Thursday, May 17, 2007

Professor Rowland Goes to New York

Addison visitors are well acquainted with our famous, and large, Thomas Eakins painting Professor Henry A. Rowland (see right). The painting shipped recently to the MET in New York City to be included in Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings: The Clark Brothers Collect that opens May 22 and runs until August 19, 2007. I traveled down to the MET to see the painting installed so I thought I'd post about it to give a little behind-the-scenes look at the adventures of museum couriering.

When I arrived at the MET, I was brought deep into the maze of corridors beneath the building to the vault the Professor's crate was stored in when it arrived. The painting had shipped the day before and been given twenty-four hours to acclimate to the MET's conditions. I then accompanied the crate and a crew of Registrars and Preparators up a massive freight elevator to the galleries. One of the Registrars cut a course through the throngs of visitors to the secured exhibition space where the piece would be hung. This was no easy task: the crate was 7 1/2 feet tall by 9 1/2 feet long. The painting had to travel on its side to fit on the truck and through doorways. Needless to say, the visitors quickly moved aside when they saw this coming!

In the secured exhibition space, the crate was laid flat, the lid removed, and the Professor carefully lifted up onto a side. The corners of the frame are very fragile and are prone to crack if the piece is torqued, so the utmost attention is given to its handling. Equal pressure had to be used along the sides of the frame as it was lifted onto a cart and wheeled to the spot where it would be hung. There, one of the MET's conservators and I meticulously inspected the painting. Thankfully, it had arrived without any damage. I checked the "no change" box on the condition report, an act that warms every Registrar's heart.

The MET took over from there. With one person perched above on an electric lift and two holding the painting below, the Professor was lifted up and hung on the wall from two long copper wires. The staff of the MET are experts at what they do: within just a few minutes, the 8 1/2 x 6 1/2 foot piece was level and centered in its spot with no need for adjustment.

Someone from the Addison will need to return in August when the show closes, but until then, we know the painting is hung securely and in good hands. So the next you're in New York, stop in at the MET and see the Professor. You'll be happy, as I'm sure the Professor was, to make the trip!

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