Deinstallation and cleaning of the 1950s galleries of ethnographical and archaeological material from the Americas at the Field Museum, Chicago

Joanna Minderop, Cheryl Podsiki, and Ruth Norton


The Field Museum in Chicago is updating a major portion of the Americas Halls that was on permanent display from 1950 until 2003. The deinstallation phase included the complete de-installation of 53 cases and the relocation of 54 intact cases (i.e. with artifacts inside) within the museum galleries. Of the 2,128 artifacts removed from the old cases, 1,461 artifacts needed to have their old mounts removed before being reintegrated into storage. Understanding the mounting methods used in the old exhibit was imperative to the safe removal of the artifacts from their mounts. Mount types included adhered wire mesh, wooden shelves and dowels as well as wire, mannequins and nails. Mount removal methods included a vapor chamber, poultices, and mechanical removal. The written and photographic documentation of the alterations caused by the mounts will be critical to future interpretation of artifacts. Samples of the various mount materials and techniques used in the 1950s exhibition have been added to the Conservation Department’s reference collection of past mounting and storage materials used at The Field Museum. The experiences gained from the extensive gallery revision will be used to develop museum guidelines for future deinstallations of permanent exhibitions. Conservation staff required for the complete deinstallation process was two person years.

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2004 | Portland | Volume 11