43rd Annual Meeting, General Session, Track C: Year of Light, “Shedding Light on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Lighting Project,” Holly Salmon

Holly Salmon, Objects Conservator, Isabella Steward Gardner Museum, presented a fast-paced, engaging, and informative review of the Gardner Museum’s ongoing lighting project; she co-authored the talk with James Labeck, the lighting designer (TEND, LLC) who worked with the museum. Salmon began the talk with a brief history of how the building was lit, in Mrs. Gardner’s time and the early museum years, and a quote (which I may have paraphrased) from a letter from Gardner to Bernard Berenson, “You have no idea how difficult it is to arrange light satisfactorily.” Her museum “descendants” clearly agree with her and are working hard towards that lighting goal.
As early as 1925, the museum had installed screening and bamboo curtains to reduce daylight. Later these were replaced by ultraviolet-filtering films and temporary black-out shades. While working to reduce daylight, museum staff was also introducing electric lighting. Previous museum staff had converted some historic lamps to run on electricity and created some amusing ad-hoc lights.
The recent lighting project began in 2004 and was completed in 2012, although as Salmon mentioned at the end of her talk, the Gardner staff continue to (re-)evaluate and improve lighting in the museum. In looking at how the museum was lit, staff and consultants looked at atmosphere, intent, visitor experience, and conservation. For the AIC audience, Salmon said that of course conservation was the most important factor! In reality, it was clear that for all involved, all of these factors were important. They wanted to create lighting that would give visitors a sense of how Gardner (might have) intended the rooms to look and make the works on display and the rooms look good, while giving the objects the best protection from light damage.
The lighting project began with a light survey, using hand-held light monitors and light dataloggers, on which they recorded a year’s worth of light. The project’s second phase included major improvements to the wiring infrastructure, bringing all of the museum wiring up to modern standards and providing a master control to provide great flexibility for controlling the lighting. Lighting design and mock-ups of the design were the third and fourth phases. The designers created designs for each room. Working with museum staff, they tested and revised designs as needed. Salmon showed an example of a particularly challenging corridor gallery that went through at least three iterations of design to achieve the desired look.
To accomplish their goals, project staff approached lighting by thinking about it in layers. The first layer was the exterior light. All of the windows had ultraviolet protection. Before the project the museum also had light-colored linen shades on the windows, which created what they called “light bombs” that made it harder for visitors’ eyes to adjust to interior lighting. In the lighting project, they replaced these shades with translucent sunscreens that permitted visitors to see outside. (Salmon pointed out how visitors had always pulled at the edges of the older shades so they could see the outside.)They also fitted the windows with dark shades for when the museum is closed; where there are fragile collections near the windows, the shades are remote controlled.
The second layer was historic light. The fixtures that had previously been converted to electricity were remodeled (and/or rewired) to give better and safer light. These fixtures are now used as Gardner would have used them. For example a “candelabra” would only be lit for evenings or dark days, rather than turning on its electric bulbs all the time.
The third layer was viewing and ambient light. This was the “layer” where the project staff tried to light the collections so they could be seen well but where the lighting was not obtrusive. The overall goal was to have consistent (feeling/looking) light throughout the museum. Salmon showed the example of the newly restored Tapestry Room. They installed track lighting to showcase the objects and added recessed lighting to add ambient light, to avoid spotlighting effects.
A slide near the end of the talk read:
1. Too
2. Many
3. To
4. List.
Nonetheless, Salmon did discuss some of the challenges of the project. These ranged from trying to encompass all points of view, through working on lighting while the given room was open (as opposed to closed for a given time for room restoration). Work in “open” rooms occurred during hours the museum was closed, entailing more staff hours for moving (and re-moving) collections and cleaning during the work.
Salmon acknowledged that the Gardner still has the challenges of light-sensitive pieces on permanent or long-term display, a challenge that is quite familiar to me and to all who work with historic house museums. She noted that they have been moving towards using high quality reproductions for some of these pieces, a decision they do not take lightly, but one that has precedence going back to Mrs. Gardner’s time.
The last part of the project addresses reversibility and reassessment. Salmon noted that they are already revisiting some rooms to make further improvements; this is primarily happening in rooms that they are continuing to restore to their Gardner-era appearance.
Clearly, a project of this scale involved a lot of people and a lot of funds. Salmon and co-author Labeck thanked all of their museum colleagues and major contractors (Cannon-Brookes Lighting & Design and Tamagna & Dipietro Electrical Contractors). They gave credit for support of this 1.65 million dollar capital project to the funders, including the Jane’s Trust, Save America’s Treasures, Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and the Richard C von Hess Foundation. (CHECK THESE!)
While this talk focused on one museum, it described an approach to looking at lighting that could be used by many museums. I will be hoping to see this talk in print in JAIC before too long.

