousing menu).
Here’s a piece that just two years ago received exemplary conservation framing in preparation for an exhibit in which the artwork was featured. Now that it’s off exhibit, the frame and frame backing paper was removed; the condition assessed; and rehousing options weighed. In this case, most of the framing materials were left intact, and the piece rehoused in an acid-free folder and placed in a map case, ready to be pulled for a researcher.
More than 20 pieces received attention from the White Gloves gang during their day-long volunteer gig at the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., for which we thank the incredible WGG@HSW team; MAAM’s Elizabeth Alberding and Jobi Zink; and the WGG sponsors: Crozier Fine Arts, Huntington T. Block, U.S. ART and Willis Fine Art.
Stay tuned for a gory look at some of the pieces that were in tougher shape!