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Sunday, May 15 • 5:00pm - 5:30pm
(Textiles) The Dark Side of the Force: Magnets, Velcro and Unintended Consequences

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Opening a new museum can present interesting challenges that require nimble responses and quick thinking. Installation techniques that have worked successfully elsewhere can fail in new and unexpected ways, and procedures for handling exhibition problems may not have been developed. Conservation staff must be prepared to respond, sometimes on-the-fly, and sometimes with perseverance and stamina. In 2014, the newly opened 9/11 Museum was presented with a challenge that needed an immediate response and a long-term solution, requiring both nimbleness and perseverance. Prior to opening in May of 2014, the 9/11 Memorial Museum commissioned a work from artist Spencer Finch entitled Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. Consisting of 2983 watercolors on heavy paper, each painted a shade of blue, the work occupies an enormous wall in a non-climate controlled space in the museum between galleries. It has become a hugely iconic image for the museum. The original mounts for the watercolors used rare-earth magnets affixed to the backs of the watercolors. Even before the museum opened, the magnets began to attract atmospheric dust to the surfaces of the watercolors, requiring a rapidly organized program of in-situ cleaning. The program could not continue indefinitely, however. The work required a new mounting system. Other mounting options were explored in consultation with the artist and professional colleagues, and a system using Velcro strips and acrylic pressure-sensitive adhesive was selected. The second mounting system was installed in November 2014. This system also began to fail almost immediately. Curling of the watercolor paper during the heating season in the unregulated museum space caused the paper to peel away from the Velcro in isolated instances, requiring attention by conservation staff each morning before opening. The failure of this second mounting technique was discouraging, to say the least. A third mounting system would have to be implemented. A more intensive program for exploring mounting options was developed. Various mechanical methods of securing each watercolor were explored, but all were rejected by Museum senior staff and the artist as too visually intrusive. Finally, it was decided that 4-ply mat board squares slightly smaller than the watercolors, with Velcro mechanically attached with staples, would be affixed to the backs of the watercolors using adhesive. Several adhesives were selected, and test versions were prepared and installed on the wall for a period of 21 days and then assessed for durability. Jade-R, a water-soluble acrylic emulsion adhesive was selected for its effectiveness, cost, ease-of-use and reversibility. Installation of this third mounting technique required the use of 125 substitute watercolors supplied by the artist as placeholders while the originals were remounted in rotation. The process took approximately 3 months, and was completed in September of 2015. The experience of the 9/11 Museum in mounting this commissioned work by Spencer Finch specifically demonstrates a potential problem in the use of magnets in mounts of un-encased objects, but it also demonstrates the need for flexibility, creative thinking, and cooperation in dealing with the unexpected in a museum setting.

avatar for John Childs

John Childs

Principal, Childs Conservation Consulting
John Childs graduated with a BA in history from Yale University in 1985, and earned a master’s degree in conservation specializing in furniture from Winterthur in 1992. Since then John has worked at museums in New York City, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia, and from 2006 to 2011, he was the conservator responsible for all collections at Historic New England. From 1996 to 2006, John worked in private practice in Los Angeles, working for area... Read More →
avatar for Maureen Merrigan

Maureen Merrigan

Assistant Conservator, The National 9/11 Memorial and Museum
Maureen Merrigan is the Assistant Conservator at the National 9/11 Memorial Museum. While a student at Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology Program she trained at the Conservation Research Laboratory. As the project conservator at the National Museum of Bermuda’s Warwick Shipwreck project she undertook the excavation and treatment of all artifacts from a 17th century British shipwreck. Her interests include the conservation of... Read More →

Sunday May 15, 2016 5:00pm - 5:30pm
Room 511 A/D

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