Today, we were given a tour of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (MFAH) collection and storage areas by Wynne Phelan, MFAH Conservation Director, and Julie Bakke, Chief Registrar of the MFAH. They started the tour by showcasing a variety of pieces in the museum and explaining the conservation issues surrounding these pieces.
One of the things we learned was that the history of the piece’s treatment was often more important than the age of the piece. We also learned about the specific concerns for different materials. They talked about specific needs for the housing of each piece. Some of the main priorities in establishing housing are visibility of the piece, minimizing handling, stabilizing the piece inside the housing, and making efficient use of space in the storage facilities.
They also gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of some of the current storage facilities. The storage of most of the MFAH permanent collection takes place at an off-site facility. We will be touring this facility next week. In the storage areas, we were surprised to find such basic components as cardboard boxes and bubblewrap that were being used to protect priceless works of art. Many of the objects weren’t packed at all, but placed on crowded shelves. This really opened our eyes to the need for a new approach to housing artwork.
After finishing the tour, we were able to sit down with Wynne and Julie and have some of our specific questions answered so that we could get a better understanding of the goals of our project. We need to create housing solutions that will meet the needs of the artwork under all circumstances with the exception of when they are on display. We came away with a better vision of what our project is really aiming for.
One of the most exciting things about our day was having a chance to see some of the pieces that Wynne and Julie had selected as possiblities for us to work with. A few of those pieces are currently on display at the museum, while others are in storage. After our museum trip, we had a chance to sit down and discuss which pieces we should design housing for. Choosing the actual pieces that will be the basis for our project was an important step, and is really making the project start to come to life.