43rd Annual Meeting-General Session, May 15, 2015, "Lighten Up: Enhancing Visitor Experience," by Linda Edquist and Sarah Stauderman

Postal Museum Paper Conservator Linda Edquist was unable to attend the conference, so Sarah Stauderman presented in her place. Sarah began by describing the practice of philately and placing it within the context of the recent 18,000 square foot expansion of the National Postal Museum. A collective cringe radiated through the audience like the “wave” in a football stadium, when Sarah revealed that a key component of the building program was the plan to expose a large bank of southwest-facing exterior windows over the new exhibit space. Fortunately, the museum was able to use a variety of active and passive approaches to control light in the galleries.
First, there were translucent window films printed with large images of famous stamps. These required approval by the local architectural review board, since they were not in keeping with the period of the historic building. The stamp windows added an interpretive element, while reducing the ambient light level in the sunlit galleries.
Motion detectors were used to activate LED lights in the “GEMS” gallery, which houses the “inverted Jenny” and other famous or infamous stamps. The ambient light levels were kept low, while “Why is this room so dark?” interpretive signage allowed the museum to provide preservation outreach within the gallery.
inverted jenny stamp
A variety of interactive cases and open storage designs used a somewhat low-tech approach to reducing the light exposure of these works on paper. There was a series of pull-out frames filling the walls of what appeared to be a print reading room with the somewhat grandiose title of “National Stamp Salon.” A similar type of open storage housing was used in the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building in the 19th century. An updated version was manufactured by Goppion to meet current museum conservation and security standards in the Stamp Salon.
There were also cases with interactive lift-up doors that created an intimate viewing experience for each visitor. Horizontal pull-out cases were essentially glazed drawers set into exhibit cases. Visitor engagement was enhanced by the act of lifting and pulling to reveal the collection, a side benefit of the museum’s light-protection system. Magnetic switches permitted case lights to turn off when drawers were closed. The light switches in the lift-up cases were not always reliable, so the museum may try to redesign the lighting for these cases.

lift-up doors
Lift-up doors (circled in red) in the Mail Marks History Exhibit

Collections staff members have been meeting monthly to clean the cases and to assess the security and mechanical stability of all of these moving cases, yet they have continued to rely on some stationary case designs. To avoid the physical stress of constant movement, the museum sought a passive solution for reducing light levels in exhibits of the most fragile paper documents. In the months following 9-11, letters contaminated with anthrax had been treated with chlorine dioxide gas, making the paper more vulnerable to light. The museum selected VariGuard SmartGlass for the exhibit vitrine, blocking more than 99% of ambient light without moving parts. The glass is a laminate that can switch from opaque to transparent when an electrical current is applied. The National Postal Museum’s blog provides more information about the technology behind this interesting product, along with photos of the anthrax letters on exhibit.
Anyone who deals with works on paper or other light-sensitive collections would be likely to see some ideas to steal from this presentation. There were a wide variety of approaches, suitable for documents and works of art on paper in different formats and states of condition. Balancing the needs of the visitors to see the exhibits with the preservation of the collection can be very challenging. Linda Edquist and her colleagues at the National Postal Museum have provided a great set of models for the rest of us.

43rd Annual Meeting – Textile Specialty Group, "The Effect of Light Emitting Diode Lamps (LEDs) on 19th century Dyed & Printed Cotton Fabrics," Mary Ballard, Courtney Bolin, Taylor McClean

Although Mary Ballard was unable to attend the conference, Ines Madruga, Paintings Conservation Fellow at the Smithsonian’s MCI, read the paper and gave a dynamic presentation. Mary and her coauthors worked closely with the color scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to explore the ways in which differently colored LED lights can change perceptions of colored textiles. They used samples from a 19th-century handbook for dyeing and printing cotton and the Spectrally Tunable Lighting Facility at NIST. 
The “Practical Handbook of Dyeing and Calico-Printing” was published by William Crooke 1874. Since each sample in the handbook included detailed information about the dye used, the results of the study should be informative for many textiles made on or before 1874.
The STLF is able to simulate many different types of light, measure spectra, and provide side-by-side comparisons. For more information, visit their website (http://www.nist.gov/pml/div685/grp03/vision_lighting.cfm). After comparing the samples in many different types of light, the authors were able to create a guideline with recommendations for LED lights that provide the best overall color.
The NIST website has many helpful resources, including a spreadsheet with Color Quality Scale information. The spreadsheet allows users to predict how how color qualities will change with different lights. The spreadsheet, which includes a tab with directions for use, can be downloaded here.
This presentation builds on work presented at the previous AIC meeting. For additional information, consult this paper:
Bolin, Courtney, Mary Ballard, and Scott Rosenfeld. 2014. “Assessing Colorants by Light.” (http://aics42ndannualmeeting2014.sched.org/event/ca5c64b579ff2d67e284decc878e72ee#.VV9Euk_Byyo)