Memorial Art Gallery Survey
By Rebecca Merrill
For over 15 years, the Textile Conservation Lab at the Cathedral has worked with the Memorial Art Gallery (MAG) at the University of Rochester in New York on surveying their collection of tapestries, embroideries, ecclesiastic textiles, small domestic needlework, lace, costumes, and ethnographic pieces among many others. Grant funding made the work possible in three phases (tapestries, embroideries, and then the rest) to provide MAG with a better understanding of the depth and breadth of their collection with an immediate goal to design new, appropriate storage for the collection.
Over the course of seven site visits, Marlene Eidelheit, Director of the Textile Conservation Lab, worked closely with Nancy Norwood, the European curator at MAG as well as the museum curatorial staff, art handlers, a registrar, and a staff photographer. During each onsite visit, objects were set up on tables as Eidelheit examined and documented each piece, assessed complete condition, technique, function and origin that would serve as a basis for individual reports and treatment proposals for every item. In all, over 600 pieces were assessed.
Understanding the diverse textile types historically and geographically and their structural state helped to inform a plan for a new purpose made textile storage at the museum, which was realized while updating catalogue database info and photography. In some cases, many textiles were unrolled for the first time in years revealing their distinctive character.
The collaboration between the conservators of the Lab and the curators of the MAG serves as a foundation going forward. The curators know the conservation needs of all the pieces and the conservators know the contextual information to treat those pieces in the future. For many, the tasks of learning what you have, knowing what work needs to be done, and creating a stable storage environment are important first steps.