Improving the safety and accessibility of the Textile and Fashion Arts collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Bag collection at MFA Boston
The MFA’s collection was started when New England was the center of the US textile industry. Today the Museum owns more than 40,000 examples of the textile and fashion arts ranging from American needlepoint to European tapestries, Middle Eastern rugs, African kente cloths, and haute couture fashions.
The collection of handbags numbers about 500 and ranges from the 17th century to the 21st.
Envelope bag on a padded corrugated board
2/3: This “envelope” bag lies on a padded corrugated board, covered with cotton knit. The cotton knit provides enough friction to hold the bag in place. To encourage proper handling, thumb depressions were made on the sides of the pallet. Because pallets abut each other in drawers, the corners were cut to allow enough space between pallets so that they can be easily lifted and moved.
Inset covered board for beaded bag
2/2: This brown and yellow bag has beaded tassels and a chain handle. In order to hold the bag in place and contain these movable parts, the mount is constructed as a padded, fabric-covered pallet with a shaped depression sewn into the padding. An industrial sewing machine allows sewing through the cardboard, batting and cotton knit to secure the outline of the depression.
Drawstring bag stored in box
This convex enamel sided bag with pink silk ribbons is supported in its own custom-fit box. It has a padded muslin lining with a depression underneath made to the shape of the enamel on the reverse. Strings and tassels rest in the box, while small Volara bumpers hold a heavy tassel in place at left. The bag is supported and slightly expanded inside with soft tissue paper.
Knitted bag stored on custom fit low-profile box
2/2: This knit bag with beaded embroidery and wire interior circles is gently expanded with a silk-covered insert pillow to relieve folds and creases. The bag lies on its side, and two additional silk-covered pads are placed beneath the bag to support it in this position. The custom fit low-profile box allows the bag to be moved and examined without being disturbed.
Bag with metal lid stored on foam block
The rigid metal lid and chain handle on this soft beaded bag need to be supported at the point where the beaded section meets the metal lid. Held in a slightly open position on a raised foam block, the bag is protected from collapsing on itself at that fragile connection. The block is wrapped in Tyvek, and the Volara foam stops secure the lid. The beaded section of the bag rests on a shaped pillow.
Written by Karen Gausch and Joel Thompson.
Drawings by Karen Gausch.
Karen Gausch earned a BFA in fine art from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY, in 1983 and has been working in the museum exhibition field for more than 20 years. She has worked with private and corporate collections, among them the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt Museum and PepsiCo. Her experiences in fabricating mounting systems span an array of collections, from ancient to contemporary, fine and decorative arts. Gausch joined the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1995 where she became Exhibition Preparation Collections Care Manager, Objects. In 2006 she became Chief Preparator of Collections Management at the Harvard University Art Museums.
Joel Thompson received her Masters in Art Conservation from the Art Conservation Department of the State University College at Buffalo in 2000. She has worked as Exhibits Conservator at the Field Museum of Natural History and as Textile and Objects Conservator at the Chicago Historical Society. Thompson is currently Associate Conservator in the Textile Conservation Lab at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The authors would like to acknowledge the generous funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services that made this project possible. Several individuals gave generously of their time and expertise in sharing their ideas including Chris Paulocik of the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nobuko Kajitani, Lucy Commoner of the Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design, Glenn Peterson of the Fashion Institute of Technology, and Susan Heald of the National Museum of the American Indian. Many aspects of the prototype mount designs are not unique to the MFA, but built on the inventive work of others; the authors extend appreciation and recognition to these people. Thanks are due to Meredith Montague, Head of the Textile Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for leading this project from inception to completion. The authors also thank Arthur Beale, former Chair of Conservation and Collections Management for his guidance, encouragement, and support of these efforts. Finally, tremendous thanks are due to the many staff members who not only brought these projects to successful completion, but also enriched the initial designs with their collective knowledge and experience. These staff members include Claudia Iannuccilli, Becky Fifield, Maryann Sadagopan, Elizabeth Hill, Allison Hewey, and Allison Sloan-Murphy.