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Cornwall Museums Partnership

Rehanging Week at Penlee House

This week is rehanging week at Penlee House. Time is precious and there is so much to be done in just one week ready to open the doors for another wonderful exhibition.

We were led by Katie Herbert, Deputy Director and Curator at Penlee House who very kindly gave up some of her busy schedule to talk us through what happens in the rehanging week and show us the tools and routines.

This week’s rehanging involved Galleries 2, 3, 4 and 5 plus the museum because over the Christmas season Gallery 1 is Penlee House’s annual selling exhibition of work by ‘Cornwall Crafts’ with a wealth of handmade pieces by some of our craftspeople.

24th November is the start of the fourth exhibition of ‘Penlee Inspired’. Exhibiting contemporary local talent.  Katie told us that there had been 110+ applications and the staff had to carefully select pieces that showed technical ability and a direct link to the exhibitions and its works.

We entered gallery 2 and immediately felt a difference in the atmosphere. The gallery is normally a spacious void with only a small table/bench in the centre surrounded by beautiful paintings on the walls. The calm serenity had been disrupted with trolleys, tools, materials, packaging and frames cluttering the floors. The walls were bare except for the few famous paintings that had already been hung depicting the inspirations for the works entered for the exhibition.

Katie was in the process of positioning the entries around the base of their relevant walls where they would be shown alongside the original paintings.

Richard (Technical Officer) and David (Visitor Services and Security Officer) were busy sorting which fixings to use to display the works.  Richard makes the mounts and frames for some works if necessary.

The complex process is completed in one week. The galleries are refurbished and on the opening of the new exhibition all galleries look pristine.

It all starts on Sunday, when Gallery 5 is changed-over first so that the public can visit the museum and gallery 5, whilst the other galleries are closed for rehanging.

The hectic week commences with dedication and expertise.

Monday: The paintings are taken down, each work is carefully checked by Katie with the checklist to ensure no damage has occurred during their time on display.  The works are packed up safely in their relevant boxes or crates depending on size and returned to their owners or to the racks in our stores.  Forward planning is required to arrange transport and insurance.  Gloves are worn throughout the process to protect the paintings and works.

Tuesday: Continuing with the packing and checking. Then Katie decides where the new paintings and works will be placed. Screw holes have to be filled and any marks on the walls repainted.

Wednesday:  The new incoming paintings and works arrive, Katie arranged the transportation and took out indemnity insurance three months in advance.  The paintings are carefully unpacked and Katie condition checks them, examining each one in minute detail with the checking list, recording any existing damage or unstable areas of paint. This includes the frames.  Larger galleries that have loaned their paintings to Penlee have a completed check list which Katie can verify and add to if necessary. The packaging is then stored ready for packing up after the exhibition.  If time permits laying out the paintings for display can start.

Thursday: Laying out the exhibition, the works are placed on dense sponge blocks around the walls where they will be displayed. During this process the paintings are very vulnerable which is why the gallery is closed for security, safety and insurance purposes.  Katie positions each painting to work in harmony with those around it.  The overall layout needs to make sense both visually and intellectually while enticing the visitor around.  The ‘Penlee Inspired’ exhibition needed extra thought, choosing the right sized walls to accommodate the original works and compliment the inspired creations. Next comes the hanging of the works. With the strong arms of David and Richard holding up the paintings following Katie’s instructions for placement. All pictures must be securely fixed to the wall either using mirror plates or specially sourced Museum fittings. After which, the lighting is set up and adjusted including taking light readings to ensure that the works are at approved ‘lux’ levels to avoid light damage.

Friday: Continues from Thursday. Cabinets and any other furniture have been positioned. Masking tape is painted the same colour as the walls to cover the mirror plates and brackets.  The typed descriptive labels are positioned by the paintings and works.  Barriers are put in place, which just leaves the tidying up sweeping the floors.

Then our exhausted staff arrange the reception for Open Evening, setting out the refreshments and glasses. The shop has been arranged with books portraying the current Artist. The microphone is set up for the guest’s opening introductory talk.  The doors open, it’s time to relax or collapse and enjoy the compliments from the audience eager to view the new exhibition.

As Citizen Curators, we wondered how we could help with the rehanging, doing the mundane jobs that take time. Painting the masking tape before it covers the fixings, sorting out fixings, maybe checking the paintings off with the checklists or helping with the unpacking.  Bearing in mind that sometimes it is safer to have a few people around the precious paintings and may not be a case of many hands make light work.

– Hazel Smith, Citzen Curator at Penlee House Art Gallery and Museum

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