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:

Elevator Pitch for CCE Fellows Presentation

When it comes to conserving art, prevention is key. Rather than focusing on the restoration of art pieces, today’s museums keep damage from happening in the first place by strictly controlling the artwork’s environment and safely handling pieces.

Given the increasing transit of art pieces between different museums and private collections, as well as the typical flow of objects between archive and exhibit spaces, storage within the museum is becoming ever more dynamic. As artwork arrives and departs, conservators and preparators are forced to move pieces within and between storage facilities frequently. Intra-museum transport is of greater concern than ever, since every occasion in which a piece is handled represents a risk of damage.

At the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, preparators protect two-dimensional artwork during short-distance transport through the use of travel frames that follow a basic, universal structure and design: the art object appears to be floating in a shallow wooden box, attached such that nothing touches the surface or edges of the piece.

However, because travel frames must be custom-fabricated for each piece and are made of non-reusable materials, they are effectively single-use objects.  While empty travel frames could be stored for future use, they take up too much of the already limited space at the museum’s storage facilities, so they often have to be discarded. Furthermore, it takes a significant amount of time for museum preparators to build a travel frame and secure an art piece to it. Unfortunately, these factors make for an inefficient and ultimately wasteful system.

Hence the challenge posed to us by the MFAH: how can we redesign travel frames so as to optimize resources, space, labor, and time? Using a multidisciplinary and design-based approach, our team, under the mentorship of Dr. Matthew Wettergreen,  has developed working prototypes of solutions that can be implemented not only at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, but throughout the museum industry.


We have entered the final two weeks of the EDAAC program, and the third stage of the engineering design process—prototyping. Last Monday, we met with our sponsors from the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and presented our top five designs. The museum preparators and conservators discussed the designs and how they addressed the most pressing concern—protection. In the end, they picked two designs for us to build. We had already formed a shopping list for each design, tweaking our design slightly to be viable with off-the-shelf materials. After deciding on the designs, we quickly placed our order for parts. We ran into some minor problems, such as certain companies not having our parts available at the time. Since we only had two weeks to finish our prototypes, we did not have the luxury of waiting for back orders. Fortunately, most of our parts arrived in a timely manner. We spent the last week building our designs. This has involved a lot of cutting and grinding, since many of the off-the-shelf parts were not exactly the measurements we needed or did not match up as we had hoped. Despite some setbacks, we are making progress and have been able to piece together one of the prototypes. Seeing the design completed, we can better understand the shortcomings and order new parts and return old parts to correct theses issues.

Quantifying Quality: The Pugh Analysis

After many sessions of brainstorming, we have all amassed a mountain of design ideas, and begun to evaluate them. To help sift through our many ideas, we have employed the Pugh analysis. In order to do this, we figured out which attributes we thought were important, such as cost, longevity, ease of assembly and the ability to protect. All designs are different in their own ways, so we needed a base level to compare all things to. As a base, we compared all the designs to current wood frames used in museums. Within each criteria, the new design could receive a +, – or 0, if it was apparently better, worse or the same as the museum’s frame. Although this can simplify things because some designs may be much better than others, we need to further narrow our options with more analysis.

After the first round of analysis, we all had designs that not only had varying scores, but also varying differences. Using these scores, we were able to combine different ideas, so that one design could improve on the shortcomings of another. After a series of revisions, we’ll finally narrow down to ten ideas. From here we’ll be able to further narrow down our designs by the importance of each category.


Over this past week, we have been focused on the brainstorming stage of our design process. We started off with each member and Dr.Wettergreen getting a hundred index cards. We had an hour to write down any keywords of ideas we could think of that were relevant to the design, no matter how outrageous or impossible. Then we shuffled all the cards together and redistributed them. We did two more rounds of brainstorming, this time writing down additional ideas based off of what was already written on the index cards.

Afterward, we taped all of our cards on the glass walls around the OEDK conference room and started stacking repeated or similar ideas on top of each other. Once the 500 index cards were narrowed down, we started sifting through the cards and putting them into concept groups, such as materials, structures, and, of course, a category for impossible ideas (e.g. magic or the Force) and crazy ideas (too difficult for us to design in the span of 9 weeks). Once we had defined groups, we tried to cut down even more on the number of cards. Finally, we arrived at design blocks, which are the necessary components of our final design, and we were able to put our concepts into these blocks.

Now, rather than brainstorming individual elements or attributes,  it’s time to come up with complete designs. Through four hour-long rounds of brainstorming, during which each of us have to come up with 15 designs, our objective is to use each element listed under our design blocks at least once. Playing off of each other for new ideas, we will ultimately have all the designs that can potentially be included in next week’s Pugh analysis. Our goal will be to quantitatively evaluate the qualitative characteristics of about five designs to determine which one will eventually become our prototype.

Reflections on our Third Week

Last week was the culmination of the design analysis stage of our project. Having obtained all the information necessary to fully understand the problem we are faced with, it was time to synthesize everything we had learned in order to write a design context review. The week was stressful in that it was the first time we were held responsible for producing anything substantive, but the process of writing the review proved to be immensely rewarding.

Throughout the week, we worked separately, with each team member working on the section of the design context review he/she felt most confident in. On Wednesday, when we visited the on-site storage facilities of the MFAH and met with the Chief Registrar, Julie Bakke, and the Head Preparator, Dale Benson, I was amazed at how informed our questions and observations were, such that nothing we saw during our visit seemed as foreign as what we had encountered at the Rosine facility. Knowledge made for quite a self-esteem boost.

By Friday, we had completed a comprehensive document addressing the concept of preventive conservation, storage and handling solutions currently in use at the MFAH, the driving forces behind our design, and, most importantly, the design objectives and constraints that will direct the execution of our project. With Dr. Wettergreen’s guidance, we edited the design context review and finalized it yesterday.

