Elvis has left the building at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. In fact, he's already arrived at the next stop on the national tour, the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA. Seems like pure museum magic when an exhibition suddenly appears in a gallery. Voila!
Behind the ropes, it's a bit more complicated than that, and we should know. The registrars here at the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) have installed and de-installed (hung up and taken down) hundreds of exhibitions--that's just one part of their job.
For this exhibition, Josette Cole was the registrar-in-chief--our Colonel Tom Parker on the scene, making sure that Al Wertheimer's original photographs were safe and secure as they were unpacked, handled, hung on the walls, and removed again after the exhibition.
During a typical de-install, registrars like Cole inspect the objects--large wall-hung photographs in this case--for any signs of damage.They take copious notes to document the condition of the photographs before they're sent to the next museum. If necessary, repairs or touch ups are made to frames and pictures since a Smithsonian traveling exhibition has to look flawless for each venue, even if the show has already been traveling for several years.
We, therefore, believe in a dose of preventative medicine. With the Elvis photographs, registrars installed buffered silca packs to the backs of the images to take out and/or add in moisture to the framed prints--keeping the photographs at a constant relative humidity. Ever seen a poster that's gotten wet? That ripple effect is a tell-tale sign of wicking moisture. Dry heat and excessive light can also damage sensitive photographs, and our rule is to keep objects out of direct sunlight and away from heating vents. (These are great tips for your own treasured items as well.)
General security was also an issue. This is ELVIS after all! "We didn't want anyone walking away from the gallery, with souvenirs", said Cole. As a final measure, the Smithsonian team installed security plates on the backs of the frames that keep everything firmly anchored to the wall.
Of course, the whole process appears seemless, from start to finish. The true museum magic is what happens in background, with dozens of dedicated professionals making the final presentation look fabulous. Nothing but the best for this iconic rock legend; thankyou, thankyouveramuch.