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WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

We hope you like reading the Updates! If you are interested in learning about something specific, or have a suggestion for a WAM Update, please update us at wamupdates@worcesterart.org

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Minding Museum Collections and Loans During a Pandemic

When museums across the country temporarily closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many things happened all at once: Exhibitions were rescheduled, projects were postponed, and many of us learned to do our work from home. WAM and our colleagues around the world have worked hard to ensure we continue to serve our communities and connect you to the collections we care for. We made new plans to replace the old, and we adapted to a world that none of us had experienced before.

Ali Rosenberg, WAM’s Assistant Registrar, takes the dimensions of
a recently arrived loaned object while preparing it for
 studio photography. 

This new world included significant disruptions to the global transit systems that museums like WAM rely on. To put on comprehensive and engaging exhibitions, we borrow works of art from museums and collectors around the world, and in turn, we loan pieces of our collection to exhibitions far and wide. Works of art travel by truck and plane, through border crossings and customs control. They are often accompanied by collections care professionals from the lending institution, who look after the works along the way.

In March, many museums’ carefully laid plans were put on hold. International flights were cancelled, and those that ran prioritized the shipment of medical equipment (just as we would have hoped and expected they would). Institutional and governmental travel restrictions prevented museum staff from traveling to borrowing museums to oversee the condition checking or packing of loaned objects. Loan and transportation considerations became, to put it lightly, even more complex.

At WAM, we have been in constant communication with museums around the world to ensure that the objects we have been entrusted with are safe, secure, and well cared for. The field has come together to establish new norms in these trying and unprecedented times. We are, for example, making use of digital platforms to enable what has been termed the “virtual courier”: When physical travel is not permitted or not safe, we can still oversee the handling of our collection at other museums from afar. Now, as always, we all rely on the skill and expertise of trusted collections care professionals at other museums to care for our loaned objects as they do their own collections.

While WAM remains closed to the public, we are as busy as ever. We are preparing for new exhibitions, installing new works in our permanent galleries, and, as transit systems resume new-normal operations, continuing to borrow and loan artwork.

Wes Small (left) and Trevor Toney (right), of WAM’s Exhibition Design & Fabrication Departments,
install Smallsword amid the Museum’s 18th-and 19th-century paintings.
The sword, adorned with Wedgwood plaques, is a beloved object of the Higgins Collection. 

Smallsword, plaques by Wedgwood (British, founded 1759), about 1790. Steel, faceted, burnished, blued, and gilded,
 iron, and stoneware (Jasperware). The John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection, 2014.49

In a time of new norms, we are also careful to do this work safely. Gloves have always been a routine part of collections work, but now masks have joined them as an essential part of everyone’s outfit. We all look forward to a time when this pandemic is behind us—when the world feels safer and we can return to some of the norms of the past—but in the meantime, we have a lot of work to do.

—By Ali Rosenberg, WAM Assistant Registrar

September 1, 2020

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