43rd Annual Meeting, Textiles Specialty Group, “Breaking Canvas: A Case Study on a French Embroidery,” Rebecca Beyth

Rebecca Beyth, Assistant Conservator, Textile Conservation, Metropolitan Museum of Art, presented an interesting case study of a pair of embroidered curtain panels in the Met’s collection. The panels had been selected for display in the Met’s 2013-14 Invisible Globe exhibit. Beyth noted that in first looking at the pieces while they were being considered for the exhibit, she and her colleagues thought that they would need very little treatment. Once the pieces came into the lab, the conservators were able to examine the pieces more closely and realized that they were much more fragile than they had originally seen. The ground canvas was splitting and shredding.
Beyth reviewed the treatment history of these pieces at the Met, which showed some previous treatments, including stitching repairs, removal of the linings that were on the curtains when they came into the collections (these are now preserved in the Met’s Ratti Center), and attachment of a lining in the 1980s. This review of past treatments conformed to my experiences – no matter how good you think your documentation is, it is never complete and never answers some of your key questions! Beyth and her colleagues felt that the 1980’s lining did not offer enough support for the three month exhibition, for which the curtains were to be displayed vertically. They decided to remove the 1980s lining and begin again.
This time, they used a heavier weight fabric from Creation Bauman. To allow researchers access to the back of the embroidery, they made the lining in three wide, vertical strips, leaving two-inch areas between the lining strips. The back of the embroidery was visible in these areas. To me, this was the best aspect of the treatment. The linings were applied to the curtains by sewing, using couching stitches in areas of damage and herringbone stitches for the main support. A header of the same fabric and a Velcro strip were sewn to the top edges.
To display the curtains, they used what they call a “gallery installation mount,” a fabric-covered rigid mount. They stapled the hook side of the Velcro to the mount and affixed the curtains with the Velcro. For display, the mounted curtains were placed in a five-sided Plexiglas box.
This treatment permitted these colorful objects to be a part of an important exhibit. It allows them to be stored rolled, to save space, and provides access to researchers. I also enjoyed the presentation as it gave a few more views of the Interwoven Globe exhibit, of which I am a huge fan.

41st Annual Meeting — Textile Session, May 30, “Finding the Ease: Approaches to Mounting and Installation at the Art Institute of Chicago,” by Isaac Facio and Lauren Chang

