In the first portion of this discussion, I took a look at why a collection might need to rehouse or move its collection, and provided some basic resources that could be utilized for determining the best course of action for such collections. In this installment, and several subsequent postings, I’ll provide the transcripts of some (very) brief interviews I held with a number of curator/managers who have either been or are still in this position. I asked Christina Johnson of the FIDM Museum to provide some background information on her experience with rehousing the Rudi Gernrich collection:
The FIDM Museum was organized as a non-profit foundation in 1978 to provide a research facility of garments, accessories, and visual materials for students, researchers, designers, and the public. Throughout the years, the collection has been stored in various rooms within the Los Angeles campus sites of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, a private college.
FIDM’s current and permanent campus in downtown Los Angeles was built in 1990, and the collection was moved into two rooms there at that time. By 2000, the collection was distributed between three temperature and humidity-controlled rooms and had outgrown its designated space. Rooms contained poles for hanging storage with open shelves on top. The largest room was devoted to the Permanent Collection (1,445 square feet) and held approximately 8,000 items. Another room (515 square feet) contained 2,000 pieces including our Rudi Gernreich Archive and pieces waiting to be photographed for our database. Our Study Collection was stored in a room within our office suite (313 square feet). We also stored acquisitions that needed to be cataloged in our offices.
We had done a great deal of collections management before designing our new space. In 2003, accessories were still stored on open shelves and there was a great deal of dust. Over 5 years, standard box sizes were purchased to re-house all accessories. Hanging garments were transferred from wire and wooden hangers to padded archival hangers. We had to start storing new acquisitions on rolling racks within our permanent rows because of lack of space. Boxes were stored on the floor and objects would easily be damaged by a flood.
We acquired a 2,000 piece archive of Gianni Versace menswear in 2006 which would not fit in storage. It was readily apparent we needed more space but would not be given an additional room so we were approved by FIDM administration to design compact storage. We stored the Versace collection offsite until it could be moved into our new storage. We worked with Paul Jemelita at Compact Storage to design banks that would hold hanging and boxed items. Compact storage is a series of rolling metal banks which move to create a single, adjustable aisle. We spoke with other museum employees with this type of storage to see what they liked and what they would change about their own systems. We also visited one museum with compact storage.
Compact storage was installed room by room in 2008. We started with the largest room. A temporary storage room was constructed within the FIDM Galleries on the ground floor. An issue with the paint used on the walls quickly arose. Museum staff was concerned about garments touching the painted surface and possible off-gassing but because of time constraints, we had to move the collection. We stapled washed muslin to all walls to protect the garments as best as possible. Our staff of 5 moved the entire Permanent Collection (located on the third floor) in 4 days. We worked in pairs and used racks covered with tyvek for the hanging garments and carts for the boxed items. The collection was moved and temporarily stored in the order in which it is permanently stored, so it could be put back the same way. After compact storage was installed (which took two months per room), we cleaned (wiped down all banks, mopped floors) and moved the collection back. This process was done for each of our three storage rooms.
Moving a collection was a great deal of physical work. It was constant moving eight hours a day. Some of us chose to start at 6 am to avoid bumping into students. We also had to stop between passing periods, because the halls and freight elevator get crowded. We chose to move the collection in parts, room by room, because we could store things in our Galleries onsite. We could have moved and installed compact storage in all three storage rooms at once, but that would have entailed moving all objects offsite, to a larger room than what was available in our Galleries. We were lucky in that we did not have to “pack” garments for offsite transport. They were simply hung on poles or moved in their original box down the hall, in the elevator, down another hall, and into our Galleries.
Some garments which were strong enough to hang on old stationary poles were not strong enough to hang on the poles within the new compact storage banks. Garments in this type of storage do sway back and forth a bit. These delicate hanging garments were placed in boxes after being moved. After being housed in new storage, the Collections Manager checked each garment for damage and to make sure it was in the correct order. The new storage banks are not made with covers so a Museum intern is making magnetized covers of ripstop nylon to protect the collection from light, dust, and possible water leaks.
I want to extend a huge thank you to Christina for providing such a helpful and detailed narrative of her experience with moving a collection into new storage, for providing useful information on vendors, and on how she and her team managed to execute this move all while avoiding crowded, student-filled hallways. Stay tuned for the next “installation.”
* Petticoats after archival hangers, FIDM Museum, 2006