Re-housing unstable Limoges enamels
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The Walters Art Museum
While at the Walters Art Museum I worked with Ariel O’Conner, and under the guidance of Terry Drayman-Weisser, to re-house a collection of unstable Limoges enamels in a new sealed cabinet. The instability in the enamels derives from poor manufacture of some of the colorants, causing weeping and or crizzling depending on the condition of the environment. For several years the enamels were housed in the metal cabinets in the objects laboratory, since the environmental conditions in the lab were much more stable than those in the Walters primary storage space on the first floor, colloquially called Long Museum. Shortly before my start at the Walters, Terry purchased a sealed, powder-coated steel cabinet made by Delta Designs, Inc., to permanently house the enamels, and provide a much more stable environment to prevent further deterioration. Terry enlisted the help of Ariel and myself to re-house the enamels in the cabinet, with the goal to allow safe access the objects while optimizing space.
The cabinet consists of five drawers on sliding rails. The position of the drawers within the cabinet can be altered, and there is the capability of expansion with adding up to an additional seven drawers. The cabinet was sent with the five drawers positioned at the bottom, which made it necessary to remove and reposition them to suit our specific needs. The drawers proved easy to remove from the slide, but to remove the slide from the cabinet itself needed some more muscle. A wooden wedge and mallet was used to knock the slide loose, and avoid damage to the cabinet and ourselves.
Ariel and I disassembled the cabinet drawers. We then calculated where each drawer should be placed in the cabinet in order to leave space beneath the last drawer for silica gel, and provide the ability to expand capacity of the cabinet by five additional drawers. Once this was achieved, Ariel and I replaced the slides inside the cabinet. Working with Terry, the drawers were placed around the lab and the enamels were placed inside to optimize space. Photographs of the drawers were taken to record object placement, the objects were removed, and each drawer was lined with 1/8” Volara sheeting held in place by archival double-sided tape. The drawers were then placed in the cabinet and then filled with the objects. A data logger records the environment within the cabinet.
To ensure that all the objects are safely held in place, so the action of opening and closing the drawers does not cause unnecessary vibration and movement, Volara padding and bumpers where added where necessary. They were held down with double-sided tape or magnets; magnets made for more flexible, moveable bumpers, enabling objects to be repositioned as necessary. Former housing materials were also re-purposed to enable some enamels to be safely stacked within the drawers, increasing space efficiency. As the final the amount of silica gel needed to stabilize the relative humidity to 50% was calculated, tested, and placed beneath the bottom drawer.