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Monumental Moves: Sweating over Big Artifacts (Part 1)

Post by Carolyn Sirett, Conservator

If you want to see the blood pressure rise in a conservator, display really big, historically significant, breakable objects at least ten feet off the ground.   It’s the next phase in our Bringing Our Stories Forward capital gallery renewal project, and the conservation team has moved to treating artifacts for the Winnipeg Gallery set to open in the fall of 2019.  The objects going on display are not only monumental in size, but genuine monuments from some of the city’s most iconic architectural buildings.

Remember the second old city hall? For anyone born after 1962, probably not, as this was the year the building was demolished. But that’s OK! Before the wrecking ball came crashing down to make way for the new modern city hall, the museum was given two large stained glass windows that stood above the main entryways.  These beautiful stained glass objects measure approximately nine feet wide by four feet tall and weigh a little over 100 pounds. Being so large, and obviously fragile in nature, you can see why a conservator, who repairs artifacts daily, becomes hesitant when they are handed design drawings of one of these windows being displayed above the entrance to the new Winnipeg Gallery.

So what’s the big deal?  No matter the size, all artifacts are prone to deterioration.  The issue that was assessed for our chosen window is that over the last one hundred years the glass on the window has begun to slump and a visible concave shape has formed in the object, as well as several cracks and some areas of loss.  In order to reverse this damage, we teamed up with Prairie Studio Glass who will help us with the restoration process. The first big step was moving the nine foot wide window from our basement storage, to the loading dock, onto a trailer and safely transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop twelve blocks away where they can begin to dismantle each piece before putting it back together again – did I mention that this all needed to be done without causing more damage?

Moving the stained glass window out of basement storage. © Manitoba Museum

A very excited conservation team that we made it all the way to the loading dock. © Manitoba Museum

 

Stained glass window successfully transported to Prairie Studio Glass’s workshop. © Manitoba Museum

Our second big artifact preparation is what we like to call the Eaton’s lintel.  This structure once resided on Portage Avenue as part of the exterior facade of the downtown Eaton’s department store (1905 – 2003), which after demolition became the home of our beloved Winnipeg Jets.  Spanning seventeen feet in length, weighing approximately 5,000 pounds, composed of 17 separate limestone blocks, and three brass fixtures, it is the largest and heaviest artifact going into the new gallery.  Currently located in our off-site storage facility, groundwork for this object will include construction of an engineered mount to support the weight of stones, pre-assembly of all the pieces (to make sure everything fits!) and general cleaning of the limestone and brass surfaces.

Beginning to piece the lintel together in our off-site storage facility. © Manitoba Museum

Once this is complete the lintel will be moved to the museum, carted across the galleries and installed in its new home.  Again, a lot of moving around here!

How many architects, engineers, and museum staff does it take to build a mount for a 5,000 pound artifact? © Manitoba Museum

No matter the size of the artifact, as a conservator we are always up for the challenge of preserving our biggest or littlest objects. Stay tuned for part two of this blog which will capture some of the treatment work performed on both of these monumental pieces.

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