Mignon Arrington, of Birmingham, and Thomas Lunsford, of Raleigh, North Carolina celebrated their wedding with a reception at the Museum on August 4, 2012. Mignon and Thomas met while attending the University of North Carolina. They were introduced by a mutual friend, Samantha, who turned out to be one of Mignon’s bridesmaids, while Samantha’s husband, Graham Terhune, photographed the evening. The Museum was decorated with beautiful flowers and décor by Lagniappe Designs. Guests dined on delicious food from A Social Affair, and enjoyed cake from Sweet Magnolia. Mignon, Thomas, and all of their guests danced the night away with music from The Flashbacks. At the end of the night, Mignon and Thomas made their way through University of North Carolina shakers as they left the reception. The couple honeymooned in San Francisco and Sonoma, California and now resides in Birmingham. We wish Mignon and Thomas a lifetime of happiness!
In 1957, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Wells bequeathed to a young Birmingham Museum of Art an important collection of 53 works on paper. From American masters such as James Abbott McNeill Whistler and John Taylor Arms to Old Masters such as Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt van Rijn, it provided a core collection to build on and it set the bar very high for future acquisitions. The works on paper collection now constitutes about 17% of the collection, and that number is actively growing.
What is a work on paper? The category is very broad. A work on paper might be a print such as a lithograph or an engraving, a drawing, or even a collage made up of multiple pieces of paper. Whatever it’s called, a work on paper is generally made of two components. First, the paper, usually referred to as the “support,” whose primary component is probably cellulose. On top of the paper may be a layer of sizing, or other fillers, used to control the properties of the paper. Applied on top of any sizing is the “media” such as ink (whether applied by hand or mechanically), pigments, graphite, and a whole host of other traditional and modern surface applications.
Prior to the mid-19th century, paper was generally created using cotton or linen fibers, and while the process was labor intensive and expensive, it produced a surprisingly strong and durable product, dubbed “rag” paper. After the mid-19th century, the quality of paper declined as technological advances produced methods for extracting the fibers from the wood. While paper was made inexpensive and abundant, it was also rendered unstable and quick to deteriorate. This type of paper, referred to as “pulp,” becomes acidic, stains easily, and can be very brittle. Because the Museum collection includes works made on both “rag” and “pulp” paper, we work hard to provide optimum conditions for this fragile but important collection.
Caring for works on paper requires careful handling, optimum storage conditions, and strict limitations to light exposure. The works are stored in acid-free (aka archival) mats, and when in storage a sheet of acid-free tissue is inserted between the work of art and the window mat for an additional layer of protection. Attaching a work of art to a mat is usually accomplished with either archival photo corners or, most likely, a Japanese paper hinge carefully adhered with an archival paste. If possible, we store the work of art flat, unframed, in either an archival storage cabinet, or in specialized containers called Solander boxes. Careful handling is always in order, usually wearing nitrile or cotton gloves. Most often we frame our works on paper in a simple walnut stock and protect the work of art from ultraviolet exposure by using Plexiglas glazed with a UV filter. Exposure to light creates irreversible fading; therefore, we strictly limit display of works on paper to three months or less. Afterward, the work is allowed to rest in complete darkness until it is again placed on display. The environment is a critical component to the long-term care of works on paper, so we make certain to provide enough moisture to prevent desiccation of the paper fibers, but not too much moisture, as mold may form. We strive for a range of 45-55% relative humidity, allowing for a very slight seasonal fluctuation. We are frequently asked how to apply our museum standards for home use. Here are somebasics:
1. Control exposure to light. Hang works of art in areas away from windows and strong light, perhaps in a central hallway.
2. When framing, ask your framer to use archival mat board, and insist that all plys are acid free, not just the upper layer. Attach an acid-free backing board, too, for additional support. Ask the framer to use UV-filtering Plexiglas. If you are framing a pastel or charcoal, glass is preferred to prevent static electricity.
3. When storing works on paper, always store them on the primary living floor, not the attic or the basement.
4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if in doubt, seek out professional advice. Archival supplies may be purchased from a variety of suppliers such as Gaylord at www. gaylord.com or University Products at www. universityproducts.com.
The Museum recently acquired four new works of contemporary video art, gifts of Birmingham collectors Jack and Rebecca Drake. The videos were created by Kalup Linzy, Kambui Olujimi, Dave McKenzie and Jefferson Pinder, all African American artists born after 1970. These are important additions to the Museum’s growing collection of video art by four exciting young “artists to watch.”
A rare and important work has entered the Museum’s collection. The Murder of King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle is one of just three sculptures known by the artist Robert Carpenter (1752-1829), who was born in London, but by 1798 had moved to Bath. The subject dates to 978, when King Edward’s jealous stepmother had him killed so that her own son could ascend to the throne. As the king approaches the walled gate of Corfe Castle on horseback and leans to accept a drink, the assassin appears with a knife.