Over the course of three weeks, we went from having no clue about art conservation to writing more than twenty pages on the subject. As I get over my state of disbelief at how far we’ve come and try to quell my apprehension as we move into the design and engineering stage of our project (i.e. the part that is, as of now, beyond my capabilities as a student of history and anthropology), the design context review is reassuring: if we were able to learn and do so much within the space of three weeks, what’s to stop us from having a prototype at the end of nine weeks?

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.



TEDx Houston

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Starting as a four-day conference in California 25 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The annual TED Conference invites the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes. Their talks are then made available, free, at The x in TEDx denotes an independently organized event. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks videos and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group.

This past Saturday, Hannah, Emily, and Ting had the opportunity to attend Houston’s first TEDx event, held at the University of Houston’s Wortham Auditorium, devoted to Expanding Perceptions. The speakers were a diverse group of artists, designers, entrepreneurs, scholars, architects, medical professionals, and other visionaries who are creating positive change within the Houston community and around the world. In between talks, they met and conversed with all sorts of interesting people who shared a desire to obtain and synthesize ideas.



To use only one word, TEDx Houston was enlightening. Between fascinating speakers and new acquaintances, I got far more out of the event than I had expected. Dr. Brené Brown’s account of her findings regarding shame and vulnerability and Dr. David Eagleman’s musings on the false dichotomy between science and religion gave me significant insights into my own life and reality, so those were the talks I could connect the most with. I was also drawn to the overriding theme of “making do with what you have,” which was approached in various ways (notably by Dan Phillips, who builds builds affordable houses from reclaimed and recycled materials).

The block of Rice speakers made me truly proud to attend this university. The heartfelt applause for Drs. Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden as they talked about Rice’s Beyond Traditional Borders initiative and the work that is done at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen was touching; I hope more people realize how feasible it is to solve the world’s most pressing health problems! Also, Dr. Stephen Klineberg’s talk about the Houston Area Survey and the remarkable demographic changes that the city has undergone was very informative: among other surprising statistics, I didn’t know that Houston currently has more (and younger) Hispanic residents than Anglos. Lastly, performances by the Two Star Symphony and a couple of Houston Ballet dancers made for wonderful spectacles.


I am so happy I devoted my Saturday to the Tedx Houston event; if school could be like this—and by this I mean one speaker after the other stretching my perception of human ability and creativity—I would never leave the classroom. I was greatly impressed by the wealth of knowledge and hope these people were able to deliver to a crowd of Houstonians. Favorite speakers for me included Dan Phillips, a man from Huntsville Texas who devotes his life to building cozy houses out of found and recycled materials, Dr. David Eagleman, who redefined my understanding of the world religions and how they affect society today, and David Crossley, a man who made it his mission to improve the quality of life in Houston by rethinking how a big, sprawling city should organize its commercial spaces, residential areas, and farmland.

Like Hannah, I was proud to be a student at Rice that day. Between the enlightening lectures by Dr. Klineberg and Dr. Wolfe, and the innovative devices created by students to improve global health under the tutelage of Dr. Oden and Dr. Richards-Kortum, I learned activities of those on my own campus that I had recently not been aware. It’s amazing what a team of students can achieve. I can only hope that Hannah, Ting, Quique and I will be as successful with our EDAAC summer project.


I was amazed at the range of topics covered, from construction to music. I loved the talk given by Dan Phillips from The Phoenix Commotion. Phillips uses perfectly usable goods that people throw away to build houses for low income families, single mothers, and artists. The houses are beautiful, and a living testament to his claim that repetition creates order, so a crooked pattern will look beautiful when repeated many times. Then there was the talk by Gracie Cavnar, founder of the Recipe for Success, who really has me waiting eagerly for the 100 acre urban farm coming soon to Houston.

I was also impressed by the display of fine arts, both the memorized self-composed performances of Two Star Symphony and the contemporary ballet performances from the troupe of Dominic Walsh. It was interesting to see behind the scenes and observe how a choreographer directs the dancers in rehearsals. Of course, the Rice professors were amazing as well, especially Dr.Oden and Dr.Richard-Kortum who showed everyone that students can help the world. I hope that our work this summer will have such an impact as well. All in all, it was a Saturday well spent in expanding my own perceptions.

Find Hannah, Emily, and Ting in this picture of the audience!

Find Hannah, Emily, and Ting in the audience!

Library research orientation

Today we began with a simple team building exercise. With 3 large envelopes deemed as rafts, we were challenged to cross a “river.” We took a few minutes to think over the process and decided to have one person hold all the rafts and forge the way. The first person stepped on one raft, laid down the second “raft” about 2 feet in front of her, put one foot on the second raft, and waited until the next person stepped onto the first raft before removing his/her foot and putting all of his/her weight on the second raft. Then we did the same process with the third raft, and everyone shifted up a raft, with the third person now on the first raft. The second person put a foot on the third raft, and the third person put a foot on the second raft so that the last person can have a foot on the first raft. With everyone on the rafts now, the first person can step off, and everyone starts moving up while making sure to have a foot touching a raft at all times. This way we successfully crossed the river!

After the team building exercise, we looked over the list of paintings that Wynne from the MFAH gave us. There were 28 works of art, so we had each person look into 7 art pieces and analyze the reason each art might need a travel frame. The art pieces ranged from the traditional oil and acrylic paints to photograph collages, and we were able to note a variety of reasons these pieces might be difficult to store.

In the afternoon, we had an orientation at the Fondren library where we learned how to use data bases such as JSTOR and EJournal Portal. This presentation was given by Jet M. Prendeville, Art & Architecture Librarian, and John Hunter, the Science & Engineering Librarian. It was very educational and we are looking forward to utilizing the Fondren Library resources in our background research.

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.