How to Move a Collection: Many Hands

How many pairs of hands does it take to move a collection? In the case of the Stanley Museum of Art, an eight-member team of registrars and preparators has assembled to navigate the complexities of moving the collection to the new building.

Manager of Collections & Exhibitions Katherine Wilson is the project manager. Her role is to organize data, plan the various stages of the move—which objects are packed when—and to stay a step ahead of the team, ensuring they have everything needed to address a new collection.

Registrars Sara Luko and Sayuri Sasaki Hemann pull objects from storage, tag or label each object, and take note of the physical condition. The move is an excellent opportunity for the moving team to gather information missing from the object’s record, such as storage needs, dimensions, and handling and installation instructions. After the object is packed and ready to move, registrars record its location, guaranteeing an accurate inventory.

Once a registrar has completed their work on an object, it is handed off to the preparators. The artwork will be assigned to a specific preparator to ensure it is being packed by the most suitable individual. While the entire team has the skills to pack any type of art, work is assigned according to each team member’s strengths. Nearly all the preparators have a degree in fine arts, an education that helps them understand the nature of each object and what potential weakness are inherent in each art form. Manager of Design, Preparation & Installation Steve Erickson and Ariana Santana Flores—who previously worked for a national fine art moving company—handle the most complex and fragile objects as they both have the most years of experience packing artwork. Alexandra Janezic and Zoe Webb are highly experienced in working with paper and archives. Charles Williams is new to the team and is training with each preparator to find his preferred medium. Sayuri Hemann occasionally lends a hand with packing as she is a former preparator for the Stanley Museum of Art.

When a preparator receives an object, they create an action plan for the piece, consulting with the rest of the team if unsure of the best approach. Once the object is packed, the box is labeled with preprinted stickers and a registrar then determines where the artwork will go next. For example, if the work will appear in the museum’s inaugural exhibition, it will be stored with other inaugural objects so that they remain together ahead of their installation in the new building.

The work area at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, where the majority of the collection is stored, is set up so each team member has an individual space to do their work. There is a central station for cutting large pieces of foam and cardboard, along with two hot gluing stations. Packing supplies like boxes, bags, and foam are located within easy access of each team member.

To maximize efficiency the team packs artworks of similar size and material simultaneously. This allows the team to focus on one packing style at a time. To date, half the collection is packed, including almost every painting in the collection. Current efforts are being focused on paper and ceramics. Unframed works on paper pack quickly as they are already stored in solander boxes, requiring only the addition of padding to prevent works from shifting in transport. Ceramics require a more elaborate process, as each piece requires careful examination to determine the most appropriate packing method.

Over the course of the next year, Katherine, Steve, Sarah, Alexandra, Sayuri, Ariana, Zoe, and Charles will safely shepherd these objects, now scattered across multiple storage locations, back to Iowa City. The Stanley Museum of Art is very fortunate to have this dedicated team working on this multi-year project.

[From the Fall 2021 Stanley Museum of Art Magazine.]

all photos by Steve Erickson