The scene is exquisitely carved from limewood (also known as linden wood). This soft wood allowed Carpenter to minutely render the scene in great detail. The artist beautifully framed the figural tableau in a shadow box, and signed and dated it on the back. Also on the back is an inscription with thename of Carpenter’s two daughters, identifying the work as a “gift of their beloved father.”
Beginning in early September, The Murder of King Edward the Martyr at Corfe Castle will be on display in the English Gallery.
In early February, Philadelphia miniatures expert and dealer Elle Shushan, a contributor to the catalogue for the popular exhibition The Look of Love, visited the BMA. Curator of American Art Graham Boettcher invited Shushan into collection storage to examine the Museum’s small and little-studied collection of American portrait miniatures. Opening the drawer of a storage cabinet, a portrait of a woman in early-19th-century attire caught Shushan’s eye. Although the piece was housed in a damaged 20th-century frame beneath a badly yellowed plastic cover, Shushan immediately recognized it to be the work of Edward Malbone (1777-1807), the foremost American miniaturist of the late-18th and early-19th centuries. An old typewritten label affixed to the back of the frame supported Shushan’s attribution and identified the sitter as Mary Hooper Shaw Fleming of North Carolina.
How did this important miniature enter the Museum’s permanent collection and how had it escaped notice for nearly 60 years? Research conducted by Associate Registrar Mary Villadsen revealed that the miniature was given to the Museum in 1955 by Mrs. Valentine J. Nesbit, in memory of Birmingham miniaturist Caroline Couper Stiles Lovell (1862-1947). According to correspondence with the Museum, the miniature was a gift from Lovell to Mrs. Nesbit’s mother. Nesbit mistakenly believed it to be Lovell’s work. Although the miniature was accepted by the Museum’s Acquisition Committee on December 5, 1955, at that time—for reasons unknown—it was not considered part of the permanent collection, and therefore never assigned an acquisition number.
Additional research by Boettcher revealed that Lovell was a lateral descendant of Malbone, and that her family’s estate in Cartersville, Georgia, was named Malbone in his honor. Lovell possessed a number of Malbone’s original miniatures, one of which she lent to an exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Art in 1929. It was also discovered that a nearly identical miniature can be found in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
The sitter Mary Hooper (1779/1780-1831)—later Mrs. James Shaw and Mrs. Alexander Fleming—was the niece of William Hooper (1742-1790), a North Carolina signer of the Declaration of Independence. After an appropriate frame is acquired, the miniature will go on display in the Museum’s Styslinger Gallery of American Art.
Instead of throwing a lavish soiree in honor of her 50th birthday, Museum patron and supporter Dr. Erica Liebelt opted to celebrate the Birmingham Museum of Art and her love for children with the establishment of a new endowment to support student field trips to the Museum. Thanks to her philanthropic spirit, students from Birmingham City Schools will soon have the proper transportation to shuttle them back and forth to theMuseum on field trips free of charge.
“With school funding being cut for arts and music programs I felt this was a way to contribute a tiny piece of the puzzle to enriching a child’s life,” she says. “When I found out there was a problem getting students to the Museum, I knew I had to help. So instead of making my 50th birthday a milestone for me, I wanted to make it a milestone for other people, especially children.”
A pediatrician and avid BMA volunteer and ambassador, Dr. Liebelt saw the need for more art education during speaking engagements at local Birmingham schools where she’d talk about upcoming Museum exhibitions. “I remember going out to the schools and seeing the need and thirst for knowledge these students had about art.”
Her own thirst for art developed as a child growing up in Texas during Sunday outings to local museums with her mother. Although she eventually pursued a career in medicine, she cultivated her own artistic nature by reading art books and taking art history classes while an undergraduate. Today she extends her support to the art community through her affiliation with the BMA’s European Art Society, the support group for members particularly interested in European art. She has contributed financially to a variety of BMA projects over the years, including a significant recent purchase of art reference materials.
It’s this generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for both the arts and children’s issues that has led to another accolade for Dr. Liebelt. She was recently named “Art Patron of the Year” by the Arts and Lectures Club of Shelby County for her contribution to the BMA bus fund. “I was shocked and honored,” she says. “But being a pediatrician I am committed to advocating for the well being of children not only from a health standpoint but a general standpoint,” she says. “I love interacting with children. I think that their curiosity, magical thinking, and ability to laugh, despite their illness, is something that motivates me a lot.”
Some of the most fragile objects in the Museum collection are made of fabric. Our textiles range from delicate silk brocades to hardy raffia piles, collected from all over the world, and ranging in date from 1100 AD to today. Unfortunately, natural fiber textiles are in a state of deterioration literally from the moment of their creation. In order to make these works of art available for the enjoyment of future generations, the Museum carefully controls how they’re displayed and stored.
