Shelves to showcases

A package from Mitchell. February 2011. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Our Registration team has been hard at work on Landmarks, both in our gallery space at Acton and at our repository in Mitchell.  Registrar Janet Mack tells us about her work.

The Registration section of the NMA has been involved with the new Landmarks gallery for quite some time. Two years ago I began working with the 500 objects which had been selected from the National Museum of Australia’s National Historical Collection housed in the NMA’s stores at Mitchell.

Landmarks objects in storage at Mitchell. August 2010. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

My task was to work with the objects and ensure that each one was accurately measured and photographed from four sides and from above. Once the designers had this information they could start designing the individual showcases and positioning the objects within the cases.

Registration photos of Hanbury Clements' soup tureen. (Photos: Janet Mack)

The tureen as part of our Sydney exhibit, drawn by Cunningham Martyn Design using Janet's photographs and measurements.

During the three months I worked on the Landmarks documentation project, I became very familiar with many of the objects now being installed into the gallery space.   Now that I am working on the Landmarks install team I am becoming familiar with them all over again.

Janet unwraps an object for installation. February 2011. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Every morning I load up a trolley with the objects to be installed on that day and wheel it up to the relevant showcase in the gallery. Each object being installed has first to be transported to the Museum building from the off site stores at Mitchell. To ensure that each item makes the journey to its new home at Acton safely, and in the same condition as it left the store, it is first placed into specialist packaging for transport by registration team members.

Janet and the team work on the Springfield exhibit. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

As a registration team member I am also responsible for opening the showcases which are to have objects installed into them. Once they are opened, registration, conservation and contract staff discuss the order in which objects can be fitted to their prefabricated mounts. This allows each different object to be positioned correctly in the case; every single one has varying and individual requirements. Some items are attached to individual plinths; others have specially made backing boards which have to be securely fastened to the showcases so that they can support the pieces being attached to them.

Janet and contractor Sonja Knudsen working on a plinth for the Sydney exhibit. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Once the order of the objects to be installed is decided, I unpack each one so that it is ready to be placed in its mount. Sometimes the object is small enough to take out of its packaging on my own, such as ceramic shards collected from the Parramatta Female Factory.

Janet, Sonja and conservator Cathy Collins working with archaeological material collected from the site of the former Parramatta Female Factory. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

At other times, the object is large, and therefore needed complicated packing such as the large and elaborately framed embroidery from St John’s Cathedral, Parramatta. This needed two people to transport it, and it also required careful unpacking of layers of padding and supports before it could be moved to an object trolley where the mount could be fitted.

Janet and conservator Rebecca Ellis with an 1846 embroidery by Eliza Staff. The embroidery is on loan from St John's Cathedral, Parramatta. (Photo: Rathicca Chandra)

Any specialist packaging has been made using archivally sound materials, and this means that they can be stored off site and then used as permanent storage when the objects come off display.

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