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Art Matters: New Gallery, New Ideas

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African Gallery

Numerous technological changes have occurred since the 1990s, and the world of art conservation is no different! Over the years, art conservationists have kept up with innovative products and solutions, constantly adapting to keep collections safe and looking their best. With these best practices in mind, the re-designed African Galleries have been installed with great care and attention. Still, many of these new processes and materials will go unnoticed by those who visit the gallery.

Behind the scenes, the Museum’s Design, Preparation, and Conservation departments have collaborated to limit harmful emissions from building materials and environmental factors, preventing any damage to our precious collection. This is the first gallery in which materials have been tested, both in house and at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with the aid of students at UAB’s Materials Science Department in the School of Engineering.

Marvelsealed and painted built-in casesDuring the initial design phase, testing was carried out on building materials, textiles, and paints to select “museum-safe” materials. After testing was completed, products were chosen to substantially reduce or eliminate emissions from formaldehyde, acids, and other volatile organic compounds. One selected product was Marvelseal®, an aluminized polyethylene and nylon barrier film, which was originally designed for use in military applications. Often used inside shipping crates and for making pouches and bags, Marvelseal® also serves as a passive humidity control and reduces off-gassing of building materials. Marvelseal® was ironed onto the surface of cases, walls, build-ups, and decking, before coating with a low or no VOC (volatile organic compound) primer and paint. Paint dried for at least two weeks before objects were placed in closed display cases, and small fans were placed in the cases to remove odor and allow air movement.

Along with these new applications, the new African gallery is also the first in the BMA to have all LED (light emitting diode) lighting inside display cases. The bulbs, which provide a cooler microenvironment, are 75-80% more efficient than traditional lighting and are dimmable, allowing light levels to be reduced around sensitive objects. The bulbs are also long lasting, lessening staff time spent on regular replacement. These LED lights are the first steps to extending efficient lighting to other areas of the Museum, to both remain on the forefront of museum technology and to best care for our collection.

Bill Waxler comparing incandescent and LED lights

While these additional steps and tests are more labor intensive and time consuming, we know these efforts will protect the art for many years to come. For more information on our “greening” efforts here at the BMA, including how you can help support this initiative, please contact Claire Hubbs Gray, interim senior development officer, at [email protected] or 205.254.2086.