Allison Hunter

How do you test a prototype that, in theory, functions as the protector for an invaluable object?

As in, would you feel comfortable attaching a priceless work of two-dimensional art to a prototype of a travel frame? What happens if your prototype fails? What happens if you ruin the artwork?

This conundrum became reality this past week for us. We wanted to test our prototypes for their true function, but we didn’t want to hurt any artwork in the process.

Enter Allison Hunter, an international visual artist who was kind enough to donate a few of her misprinted photography works to us. Allison is celebrated both in the Houston community and the world abroad for her twenty years of experience in multiple art medias, including photography, drawing, video, painting, performance, and installation.

Recently, Allison has been focusing on animal photography and videography. Her larger-than-life prints of animals, ranging from flamingos to frogs to sheep, are awe-inspiring and somewhat playful. Her work reminds us that animals belong on this Earth and, like the rest of humanity, deserve our kindness and respect. Here is her artist statement, which can be found on her website:

I am interested in making people think about how they perceive and respond to elements of the world around them that are often marginalized or overlooked. I approach this problem in my art work by taking things out of context to show their beauty, grace, and uniqueness. My effort is not to add but to remove elements from the original image to allow the viewer to focus more intently on the process of displacement and reinterpretation. For example, when I photograph living creatures in zoo environments, I frame the scene with the camera and later edit out background information in order to create a sense of mystery that evokes questions from the viewer. My interest in non-human animals stems in part from my background in feminist art and feminist theory, where I first understood how sexism is linked to speciesism. I approach my animals and their re-location in virtual environments as a way to exercise a desire for a better world, one where humans treat all living beings with equal care.”

With her generosity, we have had the opportunity to test our prototypes for their true function: holding, protecting, and transporting two-dimensional art. We greatly appreciate her contribution to our project this summer, and we can’t see what she creates next.

To learn more about Allison Hunter, please visit her website:

A Look into Hardware from our Engineering Design Context Review

We spent last week writing our engineering design context review, a paper that accomplishes two purposes: it helps the team thoroughly educate ourselves on museum conservation and preservation, and it creates a comprehensive document that communicates our project background and goal to our mentor (Matthew Wettergreen), our sponsor (the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston), and the outside audience (you!).

Here is a small section of our design context review concerning hardware. This is an important section for it is important to familiarize ourselves with the hardware associated with hanging two-dimensional art.

The Ozclip system consists of two types of clips, which together provide a permanent fixture for the hanging and transportation of stretched paintings: the hanging device, which features a ring for hanging and a holding device which is only used for transportation. Each device consists of a bar which is attached directly to the support of the art piece, and a holding arm, which pivots outward at a 90-degree angle to attach the piece to a travel frame for transport.

S-hooks are primarily used to hang pieces of art on sliding screens. As its name implies, an S-hook is in the shape of an S and uses the top part to attach to the screen, while the lower section is used to support the artwork. Since the hook is nonspecific, it can be used with anything that contains a secure upper ring or lip, such as a D-ring. Due to the universality of this system, S-hooks can be used easily and without construction, as they utilize preexisting hardware on the art.

bell hangerThe bell hanger is often used to securely attach the painting unto the wall and travel frames. The bell hangers are screwed unto the back of the picture frames on opposite sides, with the rounded ends protruding from the sides of the frame. These rounded ends are screwed unto the wall or travel frame. When not in use, one of the two screws holding the hanger unto the art frame can be removed, and the bell hanger can be rotated so that the round end no longer protrude out from the edge. The mending plate functions similarly to the bell hanger. It’s attached to the painting frame at one end, and the wall or travel frame at the other end.mending plate

Museum preparators use d-rings to hang paintings onto an exhibition wall. A painting needs two d-rings, a few screws, and a hanging wire to successfully and securely hang on a wall. The two d-rings attach to the painting’s frame, one on each side, and nails are used to secure each d-ring in place. Hanging wire is securely attached to each d-ring, and from this wire the painting hangs on the wall.



MFAH Rosine Building Field Trip

We were all looking forward to today, when we visited the Museum of Fine Art Houston storage facility, called the Rosine Building. We learned a lot about how the MFAH conserves, restores, and stores the artwork currently not on display in the Museum’s galleries. We met Wynne Phelan, the Head Conservator,  Andrea Guidi di Bagno, the Chief Paintings Conservator, as well as Curtis M. Gannon, the Collections Preparator, who all were very helpful in explaining the current storage and conservation system. The ability to speak with those who use travel frames every day was of great use to the team, for we were able to communicate our concerns and they were able to list their wishes for functions to integrate into our new design.

Tomorrow we plan to take the information we have learned and further research our findings. Here are some specifics we have learned that will help guide us in our research and design process.

What the museum uses and needs as travel frames is different form everything we have seen in our research. They want to be able to hang the travel frame on the current storage system — they don’t want to compact the frame.

Also, the fact that non-antique frames can be fragile was surprising.

Although we have learned a lot today, we are looking forward to our meeting with the preparators, for this will give us even more specific constrains and criteria for our design.

Preparation and the Engineering Design Process

Today’s team-building exercise involved making a pentagram out of a length of yarn. We had five minutes to plan how to “draw” the figure as a group, and the execution of our strategy had to take place in total silence. At first, the yarn wasn’t tied at the ends, so we just had to go through the motions of drawing the typical five-point star. Afterward, Dr. Wettergreen tied the yarn together so that we had to give the process more thought. Ting figured out how, starting from a triangle, we could cross the yarn of one side upon itself and pull it up to form a pentagram (which ended up being easier than our first task). Success!

A part of becoming familiar with the engineering design process involves understanding our project management. Throughout the project, we have several mentors inside and outside Rice. Within Rice, we have the support from Dr. Oden and Dr. Wettergreen, as well as the MFAH head conservator Wynne Phelan and the MFAH Head Registrar Julie Bakke. Dr. Wettergreen is our primary mentor, and will guide us along the process. In order to ensure a successful project, we have to set appropriate deadlines that give us ample time to finalize and perfect each component. Along with clear goals and deadlines, documentation plays an extremely important role. All the work we do must be documented in some form either in our binder, wiki or both. When working with paper, it’s important to use ink and to date and sign each page to secure the page’s integrity. This will allow us or anyone else to follow or process later, and reproduce it. Following this idea, we should never erase ideas that we decide to get rid of. It’s possible that they could prove useful later, or would merely illustrate how we reached our end result.

We had two lectures on the engineering design process. The first one was on the general design process, which is split into two parts: the design analysis and the solution stage. These two stages can be further broken down into five steps.

1a) defining and understanding the problem

1b) brainstorming solutions to the problem and picking the best ones

2) coming up with a design strategy and building our initial prototype based on 1b

3) testing and refining out prototype

4&5) analyze our work from start to finish, and write a final report

Our second lecture focused on the design analysis stage — specifically parts 1a and 1b. We brainstormed the main issues we will have to take into consideration as we come up with the design, and the driving criteria behind creating a new storage. We also discussed the importance of quantifying everything, so we have a basis for comparison and reproduction.

After lunch, we walked through the Museum of Fine Arts Houston to get an idea of the paintings we will be attempting to store in our new design solution. While the museum was filled with many traveling exhibitions, we were able to focus our attention to the modern and contemporary permanent collection works. We noted how the paintings differed in overall size, frame, and media, and we began to consider how these differences would translate into our travel frame design.