The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection Move

In recent months, I’ve been exploring issues related to moving museum costume and textile collections, including:  “Issues in Dress Collections: Storage & Moving” Part 1 and Part II, and “Issues In Dress Collection: Deaccessioning.” The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently moved their collection of ethnographic textiles and I asked the assistant curator of the collection, Diana Zlatanovski (pictured above), to answer some of my questions related to planning, resources, funding, and a number of other details that might help enlighten Wornthrough readers to how this process works for a number of museum collections.

Heather: What are the first steps you took towards planning a move?

Diana Zlatanovski: Once it was decided that the relocation was definitely going to happen, one of the early steps in planning the move was determining how we would need to staff the collection packing.  I knew we would be packing as much as we could ourselves, (instead of hiring fine arts packers) so it was a matter of how many people do we need packing for how many hours a day.  I did a test run of packing a few textiles to get an average time per piece and then multiplied that out by how many textiles we have, divided by how much time we had until the scheduled move day.  Voila!  I had an estimate of how many people we needed packing and for how many hours per week in order to be finished by our move date.

HV: What, if any literature, resources or websites did you use to plan?
DZ: One of my most helpful resources is a listserve administered by the Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums (RC-AAM).  I use it on a regular basis for information and great advice on all things museum collection related, the museum community has been really open and willing to share their experiences.  The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s website documenting their move and rehousing project is also really useful as is meeting directly with others who have moved their collections. [I highlighted their work in my earlier post, here]

(HLATC EAE1355, European piña tablecloth, 1950s)

HV: What issues/problems did you encounter and how did you address them?
DZ: We were lucky to not be faced with any huge unexpected problems, but a project of this scope will always have some issues that need addressing.  Most of our issues were spacial, objects that were too large to fit into standard box sizes; crates and cabinets that were too big to fit through doorways.   We were also dealing with a tiny tiny space which didn’t give us any room to move around and no freight elevator, just a small passenger elevator to get our entire collection from the 3rd floor down to the trucks.  Solutions involved a lot of creative thinking both on our part and from the moving company.

I did end up having some custom boxes and crates built for specific objects that couldn’t be contained in stock-sized boxes.  When ordering boxes, I made sure the bulk of the box sizes we used would fit onto our elevator, to reduce the hand carrying down the stairs to a minimum.  We did also have to widen one doorway leading out of the collection, in order to be able to remove some of our cabinets.

Staging was another obstacle during our move, the entire relocation was similar to a giant logic problem.  There were a lot of things that needed to happen concurrently as well as a lot of things that couldn’t happen before other things happened, all in very tight confines, both space and time wise.  If we’re reusing the same cabinets for storage in our new space, where do we store the boxes while we move the cabinets? We didn’t have the luxury of enough space to pack everything into boxes and leaving it waiting in our storage room until move day.  So we had to make sure to schedule everything perfectly so that as one aspect of the project moved along, another one moved into its spot.

Other problems, like Midwestern winters packing 20″ snowstorms could not be planned for, but we had contingency plans in place.  Always have contingency plans.

HV: Where did you apply for funding to help financially support the move?
DZ: The Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection (HLATC) exists as part of the School of Human Ecology (SOHE) at the University of Wisconsin.  All of SOHE , including the HLATC, was relocated due to a large renovation and new building project, so our move was funded by the overall relocation budget from SOHE.

HV: How many people were involved, what kinds of outside vendors did you use?
DZ: I was the only one assigned to the move on a full time basis, though I did also have to manage other curatorial tasks during the move process.  All of our packing was done by five curatorial assistants under my supervision.  We also had involvement from our curator as well as other departments on campus: the SOHE Dean’s office and the UW space management office.  I worked primarily with three vendors: our moving company-C. Coakley, our fine arts craters-Blueprint, and Gaylord Brothers for all of our packing materials.

(WFSA3091, Chancay, Peru, 1100-1400A.D.)

HV: How did you document any treatments done to objects before the move?
DZ: Any object treatments are ordinarily documented in our object record files and in our database records.  However, we did not have any object treatments specific to this relocation.  Our main documentation with the relocation was tracking objects by recording new object locations, box numbers, etc.

HV: Where are you now in that process?
DZ: The first phase of our move was completed at the end of January 2010.  Our collection will remain boxed and in storage for approximately two more years until our new building is ready for us to move back in.

(HLATC E1242A, Opera quilt, France, 1897-1900)

HV: What would you have done differently, if you could?
DZ: I wish I would’ve known that we would end up with a cushion of time at the end, so we could have done more cataloging of pieces as we packed them.

HV: What are your future plans for the collection?
DZ: In a couple of years, the HLATC will have a new home which will be a big improvement in storage space as well as research and public spaces.  Our location will be in a central part of SOHE’s new building so we are looking forward to improved visibility and accessibility for our patrons.  We are also currently growing our online offerings, and plan to do so in the future as well.

Thanks so much to Diana Zlatanovski for agreeing to participate in this interview, and providing such useful information! For more on their move, please visit the HLATC’s blog, which includes detailed photos of their experience.

*Photos by Jeff Miller and Diana Zlatanovski via the HLATC blog

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