Learn how the museum successfully moved more than 30,000 objects from the Department of Costume & Textiles, including centuries-old textiles and contemporary apparel, to their new home in the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building.
In January 2008, the first of more than 30,000 objects from the Costume and Textiles department moved through the doors of the new storage facility in the Ruth and Raymond G. Perelman Building. This long-anticipated move, which took more than eight years to plan, began in November 1999 when the museum purchased the former Reliance Standard Insurance Company Building.
Funding for this project was generously provided with a Conservation Project Support grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
A plan for the future…
The announcement of the acquisition of the Perelman Building and, subsequently, the museum's intent to create a new Costume and Textiles storage facility, resource library, and study center, instigated an intensive period of research and planning.
The major questions that needed to be answered for the design and planning phase of the new storage facility were focused on two major themes:
The scope of the collection:
What types of objects does the museum have, and how many are there of each type?
What is the safest method of storage?
How much room will each object take when properly stored?
How much time/how many materials will be needed to rehouse the collection?
The ideal storage facility for the collection:
How does the museum plan to use the facility?
How much room is available for use in the Perelman Building?
What storage furniture will best meet the museum’s needs?
What are the ideal environmental and safety conditions for the new facility?
An “ideal storage” facility for the collection:
When planning for the new storage area, the Costume and Textiles conservator and curators had numerous discussions and made visits to more than fifteen collections storage facilities and museums throughout the United States and Europe.
A shared consensus for an “ideal storage space” included:
A storage area dedicated only to storage
Storage units that allow curators to view the collection easily, yet would close fully to protect the objects
Controlled access (security) to the storage area
Safe and easy object retrieval (without actually handling the object)
The ability to view objects without removing them from their housing whenever possible
A gaseous fire suppression system, backed up by a wet pipe suppression system
A system for objects to be grouped by:
Country of origin (western/non-western)
Type (printed fabric, hat, sampler, etc.)
With this list in place, staff was able to begin the next phase of the planning process, the physical space.
The rehousing (creation of safe and secure mounts or "housings") of the Costume and Textile collection took place over a four-year period from 2003-2007. In 2003, the Kress Foundation provided a fellowship for a project conservator to complete the first-aid treatments identified in the survey and to rehouse the European Textile collection. This was followed in 2004 by an IMLS Conservation Support Grant which supported the design and construction of custom mounts and housing for the American and Western European costumes and accessories. The project was completed with funding provided by a 2005 Mellon Foundation grant and from a storage facility budget.
Each specially designed mount provides full support to the object and minimizes handling and movement. The materials used to rehouse the objects had to be inert—they should not react adversely with the object, degrade, or emit harmful chemicals. The museum used acid-free blue board (corrugated cellulosic support) and polyethylene foam, which, unlike polyurethane foam, does not break down and create a powdery residue. The staff also strove for versatility, so that with a limited set of materials they could use them in various ways to produce mounts that were simple yet effective, and fairly quick to build.
Provide support and protection
Enable study with minimal handling
Be constructed using materials that have good aging characteristics and versatility
Although the buildings are only a short distance apart, the actual move of the objects was quite complex and involved numerous steps. Prior to the start of the move, each object was assigned a location within the new storage and the Registrar’s department attached a barcode label to each object. The barcodes were used to keep track of each object during each step of the move.
The type of conveyance used for each object was based on the way in which it would be stored in the new facility. Hanging costumes were placed on a traditional rolling clothes rack that was modified with an enclosed base and Tyvek™ cover. Objects that were to be stored on trays were placed into their assigned trays and the trays were then placed into a custom-designed conveyance cart for the move. These carts were also used for transporting rolled textiles. A variety of other standard conveyances and carts were used to transport boxed objects.
To ensure that the new facility remained free of insect infestation, all objects were subject to a low-temperature treatment (freezing) prior to the move. The objects were covered with tissue and the conveyances were wrapped in plastic. This step protected the objects from being damaged by condensation. The conveyances were placed in a large walk-in freezer. The objects remained in the freezer, at a minimum of -22°F, for two to four days, depending on the density of the objects. The conveyances were removed from the freezer and placed in a "thaw room" for a minimum of twenty-four hours to allow the objects to return to room temperature. A small percentage of objects in the collection that may have been harmed by exposure to low temperatures were treated using an oxygen scavenger.
The conveyances were moved through the lower levels of the Main Building to the loading dock where they were placed on a truck for the two-block trip to the new building.
In the new building, the objects were placed in their assigned locations. A variety of ladders and lifts were used to assist with the safe handling of the objects within the storage area. Small hanging costumes were placed on a forklift, to which a horizontal bar had been added. The bar was cranked up to the desired height allowing the technician to safely hang the piece in the assigned location.