What actually causes a textile to deteriorate? Poor handling, storage, and display play an important role. A hostile and fluctuating environment accelerates the inevitable degradation of the fibers, but it also contributes to the formation of mold and invites pests, particularly the very damaging clothes moth.
The Museum collection contains hundreds of quilts, rugs and other flat textiles. When a textile arrives at the museum, we perform a physical assessment to determine if it’s stable, or if outside treatment is required. Sometimes the object is compromised and requires the services of a professional textile conservator, even for something as simple as cleaning, since we know that during the cleaning process the dyes can run and permanently damage the object.
If deemed to be in sound condition, the object is prepared for storage. Flat textiles, such as quilts, rugs, and runners, are rolled, never folded, as folds will stress the fabric and inevitably cause creases and breaks. As a general rule, the textile should be rolled “right side out”, so as to reduce stress on layers and minimize possible wrinkling on any dimensional component such as trapunto, beading, or thick pile. We leave several inches of exposed tube on each side for ease of handling, and fully interleave the entire textile with acid-free tissue.
The final step is to cover the rolled textile with a protective covering, secure the cover with cotton twill ties, and attach an identification photo to the tube end. The tube is then threaded with a dowel and suspended in a custom-designed textile storage cabinet. The storage environment is maintained at a constant 68 degrees and 50% relative humidity, with this humidity range high enough to avoid desiccation of the fabrics but low enough to avoid formation of mold. Occasionally a flat textile will incorporate some type of paint treatment, and since rolling might cause the paint surface to delaminate from the substrate, these textiles are ideal candidates for a flat type of storage and should not be rolled.
Many of these practices can be adapted to caring for your family heirlooms. Acid free rolling tubes and interleaving tissues are available for purchase from www.universityproducts.com or www.gaylord.com. A low-cost substitution for an acid-free tube would be a rigid carpeting tube or a new construction Sonotube, covered with a high quality polyethylene, then wrapped with a pre-washed 100% cotton bed sheet or pre-washed muslin. Instead of a tube, some collectors opt instead to make a “snake” from tightly rolled pre-washed bed sheets.
When preparing your personal collection for storage, first make sure the textile is stable and appropriate to roll. Before handling the textile make certain your hands are freshly washed and devoid of lotions or jewelry. Carefully roll the textile around the tube or “snake”, using the principles briefly described above, making sure to roll straight and not crease the fabric, all the while interleaving with acid-free tissue or a pre-washed bed sheet.
Now, protect the object from dust by rolling the exterior with one final bed sheet or muslin, tuck the ends inside the tube ends, and secure all with several loose ribbons of cotton twill tape. If you opted for a fabric “snake” as your central support, the ends can be gathered and secured with the twill.
Next, consider where you will store the textile, since humidity in a typical home fluctuates according to season and time of day. A good rule of thumb is to always store the textile where you live. In other words, never store the textile in the attic or the basement, opting instead for storage on the home’s main floor, perhaps under the bed or on a designated shelf in the bedroom closet.
Remember, too, that light is an enemy of textiles, so whether in storage or on display, be sure to control or eliminate exposure to both natural and artificial light. By applying these simple concepts you’ll preserve Grandma’s quilt for future generations. In the next newsletter we’ll discuss how the Museum cares for its works on paper and how you might apply those principles to caring for your collection, too.
For those affected by the recent tornadoes, whose family photographs are now wet, salvaging them may be possible. We’re providing a link to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, Massachusetts, and their guidelines for how to rescue photographs, with specific instructions on air drying.
On November 8, Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, The William Cary Hulsey Curator of American Art attended a special preview at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, which opened to the public on November 11. This long-anticipated museum was the vision of Alice Walton, daughter of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. The collection includes many iconic works including Asher B. Durand’s Kindred Spirits (1849) and Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter (1943).
The BMA is proud to announce its first grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, for a curatorial fellowship in African-American Art. Jeffreen M. Hayes, who begins her position as Mellon Fellow on January 16, has just completed her doctoral studies at the College of William and Mary in the American Studies program. Her specialty is contemporary African- American art and visual culture. Jeffreen has an extensive background in the arts. She worked for the federal art program Art-in-Architecture, housed under the U.S. General Services Administration, the National Gallery of Art, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, Library of Congress, and Hampton University Museum as well as several other arts and non-profit institutions. Jeffreen has also published articles and essays on African-American art. She recently completed a fellowship at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York and a Swann Foundation Fellowship for Caricature and Cartoon at the Library of Congress.
