by Katie Womack, Collections Manager, The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza
Now that our new exhibit, A Time for Greatness: The 1960 Kennedy Campaign, has officially opened, it’s time to relax (just a little!) and take a look back at the installation process. While the few weeks prior to an exhibition opening are a flurry of activity in the gallery, the work of installation planning begins long before any walls are built or artifacts are installed.
Early on in the development of this exhibition, staff from the Curatorial and Collections departments began formulating a concept for A Time for Greatness, determining the “story” that would be told through artifacts chosen from our collections, text and video. For this exhibit, which focuses on John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign, we also wanted to provide visitors with an interactive experience and the concept of an interactive mock Kennedy Campaign Headquarters was born.
At this point, collections items were also being selected for the exhibition and space planning was beginning to take place. Figuring out where to put the walls and making sure there are enough space to accommodate everything we wanted to display–especially in a 1901 structure with columns and windows everywhere–can be a challenge! After many sketches, discussions and a morning spent applying tape to the floor to mimic the wall configuration, we finalized the layout.
We also needed to plan for and prepare collections materials for display in the gallery. All of the campaign posters needed to be framed and several also required conservation treatment.
Small objects and magazines would need to be displayed in cases; for this show we had some cases fabricated and some were generously loaned to us by our friends at the Amon Carter museum. Other items, such as a group of campaign pins, were carefully installed by staff in a shadowbox frame. Staff used archival materials to construct mounts for items such as bumper stickers and magazines and we devised a plan to hang an original, 11-foot-long(!) 1960 Kennedy-Johnson banner using rare earth magnets. Photographs from Kennedy’s September 1960 campaign stops in North Texas were reproduced at varying sizes and images of collections items were used in text panels.
Once our amazing Operations team built the walls in the gallery, we were able to get in the space and start working! First on the agenda was the interactive Kennedy Campaign Headquarters. It was so much fun to move the vintage furniture and office accessories we had purchased especially for the exhibit into the gallery and see that part of the exhibit transform into a little slice of 1960. It’s been so cool since the exhibit opened to see so many fun photos of visitors “working” at Campaign Headquarters!
The week before the exhibit opened we worked with fine art handlers to move the pedestals into place, hang the campaign posters from the collection, install artifacts in the pedestals and hang the text panels and photographs. After getting the video portion up and running and doing some last-minute paint touch-ups, the show was finally ready.
Our team worked so hard on this new exhibit and we could not be more proud to show it to you! Come see A Time for Greatness for yourself and share your pics from Campaign Headquarters and meeting Kennedy on the campaign trail using hashtag #JFK1960!
Learn more about the exhibit and upcoming exclusive exhibit programming at JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.
by Tish Brewer, Guest Blogger, The Center for Art Conservation
I had the pleasure of working on several objects for A Time For Greatness, the upcoming exhibition at The Sixth Floor Museum, providing conservation treatment to structurally stabilize them, as well as improve them aesthetically for display. Many people don’t realize the intricate work that goes into getting these pieces of the past ready for viewing.
These artifacts–campaign posters and broadsides, newspapers, and other widely dispersed materials–were meant to be somewhat ephemeral when created. Having been produced quickly and cheaply for wide distribution, they are often made with paper fibers of poor quality. These materials do not often age well, due to a combination of inherent vice (the tendency of objects to deteriorate due to instability of components within) and storage/environmental conditions. They are also handled frequently, making physical damage quite common from rolling and unrolling, hanging, and general use.
Typical issues decades later involve heavy wear including overall surface soil, abraded paper and media, complex tearing, losses to support, weakened or broken fold lines, varying degrees of discoloration, permanent creasing or bending of paper fibers, and distortion. Other common issues are a result of prior repair during or after frequent use and handling, such as tape attachments with associated staining, partial backings or mounts, and clumsy inpainting.
Conservation treatment of these objects was varied but generally involved dry surface cleaning, removal of tape attachments and backing materials, reduction of residual adhesives, overall washing when needed, mending of tears, filling of losses to the paper support, and inpainting of fills as well as tears when necessary. Treatment is as non-invasive as possible while also taking into account desired aesthetics. An important part of what we do is making sure that any repairs we make are reversible.
Reversing the Damage
In the photo above, a large election poster is being immersion washed, after surface cleaning and extensive pressure-sensitive tape removal. The poster was then fully dried, and an extensive scarf tear was aligned from the front (seen in the photo below) before mending from within using wheat starch paste, followed by mending from the reverse using strips of Japanese tissue adhered with paste. All mends can be easily reversed in the future using water.
A smaller broadside had significant orange-brown stains in all corners due to tapes applied long ago. These stains were treated with solvents over a suction platen to reduce them as much as possible.
Filling the Gaps
Localized treatment of staining was followed by washing, mending, and the creation of fills. Mends and fills were done with Japanese tissue, which comes in a range of weights, and is quite strong due to the long paper fibers. Some tissues are thin enough to read through, and others are more appropriate for overall stabilization of paper objects. They can be toned either before or after application, torn in strips for mending, or perforated in specific shapes for fills.
Another large poster had extensive insect damage, which was inappropriately repaired by adhering large swaths of copy paper to the reverse. After removing the repairs using heat, and reducing the adhesives as much as possible, the poster was washed and the reverse was lined overall with Japanese tissue. A detail of the loss after backing removal and prior to lining is seen below.
When part of the art is missing, we often inpaint to fill in what is gone using watercolors, colored pencils, and/or pastels, after applying an isolating layer (again, for reversibility). With the Nixon broadside seen below, I went between inpainting under the microscope with a tiny brush and inpainting with naked eyes using colored pencils. New media was applied in small dots to match the original printing pattern.
This is just a sample of the work done by my team to ensure the amazing pieces that you’ll see in A Time For Greatness are as close as they can be to what they looked like back in 1960. To learn more about the exhibit, visit JFK.org/ATimeForGreatness.
Guest blogger Tish Brewer is a paper conservator at The Center for Art Conservation in Dallas, TX.