Isaac Facio, Conservation Assistant, and Lauren Chang,Conservator of Textiles, jointly presented the techniques and mounts they have developed, in concert with other Art Institute of Chicago staff, to “find the ease” in mounting and installing textiles at that museum. They showed three mounting systems, which could be helpful to many other institutions. All were the result of that old saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” They needed to devise simpler and more efficient techiniques for getting textiles onto display because they had fewer people and less time to install more textiles…..a situation familiar to many of us.
To mount medium- to large-sized textiles that would be displayed vertically, they devised a three-part mount, consisting of a fabric-covered board, into which the textile can be pin-mounted (their method of choice for temporary mounts for strong-enough pieces), a C-shaped, metal “kick out” or metal angle bracket to support the bottom of the mount and create a 10 degree angle, and wall cleats for the top.
To mount long textiles that were stored rolled and that needed to have part of the textile rolled for display, they developed a rolling system that fits into brackets that are secured to the walls. The system permits the textiles to go from rolled storage to display without the need for re-rolling. This saves time and aviodes excess handling. The bracket system is one that I would love to see made available commercially.
Finally, they described what they had done to make it possible to mount the large tapestry exhibit, The Divine Art: Four Centuries of European Tapestries. For this exhibit, they needed to mount at least seven tapestries per day, so they needed a system that would be both more efficient and less stressful for staff than how they had previously installed tapestries. The system they developed has two significant innovations. Rather than using a flat “beam” to hold the hook side of Velcro, as is often done, they developed a metal “double-I-beam” style beam, with a square profile. To support this beam, they used a shelf of MDO. The square beam prevented the tapestry from canting forward when hanging. The shelf allowed the tapestry, on the beam, to be lowered into place, with minimal handling.
This is how Lauren and Isaac described the installation process:
• The MDO shelf was secured to the wall with drywall screws at a predetermined height.
• The soft, or fuzzy, side of the Velcro, which was sewn to the tapestry during treatment, was secured to the “double-I-beam” while both were still on the floor.
• A three-foot long two-by-four was placed into the space within the “double-I-beams” at each end, to serve as handles for the installation.
• They positioned a pair of hydraulic lifts with platforms at either side of the tapestry. The lifts were outfitted with arms extending in front of them.
• They placed the two-by-four “handles” on the lifts’ “arms.”
• With one person running each lift and Lauren standing back to guide the positioning, the tapestry – on its “double-I-beam” was lifted into place.
• The “double-I-beam” was then secured to the wall, and the “handles” removed from the beams.
Although I have tried to capture what Isaac and Lauren showed and told, I know I have missed many details. This is a paper for which I will eagerly await the Postprints. I’m hoping that they can include the video clip of the tapestry installation that they showed during the talk.

AIC's 41st Annual Meeting – Textile Session, May 30, "“Merging Disciplines: Designing a Mount for a Matisse Serigraph,” Yadin Larochette

Yadine Larochette presented her treatment and mounting of one of Henri Matisse’s large silkscreen prints, Oceanie, le ciel, printed in 1948 by Zika Ascher. The print, made with oil-bound pigments on dyed linen, measures about 65″ by 144″. Unlike other prints in this series, for which some treatments have been published (see, for example: Vuori, Jan, et al, “Local stain removal from Océanie, la mer by Henri Matisse: the development of a reducing bleach technique using a suction disk, ultrasonic mister, and airbrush, “ in Conservation combinations: preprints of a conference: North American Textile Conservation Conference 2000, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A., March 29 to 31, 2000), this print had never been mounted. Its owners wanted to display it, which presented Yadin with the challenge of mounting it securely while still retaining the qualities and stability of the silk-screened surface.
To do this, she used what paintings conservators call a “loose lining.” She had a fine woodworker, Robert Espinoza, make a strainer with a slightly rounded edge. On top of the strainer she secured Coroplast and polyester felt. After experimenting and testing different fabrics for the support, or lining, she selected a wide, heavy scenery muslin from Dharma Trading Company that she then brushed to give it a bit of nap. (I’ve used this fabric as well and have found it has a tendency to become “nappy” even with just machine-washing. For some uses this is a disadvantage, but for this project, it was an advantage.) This nap would help to hold the print in place. She stapled the muslin to the strainer and then stitched the perimeter of the print to the muslin. After covering the edges of the print with a sheer polyester fabric for protection from the frame, she installed the piece in a frame with acrylic glazing. Before coming to the Annual Meeting, Yadin checked with the owners and was happy to report that they are still pleased with its appearance after three years.
Yadin briefly discussed the surface cleaning and humidification techniques she used for this treatment. She also discussed how the prints came to be made, emphasizing the role of the printer. Her description of this part of the story showed her fondness for the print.
During Yadin’s talk, we also learned that Patsy Orlofsky and Mary Kaldany of the Textile Conservation Workshop, South Salem, NY are preparing an article for JAIC on their treatments of five of these prints. It will be interesting to learn how another lab has treated these wonderful pieces.

