Second International Mountmaking Forum
Hosted by the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
May 5-6, 2010
Reported by BJ Farrar
Following the first Mountmaking Forum held in Los Angeles at the Getty Villa, in 2008, the Smithsonian Institution hosted the second International Mountmaking Forum in May 2010. The two-day conference was well attended with over 250 international participants from all over the U.S., Canada, England and some as far away as Japan and Australia.
The first day of the Forum, held at the National Museum of the American Indian, included a full day of presentations from nine presenters.
. Marian Kaminitz, Head of Conservation at the National Museum of the American Indian gave the opening remarks, stressing the importance of mountmaking and its “coming of age” as a profession. She discussed the integral roles of mountmaking within the museum as ensuring the safety of the objects on display, while fulfilling the curatorial and exhibition designer’s vision.
. McKenzie Lowry, Mountmaker in the Antiquities Conservation Department at the Getty Villa was the first presenter of the day. His presentation, titled Exploring Designs for Concealing Objects Mounts covered a variety of concepts and mount designs that would minimize the visual impact of a mount. The range of ideas addressed included material choices for mounts, finishes, internal supports, integrated mounts in display furniture, working with conservators to incorporate the mount into a restoration, and the use of isolators to minimize the size of a visible mount.
. The second presenter of the day was Jenna Wainwright, Associate Conservation Preparator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Her presentation, titled From Pole to Puzzle: Crafting a Mount for a Bark Cloth Figure documented her design and fabrication of an internal mount for a very large Oceanic headdress. At 175 inches tall, extremely fragile with a cantilevered display orientation, the object presented many challenges. The presentation was a good follow-up to McKenzie’s topic of internal mounts and illustrated the use of a mount that not only provides excellent support for a fragile object, but fulfills the desired display orientation while being virtually invisible to the viewer.
. The last speaker for the morning session was Keith Conway, Exhibition Specialist at the National Museum of African Art. His presentation, titled Challenges and Solutions in Complex Mountmaking: Iranian Tile and Bwa Mask, examined two case study objects and their mounting solutions; detailing their mount designs from conception through installation. The first example was a heavy and unstable Iranian stone tile. The piece required casting an epoxy putty interface to compensate for an uneven bottom surface and wall-mounted retaining clips at the top of the object. The second example was a very tall and fragile African mask that required a welded, wall-mounted steel main support and a smaller secondary brass mount. Both examples emphasized the importance of having a good understanding of various mount materials and fabrication techniques.
. Dianne Niedner, Senior Program Officer, Office of the Under Secretary for History, Arts and Culture, Smithsonian Institution welcomed the group back after lunch and started the afternoon session. Ms. Niedner again stressed the importance of mountmaking as a specialized field and its integral role within the museum.
. Gordon Lambert, Exhibit Preparator/Mountmaker at the Seattle Art Museum started off the afternoon session. His presentation titled A Beginner’s Mannequin: Museum Action Figure or Crash Test Dummy? looked at his development of an articulated mannequin design that would allow the figure to be displayed in multiple orientations, while providing a secure support for a large Native American headdress on top of the mannequin. Gordon followed with a subsequent example using a similar design for an African mask and woven suit. Both examples also explored the aesthetic details of the mannequin design, looking at what elements could be reduced, thereby highlighting the object.
. Matthew Cox, Lead Mountmaker/Preparator from the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City discussed his approach in working with the dedicated jewelry exhibit space in the recently opened museum building. His presentation, The Fabrication and Mounting of a Rotating Jewelry Gallery at the Museum of Arts and Design, focused on the challenges of design and installation of jewelry mounts for the museum’s rotating permanent collection. Matthew talked about his varied and elegant approaches to mount design and installation that take into account a quick turnaround between exhibits, minimal case repair and fabrication that could be done without having a dedicated mount shop.
. Helen Weir, Exhibition Specialist at the Natural History Museum, London gave a fascinating talk on the new Large Glass Case display at Darwin Centre Cocoon. Her presentation: Layering Life: Mount Making for the Darwin Centre Cocoon, documented the display from beginning concept to its completion, highlighting the many technical mounting challenges she and her colleagues encountered along the way. Helen discussed the complexity of the display, where careful planning and mock-ups were crucial for it success. In the process new mounting techniques were devised to mount and display extremely fragile (and numerous) specimens in transparent cases that created a seamless finished display.
The session ended with an informal question-and-answer period with the first six speakers, where a number of good questions were raised by the audience, enough to consider a roundtable session at the next Forum.
. Following a brief afternoon break, Jonathan Pressler, from On the Verge Design, in the Washington D.C. area, gave an informative presentation, “Arctic Studies Center, Anchorage, Alaska: Mount Challenges and Solutions for Northwest Coast Objects for a Study Collection in an Earthquake Zone“. The presentation highlighted a number of objects and their mounting solutions for a very large and complex project that not only required the objects to be accessible as a study collection, but to address the many issues associated with artwork on display in a seismically active environment. Jonathan’s presentation also successfully illustrated the integral role of the mountmaker as a collaborative member of an exhibition team, working closely with the curators, conservators, and exhibition designers.
. Carl Schlichting, Mountmaker from the Museum of Art, University of British Columbia, presented mounting solutions for the Museum of Anthropology’s newly renovated visible storage gallery and the challenges faced with creating mounts for over 1500 objects. Carl’s presentation: Mounting MOA’s New Visible Storage, discussed prototyping in the development of adaptable mounting systems as well as modular connecting methods to further streamline the mount designs. Carl also went on to describe how the project also required the setup of a mountmaking shop and the training of staff in mountmaking techniques, as neither existed at the Museum prior to the project.
