By Rebecca Engelhardt, Registrar/Collections Manager
All exhibitions at Museum of Glass (MOG) are supported by the curatorial team. It is our job to make sure the galleries look spectacular for our visitors to enjoy.
In addition to keeping our objects looking beautiful, it is also our job to keep them safe. And as a museum, we are challenged to keep them safe “in perpetuity” (which means forever)!
How do we do that, you ask? Fortunately, we have colleagues throughout the world who study the effects of the environment on a variety of historic and art objects and set out guidelines for their care.
We use a system of policies and procedures (called “Preventative Conservation”) to combat the effects of all “agents of deterioration”.
Defined by the Canadian Conservation Institute, “The agents of deterioration identify ten primary threats specific to heritage environments and encourage their prevention at the collections level.” The ten agents are: Direct Physical Forces, Thieves and Vandals, Fire, Water, Pests, Pollutants, Light, Incorrect Temperature, Incorrect Relative Humidity, and Dissociation.
So, how do we at MOG go about combating these agents, and how does what we do apply to your own collections at home?
In a series of blog posts, we will share how MOG implements the preventative measures for every one of the agents.
This post is dedicated to “Direct Physical Forces” which includes things like: shock, vibration, abrasion, and gravity. This is a big one for glass!
Since the Museum is seated in the Ring of Fire, our staff is always thinking about how to protect our fragile artifacts from the vibrations potentially caused by earthquakes.
At the same time, we are taking precautions against the rumbling trains rumbling past our building and the possible accidents that might result from a potentially clumsy visitor or while setting up an exhibition.
Objects are at risk from damage every time you handle them.
We use several methods to secure objects to the platforms they are displayed on. One of our favorite materials is a sticky substance called Rhoplex N580™ that aids our team in securing objects of many sizes.
For larger objects, or ones that are more at risk of toppling over, we use a latex water based adhesive (it’s a lot like silicone). Once it dries, the adhesive “glues” the artifact down.
For objects that don’t sit flat on the top of the display case, or need a little more security, we call a “mount maker,” a specially trained technician who builds a customized support—usually out of metal—that locks onto the object and generally gets screwed to the display furniture. For really large artifacts, we consult with structural engineers who make sure that we have designed our mounts according to the proper building codes.
When you visit our Museum, or any other, there are always many more objects stored behind-the-scenes that will be used in future exhibitions, or by researchers. We want to keep those objects safe, too. Our storage shelves are very carefully designed to prevent the glass from sliding off the edge as well.
Handling artwork is where most accidents can happen. So, at MOG, we are all carefully trained on how to follow a specific set of rules to protect our collections. We use a lot of specially designed equipment as well as some things you might see in your own home.
Transportation to and from the Museum is something we plan very carefully. There are even commercial transportation companies that work exclusively with (or have a special fleet assigned to) fine arts. We also build crates designed to minimize shock and vibration during the journey, which might be as far away as Australia!
Look for our next post about dealing with protection from thieves and vandals!
Rebecca Engelhardt is the Registrar/Collections Manager at Museum of Glass. Her background includes ten years at MOG, plus time at major museums such as Smithsonian Institution and The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art.