By Josephine Johnson, Technician
Most of our time at Museum Textile Services is spent in the studio, but occasionally clients ask us to work on site. In January, we had the opportunity to revisit Amherst College's thankga collection, housed at the Mead Art Museum. These are the same 18 thangkas that we conserved in advance of the Mead's 2011-12 exhibit, Picturing Enlightenment. The thangkas are scheduled to travel to Middlebury College and need custom storage and transportation boxes.
On January 7th, 2014, Caamille, Cara and I trekked out to Amherst, MA, for a three-day, intensive box-building session. We worked in the high-security storage room surrounded by shelves packed with beautiful objects, and sliding panels covered in hundreds of rare paintings. It is an exciting place that few people have the pleasure of visiting.
All of our materials were waiting for us when we arrived in Amherst. Camille had already designed a system coroplast boxes, custom-made in three sizes by University Products in nearby Holyoke, Massachusetts. We purchased Volara and Photo-tex archival tissue from Masterpak, and rayon paper from Talas. The museum supplied a pallet of Ethafoam.
Our task was simple, but lengthy: to create a custom chamber inside one of the three sizes of box to precisely fit each thangka. First, Cara and I traced each thangka onto brown craft paper so that we would not have to handle the thangkas again until the boxes were ready. Next Camille and I spent several hours cutting two-inch Ethafoam strips to the height of the boxes. After Cara had lined each box with Volara, Camille adhered the strips of Ethafoam with archival hot-melt glue into the exact shape of the thangka. This "bumper" system prevents the thangkas from shifting within the box and allows the boxes to be safely stacked.
Once the bumpers were in place, each box was lined with soft rayon tissue paper. Cara and I then worked on custom cutting sheets of Photo-tex archival tissue paper to wrap the thangkas. Each thangka has two sheets of Photo-tex, one that wraps horizontally and one that wraps vertically. Before being wrapped in Photo-tex, rayon paper was placed over the delicate painted field on the thangka.
Cara and Josephine wrapping a thangka in Photo-tex paper.
During the last day at the Mead Art Museum, Cara and I packed all sixteen thangkas in their boxes. After being carefully wrapped, the thangkas were placed in their boxes inside the Ethafoam bumpers. The boxes, as well as the sheets of Photo-tex, were labeled with the accession number of the thangka. Now the thangkas wait peacefully in their boxes for the next professor, curator, or monk that might want to see them.
Stay tuned for a future blog on building the two custom boxes for the Mead's two oversized thangkas!