. The final presentation of the day was given by Susanne Gänsicke, Conservator of Objects at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, titled: New Mounting Systems for Ancient Objects for the Special Exhibition, The Secrets of Tomb 10A: Egypt 2000 BC. This was a very interesting presentation as it documented two highly complicated projects involving extremely fragile and heavy objects. It also highlighted the importance of collaboration between conservators, mountmakers, contract engineers, and contractors. The first project example consisted of large, painted cedar coffin panels that were not only extremely fragile due to their painted surface, but quite heavy as well. The second example described was a large, heavy stone sculpture that needed to be removed from its existing display base and mounted on a new structural support. In both examples, Susanne described how new mounts were designed to fulfill a number of important purposes ranging from the aiding in the long term preservation of the objects to facilitating safe transport, all the while providing a clean visual display aesthetic.
There was a brief question-and-answer period following the afternoon session, and a number of questions were raised to the speakers.
. To round out the day’s presentations, keynote speaker Matthew Crawford, author of the bestselling book, Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work, gave a thoughtful talk of his impressions on the field of mountmaking. He touched on a number of points that highlighted the uniqueness of our profession.
After a full day, we were treated to an informal reception at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, where the next day’s poster session was to be held. This was a great opportunity to catch-up with colleagues and to make new acquaintances.
Day two of the Forum was a well attended poster session held at the S. Dillon Ripley Center with posters from eight presenters (in alphabetical order):
. Poster by Naomi Abe, Assistant Registrar at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, presented: An Introduction to Cost Effective Techniques for the Creation of Costume Mounts and Mannequins: The Hidden Lead Pellet Technique. She documented a very useful technique developed to incorporate bagged, leaded pellets into the lower sections of a mannequin form to provide ballast and help stabilize the figure while displayed in unusual positions.
. Margot Brunn, Conservator at the Royal Alberta Museum presented a poster titled: Animal Mounts- How Realistic do they Need to be? This was an interesting presentation of the aesthetics of support mounts in the form of animals, such as horses. Traditionally these mounts have been presented in a very realistic fashion, which can often compete with the primary display. Margot’s presentation included many successful examples where she reduced the animal form to a point where it is still fully recognizable, but did not interfere with the primary display object, providing a very clean aesthetic to her exhibits.
. Poster by Luba Dogvan Nurse, Andrew Mellon Fellow in conservation at The National Museum of the American Indian presented: A Support Mount Made from Nomex® Card for Flat Storage and 3-D Display of an Incomplete and Fragile 19th Century Straw Bonnet. Luba documented the successful use of Nomex® card as a support mount, which allowed for the bonnet to be stored flat to maximize storage space, while still retaining the ability to display the bonnet in 3-D shape.
. BJ Farrar, Mountmaker, Antiquities Conservation at the Getty Villa presented a poster titled A Preliminary Review of Some Alternatives to PhillySeal R. The paper was an overview of the search for and testing of a number of epoxy resins that might be a suitable replacement for the discontinued PhillySeal R epoxy putty. Initiated at the Getty Museum in 2007, BJ with museum conservator Jeffrey Maish and Mara Schiro of the Getty Conservation Institute, sought a replacement product that would fulfill many of the qualities that made PhillySeal popular with museums. While they did not find a direct substitute, they did find a number of other resins with different, but useful properties.
. Poster by Abby Krause, Preparator at the Colorado Historical Society presented: Old Monarch, New Mount. Abby’s presentation documented the process of designing and fabricating a new mount for “Old Monarch”, a beloved cross-section of a very large cottonwood tree that was cut down in the late 1800’s. The new mount, fabricated from steel, replaced an old bulky wood easel and incorporated a number of beneficial features such as a stronger, reduced mount size, and a design that allowed the object to be safely and easily transported on the mount.
. David La Touche, Co-founder of Benchmark presented a poster titled: Mounting Necklaces as Worn. This was a very interesting presentation on a technique used to display difficult, multi-part objects such as necklaces. The concept of David’s design is to create a support mount, or jig that resembles a multi-strand brass mop. The jig allows many smaller mounts for the necklace elements to be properly placed and connected. Once the desired orientation is obtained and the smaller mounts connected, the jig mount is removed leaving a very clean display.
. Poster by Mair La Touche, Co-founder of Benchmark also presented: New Mannequin Designs for Fragile & Hard to Handle Parkas. This was a great documentation of a mannequin design for very fragile, hooded parkas on loan to the new Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage, Alaska. Not only did the mounts need to support all the elements of the fragile objects, but should also allow the parkas to be safely studied periodically by the Alaskan Native populations. Mair’s ingenious, but simple mount design, much like a hanger with a carrying handle, found a nice balance between the long-term preservation of the objects and the accessibility required by the lender.
. Marla Miles, Fashion Arts and Textiles Preparator and Cynthia Amnéus, Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles at the Cincinnati Art Museum presented a poster titled: Fosshape and Its Application for Costume Mounts. Marla and Cynthia’s presentation focused on an interesting product they experimented with called Fosshape, an Oddy passed non-woven polyester material that is similar to a thick felt in a raw state. The product, when applied with wet or dry heat, shrinks about 25% and can be easily shaped over a form; it retains its shape once cooled, making it ideal for low-cost costume mounts. This seems like a truly versatile product that could have a number of useful applications for mountmaking and conservation.
Also throughout the second day, the Forum offered participants the option to take guided tours at a number of the Smithsonian’s various mountmaking shops and gallery spaces. This was a great opportunity to see some of the fantastic facilities at the Smithsonian. I only wished there was enough time for all the tours!
Thank you to all the speakers and poster presenters who contributed to this year’s Forum. And a BIG thank you and congratulations to Shelly Uhlir and her colleagues at the Smithsonian for hosting a very successful Mountmaking Forum. Due in part to their efforts, our group is gaining momentum and moving in a positive direction that will benefit the field of mountmaking.