It seems like just yesterday that I was telling you about the thousands of objects we needed to prep and mount to exhibit panels in the National Stamp Salon of the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery. Just about two months ago we began shipping Kivas full of panels from our offsite facility at the Office of Exhibit Central (OEC) to the National Postal Museum (NPM). After almost a year and a half of preparing objects in Mylar and mounting them to panel after panel, we have finally made it to the installation stage in our process.
I can’t come close to expressing the excitement of seeing Kivas rolling through the halls of NPM. After getting used to seeing them sitting in offsite storage every day, it feels like a step in the right direction to have the panels carted off to their final destination. When we were first sealing the Kivas in preparation to ship them to the museum, my immediate thought was that these big boxes feel like time capsules of the last year of my life. All of our activity over the past year exists now as a completed product all wrapped up in a nice neat package. It is not just the last year of my life in these bins either; it is several years of everyone’s lives at the National Postal Museum.
These Kivas hold five plus years of planning, designing, curating, organizing, prepping, mounting, checking and rechecking, not to mention days worth of problem solving that have all lead up to this very moment. Although the sight of a closed and sealed Kiva evokes a sense of completion, the path to getting here was certainly anything but neat. So, before I get too carried away with summing up the experience of prepping this exhibit, let me first explain the process of mounting thousands of objects to hundreds of panels. This, in conjunction with my last blog post, will help to illustrate why my heart is all a-flutter at the sight of corrugated plastic boxes being carted down the halls of the museum.
Much like encapsulating, the process of mounting is a repetitive and monotonous task. Unlike prepping objects, however, the result of mounting can be more gratifying because the objects are placed within their intended context. There are several tools and materials that are important to have around while mounting objects to panels. We found that the most helpful tool is the clear “L” ruler which allowed us to quickly align objects to text. We also use two small weights to hold rulers in place and double stick tape to adhere the object to the panel. The basic gist of our mounting system is as follows: Use the “L” ruler to align the object so that it is ½” from the text, use weights on the the ruler to hold the placement of the object, add double stick tape to the back of the encapsulated or backed and wrapped object, peel tape and adhere object to panel. Do that as many times as there are objects per every one of the 786 panels and voila! Project complete, right? Not so fast.
After we finish mounting panels, the curator comes in and double checks our work to make sure that all of the objects are in the right place. If anything needs to be changed we take care of it immediately. Sometimes objects need to be replaced, switched around, or curated out of the exhibit. This means panels get reprinted either because they need a caption removed, need a new caption, or need to be redesigned completely. That is not the only reason we reprint, either. If the dimensions of the object are off, we redesign and reprint. If there is a spelling error or text in a graphic, we redesign and reprint. If debris gets caught under the laminate, we reprint. As you can see, there are many details to sort out before we get a finished product. Not only was there a great deal of reprinting and re-mounting during this process, but there was also much time spent organizing, reorganizing, and renumbering panels. This in-depth problem solving and margin of error is what coined the term “Panelmonium”. The fact that we have finally forged our way through this pile of challenging minutia is what makes this moment of culmination that much sweeter. The video below illustrates just a small portion of what went into getting these panels mounted as well as the wonderful moment when we were finally able to seal, store, and move Kivas full of completed panels to NPM.
This is the final frontier of the National Stamp Salon (NSS). We have just finished installing the last of the panels, the three dimensional objects, and the interactive media into the NSS gallery. Everything is now in its place. These objects will remain on display for the next 30 years, meaning it has to look its very best. Similar to our system for mounting objects to panels, living up to the standard of “permanence” involves the resolution of many details.
Most of these issues are easily fixed with rags and scrapers, while other issues deal with the individual mechanics of the frames. When installing, we begin with general cleaning to get any obvious adhesive, residue, and dirt off of the glass, and then we go back and do a more detailed clean. But it is only when we finally get the panels behind the glass that we are able to see all of the minute imperfections. Knowing philatelists’ penchant for perfectionism, we prepare for very close inspection of our objects, and we make sure to scrape away any last bits of lint and residue that could be visual distractions before we complete the installation. In reality, the installation process is 85% cleaning 10% mechanical resolution and 5% actual installation. We do our best to keep it fun. The video below captures the essence of our experience while installing panels.
As you can see, it has been a long and arduous process. I remember when we first started working offsite at OEC and about a month or two into the project people would ask us if we were almost finished or at the halfway point yet. The concept of having an end in sight was so completely absurd at that point in time that the only thing we could do was laugh about it. There was a moment close to the end of the project when someone who was an intern at OEC when we started the project and later became an employee walked through our workspace. When she came through she said something to the effect of, “Are you still working on those stamps?” It is funny how much has happened since we began the progression of exhibit prep. So much has marked the time during the madness of getting ready for this new gallery to open. I hope you will join us on September 22, 2013, to celebrate the opening of the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery and all that has gone into making this amazing new space possible.