By Katie Buckingham, Assistant Curator
Most of my job is a lot like every other office job. My desk is in a cubicle, and I usually spend my days attending meetings and hopping between Word, Excel, and Microsoft Office. But, one of my favorite parts of my job is when I get to escape my desk and step behind our gray temporary walls to install the art in our exhibitions.
Working on one of our newest exhibitions, Into the Deep, is one of my favorite projects so far – partially because the work in the exhibition presented some interesting challenges, and partially (ok, mostly) because it is a show I’ve been working on curating for almost two years. It was an amazing experience to finally meet artwork I had only seen in photos and to stand in 3D space that I had only been visualizing on paper.
One of my curatorial goals was to give visitors a sense of the diverse number of ways you can use glass to make art. To fulfill this goal I looked for artwork that was as different as possible from the hand-sculpted vase or bowl many you probably have at home. This goal had a fun side-effect for me – several of the pieces in the exhibition presented our Curatorial team with some unique installation challenges.
Blue Dome, by Seattle-based artist Kait Rhoads, is a giant (almost 9-foot tall) dome covered with individual blue glass scales. Visitors are encouraged to stand inside the dome and look up to feel like they are standing underwater.
Kait Rhoads (American, born 1995). Blue Dome, 1995. Single-strength plate glass, cut, drilled and fired with glass enamels; Courtesy of the artist.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to attach each of the scales individually. The dome structure is made from a sturdy, steel frame. Kait Rhoads created a system where sheets of scales (attached individually to chicken wire) could be hung in sections across the metal frame.
Artist Kait Rhoads (in center of dome) works with MOG art handler Elizabeth Mauro to connect a section of glass scales to the steel frame. On the left of the frame, you can see small tags that are used to mark the connection points for the sections of scales.
Art installation is definitely a team effort. Here, Rebecca Engelhardt (MOG’s Exhibition/Collections Manager) and Kait Rhoads hold a section of scales on the outside of the dome, while art handler Elizabeth Mauro secures the section to the frame with wire.
It took a team of four people almost six hours to install Blue Dome.
Two Seas, by Shayna Leib is another piece which took a whole team to hang on the wall. Leib is an avid scuba diver, and each of the frames in this piece represent species of coral, sea grass, or anemone seen through the lens of her underwater camera. Each of the frames is teeming with life, made from fragile, individually-sculpted pieces of glass.
Shayna Leib (Americna, born 1975). Two Seas, 2012. Glass, silver leaf and resin; Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Eric Tadsen.
Each of the picture frames arrived carefully packed in individual boxes, which were shipped together in a large, padded wooden crate. We unpacked and cleaned each piece of glass, using Q-Tips, glass cleaner, and canned air to dust the crevices between each glass tentacle.
A large table is set up in the galleries so each piece can be cleaned and prepared to hang on the wall.
Parts of Two Seas were so detailed that we had to use Q-Tips to make sure all of the surfaces were sparkly and clean. Leib uses tweezers to set each piece of glass individually into resin, and in doing so creates the effect of the individually drifting tentacles of anemones.
Often, artists will provide a template along with the artwork, so that we can hang a piece on the wall to their specifications. This is especially important for a piece like Two Seas, where the frames have to hang in a grid, but close enough together so that some of the glass tentacles from adjacent frames have the appearance of overlapping with each other.
MOG art handler Elizabeth Mauro marks the template for on the wall. By hanging the template on the wall using a level, she is able to push a nail through the paper template, leaving a mark on the wall where each mount needs to be attached.
Each of the framed glass pieces is attached to the wall using a french cleat. A french cleat is made from two pieces of wood, cut at a corresponding angle. One half of the cleat is attached to the wall, and the other to the top of the piece of artwork (see diagram below). The wood is cut at a steep angle, which act like two puzzle pieces, locking together to secure the artwork to the wall.
The diagonal cut in a french cleat creates two puzzle pieces which lock together to secure the artwork on the wall.
Elizabeth attaches the french cleat for piece #3 to the wall, and double-checks that it is level. The small pieces of blue tape are points marked from the template where the other French cleats will be attached.
After all of the french cleats are attached to the wall, we can hang each of the frames. Here, Elizabeth is wearing gloves to keep the glass clean.
Halfway finished! Two Seas is made of 13 framed glass compositions, which are each hung individually to the wall. Each frame is assigned a unique number, so we know which frame goes where, as well as which french cleat to use.
Now complete, Two Seas is featured on the title wall of Into the Deep.
These two pieces are just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say reef). I hope you can come down to Museum of Glass and dive on into the rest of the exhibition. Into the Deep is open through September 2017. Check out our calendar at http://museumofglass.org/event-calendar to learn more about events and activities related to the exhibition.
Katie Buckingham is the Assistant Curator at Museum of Glass. She is an alumnus of Whitman College (BA) and University of Washington (MA). In her life outside of the Museum she is outside as much as possible, wearing skis as often as she does hiking boots.