Improving the safety and accessibility of the Textile and Fashion Arts collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Shoe 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 shoes numbers about 500 and ranges from Egyptian sandals of about 2000 B.C. to contemporary designer shoes.
Embroidered slippers stored on corrugated acid-free board stored in single handling tray
2/2: Embroidered slippers are fitted on corrugated acid-free board, and “footprints” are cut out of a layer of Volara foam to form hollows that hold the slippers in place. Because the slippers have a fragile leather surface, silk knit is used to cover the mount. The inserts are made of polyester batting wrapped in acid-free tissue, and heavy weight acid-free paper strips are coiled to fill and support the inside of the heel. The slippers are also tied to the handling tray with twill tape, which are positioned where the tissue paper inserts supply resistance.
Court shoes stored on custom-shaped polyethylene foam
1/2: Custom-shaped polyethylene foam covered with Tyvek fill the void between the toe and the heel. The supports are adhered to the board and secure the mules without putting pressure on the heel. With the Volara foam stops added at the toes, the mount protects the mules from sliding or toppling when they are handled or when their storage drawer is opened and closed.
High boots stored in custom tray
1/2: To store these rigid riding boots in an upright position, a padded foam block is tied between the boots with cotton twill tape to make the boots less top heavy. The foam block is covered in batting and Tyvek to ensure soft contact with the leather sidewalls of the boots.
Leather shoes stored in Coroplast box
2/2: These leather shoes are positioned heel to toe in a storage box made of Coroplast board. Ties, rather than adhesive, secure the corners of the box, which surrounds and protects the edges of the shoes. On the bottom, a layer of Volara foam provides support, and small wedges of triangular polyethylene rod secure the shoes inside the box.
High-heeled sandals stored with padding
These modern shoes can be stored upright without the aid of heel stops or handling trays. Only padded inserts are needed to relieve the weight of heavy decoration on the thin leather straps and elevate the straps to prevent compression and cracking of the leather. The inserts are made from polyester batting and wrapped in polyester stockinet.
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.