41st Annual Meeting – Joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts Session, June 1, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles, by Kathleen Kiefer”

Kathleen Kiefer, who was until recently Senior Conservator of Textiles at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA), gave the final talk of the joint Textiles and Wooden Artifacts session on upholstery. The talk, “Challenges and Compromise: Preserving the Miller House Textiles,” was written with IMA Director of Historic Resources, Bradley Brooks, and IMA Scholar in Textile Conservation, Wendy Richards, was a fitting end both to the session and to Kathleen’s time with IMA, as it brought together many strands of conservation, preservation, and presentation.
The Miller House in Columbus, IN was designed in 1957 by Eero Saarinen and Alexander Girard (who did the interiors) for J. Irwin Miller and his family. Mrs. Miller lived in the house until her death in 2008. In 2009 the house was acquired by the IMA. IMA administration decided that the house should be opened to the public by 2011, which gave the conservation/curatorial team a huge challenge.
Kathleen reviewed the design of the house, showing how the architects (and landscape architect Dan Kiley) connected the interior, exterior and landscape design, partly through the use of natural light through large windows and skylights. She pointed out, of particular interest to this audience, that the house is believed to have the first designed conversation pit. She also talked about how Girard’s fondness for textiles and folk art were an important part of the design of the house.
The IMA team began by deciding on their conservation philosophy for the house. Should they interpret it to 1957? Would it be better to interpret it as it exists today? In part because of the limited time in which to prepare the house for the public, they decided to show it as it is today, taking a conservative approach and not doing anything irreversible. Kathleen noted that the public seems pleased with this approach. She mentioned one scholar who said he was pleased to see original, if worn, Eames chairs, because if he wanted to see new ones, he could go to a Herman Miller showroom!
Among the issues they have addressed so far are access and light levels. Public access, in the broadest sense, was an issue for the surrounding community, as the house is in a neighborhood. The neighbors did not want an increase in traffic and parking problems. As a result, all tours of the house begin from the town’s Visitor Center; visitors are taken by small buses to the house. On the more local level, the IMA team decided to create a “tour path” through the house, using new runners. They chose a light color for the runners and created some wider areas as “gathering areas,” where visitors would stand to look and listen to the docent. In a creative, but extremely practical way, they used craft paper to make mock ups of where the runners would go and how they would be sized.
To reduce light levels, they have added uv-filtering and light-reducing film to the windows. They have begun to monitor the environment using PEM dataloggers.
Before the house went to the IMA, the Miller family took or sold some of the furnishings and sold the art work. Thus, the house was somewhat bare when it was acquired. To rectify this, IMA has been purchasing similar pieces.
On the other hand, the family did leave quite a few pieces that they had no longer been using in the garage/barn. Kathleen described a project in which they removed carpets from the barn, documented and accessioned them, vacuumed them, and re-rolled them properly. For the time being, they had to return these pieces to the barn, but are working to find a better long term solution for their storage.
IMA Textile Conservation Scholar Wendy Richards has worked as a woven fabric designer and weaver. As part of her work, she produced graphs of the weave structures of some of the fabrics. She also helped with commissioning some reproduction carpets from Edward Field. This aspect of the project was particularly intriguing to me.
Many in the audience had been to the Miller House as part of the AIC tour to Columbus earlier in the week. I was not among them and, after hearing and seeing this talk, regret that I was not. I will look forward to learning more about how IMA preserves and interprets this house, as well as to seeing how this work relates to preservation/interpretation work being done on other modern houses, such as the Eames House in Los Angeles.