What support do objects on display require?

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Category: Display
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Posted by Conservation Answers(Questions:33:Answers28)
Answered On 25 February, 2014 12:37 am

One of the main aims of displays is to allow our visitors to view and learn about the collection. Depending on the type of object, displays may help the viewer to understand how the objects were made, how they were used, who used them and why they are significant.

The way an object is physically displayed can greatly assist in these aims. Displaying items in their correct orientation is a key to achieving this, and is simple and obvious for many types of objects. However, many objects need specific supports to allow them to be safely presented in realistic, easily viewable ways.

Think of the shape and materials from which the object is made, then aim to support the item at its most vulnerable points.

  • If books are to be displayed open, they require a book cradle to prevent damage to the spine.
    A book support helps prevent damage to spine.

    A book support helps prevent damage to spine.

  • Costumes are more safely and easily viewed when displayed on a mannequin form. It is difficult to fully appreciate them if they are just hung on coathangers, and these can put a great deal of stress on the shoulder seams.Please note: Great care must be taken when placing a costume on a mannequin. Mannequin arms and legs can be difficult to fit and may damage the costume.
    Dress made by Mrs Pat McDonald, a Dandenong dressmaker. Photo courtesy Heritage Hill Museum and Historic Gardens, Dandenong, Victoria.

    Dress made by Mrs Pat McDonald, a Dandenong dressmaker. Photo courtesy Heritage Hill Museum and Historic Gardens, Dandenong, Victoria.

  • 3D objects need support to prevent them sagging or falling over.
  • Vehicles benefit from chassis and axle supports.
    A vehicle on display using axle jacks. These take the weight off the tyres and wheels, reducing the risk of the wheels becoming misshapen.  Photo courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.

    A vehicle on display using axle jacks. These take the weight off the tyres and wheels, reducing the risk of the wheels becoming misshapen.
    Photo courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.

  • Even robust items such as canoes and boats need supports. These items have been designed to be placed in water, and when in use the water provides support along the vessel's base and sides. Please see image in the Smithsonian Museum Support Center, linked below, to see how you may provide this support when the canoe or boat is out of the water. Note the white foam blocks under the canoe.

Keep these concepts in mind when thinking about displaying (and storing) these kind of items.

Examples of how to safely store and move large objects can be seen at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center site at http://www.nmnh.si.edu/anthro/conservation/bigstuff.htm

While the funds and other resources of the Smithsonian may be on a rather different scale to that of your museum, the methods used by their conservation and collection management staff to move the collection of the National Museum of Natural History may provide further helpful tips.

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