Dr. Anne Forschler-Tarrasch, the Marguerite Jones Harbert and John M. Harbert III Curator of Decorative Arts, has been invited to lecture at a meeting of the Ima Hogg Ceramic Circle at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on January 23. Anne will present an illustrated lecture about the Museum’s extensive collection of Wedgwood ceramics. In November, the Museum hosted the American Ceramic Circle’s annual symposium, which was a huge success. Anne, an ACC board member, organized the symposium and delivered a lecture on Wedgwood. More than 100 curators and collectors gathered at the BMA to enjoy an exciting and interesting lecture program, private collection visits, and intense discussion about a variety of ceramics.
Samantha Kelly, Curator of Education, has been selected to serve on the Exhibitions Committee for Vulcan Park and Museum.
Kristi Taft is the new Exhibitions Officer in the Curatorial Department. Kristi has been with the Museum for eleven years, the past ten as a Development Officer. In this new position Kristi will provide project management for temporary exhibitions and collection installations, and will advance the Museum’s traveling exhibition program. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Kristi holds a BA and MA in anthropology, with a focus on archaeology.
Kristi McMillan joined the Education Department in October filling the new position of Assistant Curator of Education for Visitor Engagement. Kristi earned her BA and MA in Art History at the Univerity of Virginia and has been working in the field of Museum Education for the last nine years. She will spearhead efforts in the development of an institutional plan for interpretation, lead the docent program, and work toward creating more visitor-centered Museum experiences.
Italian Doctoral Student Dario Zorza interned in the curatorial department this past fall. While at the Museum he completed his thesis for the University of Padua on the history of the Samuel H. Kress Collection of Italian art. He also researched the formation of the Kress collection at the BMA and how visitors understand these works today.
Dr. Donald A. Wood has been busy for the past several years working on the exhibition and catalogue for Dragons and Lotus Blossoms: Vietnamese Ceramics from the Birmingham Museum of Art. It is rewarding to see this project about a little known aspect of the Museum’s permanent collection come to fruition with the assistance of international scholars and important grants from several national and local foundations. Don gave a paper about the Vietnamese collection this past November at the American Ceramic Circle meeting held at the Museum. Don is also busy organizing a Museum sponsored trip to India for later this year.
Have you ever visited the Museum and wondered how a 500-year-old work of art could look so good? That’s easy—it’s all about proper care. The Museum provides a multi-faceted approach to caring for the art. In the previous article we discussed the importance of providing a stable temperature and relative humidity. Another important way we care for the collection is to make certain that it is exposed to only safe and archival materials.
Some works of art, such as textiles and works on paper, are just too fragile to be on display most of the time, as exposure to light will cause permanent fading. In order to prolong their lives, these light-sensitive works of art are shown for very short periods of time, usually about three months, and then they are returned to the darkness of art storage until they’re shown again. While in storage, works of art are supported by an array of very specialized archival materials, all designed to preserve and extend the life of the art. Acid free tissue is a staple for many of the collections, used for everything from padding out creases on historic clothing to providing a comfy cushion for delicate glass and ceramic objects to interleaving the quilts. It is used routinely to cover light-sensitive material, so damage doesn’t occur when located in a bright collection processing work area. Acid free mat board is another mainstay for us, used for matting our works on paper, with this matting and framing done in house by carefully trained museum preparators (art handlers). Volara, an archival padding material, has many applications in the gallery and storage. Ethafoam, another cushioning material, is used for everything from lining storage shelves to lining crates and is even customcarved to serve as supporting devices such as hat mounts and crate cushions. Tyvek, developed for and commonly used in the construction industry, linesour crates, enabling us to restrict the fluctuations in relative humidity when art is on the road. These are but a few of the products and materials we use every day when caring for the collection.
Exposure to light is a critical concern in the Museum environment. Quantity of light and types of light sources are closely monitored to ensure that we’re properly displaying the art while at the same time making certain to severely limit light’s damaging effects. Our light bulbs have ultraviolet (UV) coatings on the face, then a filter is placed on the bulb to further reduce UV exposure and, finally, a rheostat is manually adjusted to control the brightness of the light fixture. For the works of art glazed with Plexi-glass, there is additional protection built into a UV coating on the surface. Careful measurements are constantly made with foot-candle and UV meters to ensure we are within carefully prescribed ranges. Even the Museum’s exterior windows have a UV coating, and light from the windows is periodically measured, too, to ensure the coating’s integrity.
The Museum’s care of the collection even extends to carefully selecting the safest paint for the walls and safest fabric in the display cases, noting that an odor usually indicates “off-gassing,” an emission of harmful substances that could damage the collection. We select low VOC latex paint, allow it to cure for an extended period, and we use conservator-vetted fabrics free of dye and sizing to line our casework. The wood used to construct the display cases must be a high-grade wood such as birch and be formaldehyde-free.
In future articles, we’ll delve more deeply into how specific types of art are stored and displayed at the Museum, and hopefully you’ll be able to apply some of these principles to proper management of your personal collections.