What’s more fragile, a 19th century crystal decanter or a newspaper clipping from 1948? Well, it depends on whether you are throwing them or exhibiting them, it turns out. If you fling the glass decanter and the newspaper clipping against the wall…well, um, don’t do that, ok? Not a good idea!
But, if you want to display your decanter alongside an advertisement from the company that produced it, you should know that the newspaper may be more challenging to protect than the glass.
This year, the Library exhibition, Designing for a New Century: Works on Paper by Lalique and his Contemporaries, includes 17 original works on paper from the Rakow Library collection and 7 glass objects from the Museum collection. This was the first exhibition which included such a large group of original, paper-based materials. To ensure their safety, the Library consulted a paper conservator.
Our conservator examined the materials we wished to exhibit and, based on light and humidity levels in the atrium, recommended we exclude several items due to their condition: a 1925 travel guide from Paris and a watercolor and ink drawing by Auguste Herbst, designer for Gallé, also from around 1925. Both were damaged by water at some point and needed treatment.
Several drawings required “sink matting,” which refers to the use of a thicker mat to better protect surface materials, in this case, glass sequins, from being separated from the drawing.
The type of paint, adhesive, and even the color of the ink can make some paper more vulnerable to light, temperature, and rough handling than other paper.
For several weeks prior to the exhibition, Library staff measured the light levels at various times in the day to get a complete picture of the exposure the materials would face. Humidity levels were already well under control, thanks to the Rakow’s excellent climate control system. In addition, the display cases were all of high quality and would filter out much of the UV exposure that reached them.
We still faced the challenge of reducing the sunlight in the Library’s atrium, which was designed to allow natural light into the building. Museum staff from the conservation and preparatory department came by to look at the space and discuss the best options for displaying paper-based materials. Based on that discussion, a piece of foam board was added to cover the transparent tops of the freestanding display cases. The light levels immediately plummeted by half or more in some cases, dropping them down to an acceptable number of “footcandles,” the term used by conservators to measure light exposure.
We were left then, with the problem of the large “slab” case that visitors look down into.
The foam board on top wouldn’t work for that, clearly, so we made the decision to switch the drawings in that case after 6 months on display. A new set of 5 drawings would replace those currently on display and remain for the final 3 months of the exhibition.
The new drawings, installed last month, include:
A rose-tinted watercolor vase design by Maurice Marinot, a watercolor of three vases by Eugène Muller of Muller Frères, an ink on onionskin vase with flowers overlaid by Emile Gallé, a sequined vase from Buchholz and Zelt, and an ink and watercolor decanter design from Atelier L. C. C., Créations. Stop by and see the new display before the exhibition comes to a close on January 4th, 2015.
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9am to 5pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.