ISSUE 12 | VOLUME 5 | November 2011    

Ideas, Stories, Events and Careers

Just back from the International Registrars Symposium (IRS) in Houston, attended by more than 400 registrars and collection managers worldwide. The symposium was organized by the Registrars Committee of the American Association of Museums — and mostly by that dynamic energizer Gabriela Truly, Director of Collections Management at the Dallas Museum of Art, who conceived of the recurring event several years ago.

The Museum of Fine Arts Houston

Sessions included "Cultural Sensitivity in Museum Stewardship," a moving and important presentation on provenance, restitution of cultural property and bringing tribal and indigenous peoples into the planning and care of museum collections, whether it be the blessing of museum storage facilities, or arrangements made to accommodate visits or gifts to tribal objects in a museum's care. Talks by Rajshree Solanki from the National Museum of the American Indian, and Devon Akmon, of the Arab American National Museum were particularly poignant.

Devon Akmon, Arab-American National Museum

"Extreme Installations: Large, Complicated and Explosive Projects," addressed the challenges of moving and displaying such works of art and included a fascinating presentation from Tina Tan, conservator at the MFA Houston. Tina's experience includes her work with celebrated Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang in the preparation of his gunpowder drawing, Odyssey, which fills an entire gallery. Based on traditional Chinese landscape painting, the artist applied an assorted mix of gunpowders to panels on the floor and then ignited them. Commissioned by the Museum as a permanent installation, dozens of volunteers from Houston were engaged in the project.

Naomi Patterson, Registrar, Miami Art Museum (left); Pat Ellenwood, CEO Crystallization Systems

When Pat Ellenwood from Crystallization Systems asked me to be on the panel entitled "From Registrar to Construction Manager: Checklists for Planning and Survival," I couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with her and our long time colleague, Steve Weintraub, CEO of Art Preservation Services and one of the leading museum environmental specialists in the world. My presentation, "Moving Places — Designing Spaces," focused on preparing for a major collection move, working with architects, and hiring consultants. The three of us have worked together on numerous projects, including the planning and requirements for off-site storage facilities to new museum buildings; Pat and I most recently had the chance to work together on the new David A. Cofrin Asian Art Wing at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida in Gainesville, a magnificent addition to one of the state's most distinguished university collections, scheduled to open March 30th, 2012.

Overall, I addressed the steps in planning for the move of a collection, the special needs of architects, and encouraged those working with art and material culture to secure a seat at the table early on in any project. Steve focused on considerations of relative humidity, temperature and lighting, and Pat offered a series of room layouts and collection storage furniture solutions.

The Band at Museum of Fine Arts Reception

The symposium underscored the importance of the role of registrars and those working with collections in documenting and preserving works of art and artifacts. The meeting also offered many opportunities for networking with global colleagues and fine art shippers. The opening party at the MFA Houston was the epitome of hospitality -- a country band; fried oysters; barbeque and the biggest pieces of pecan pie I've ever seen caused me to say, once again - I've never had a bad time in Texas!

Geri Thomas,

For further information on planning for a collection move, new facility or how to engage with consultants, visit

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