The Preservation Department of the Smithsonian Libraries (SIL) has been preparing materials for the past year for the upcoming exhibition in the SIL Gallery, National Museum of American History, Cultivating America’s Gardens. Drawn mainly from the collections of the Smithsonian Libraries and Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens, it is a cooperative curatorial effort of both units.
The exhibition – curated by Kelly Crawford and Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialists with the Smithsonian Gardens, and Lilla Vekerdy, Head of Special Collections at the Smithsonian Libraries – highlights the evolution of American gardens that have been shaped by history, innovation, as well as social and environmental influences. On display are nearly eighty items.
Many, many participants were necessary in order to make this exhibition possible. Often working behind-the-scenes, they contribute to that seemingly effortless display.
Selection of materials was done first by the curators, followed by a review of material for either display or digital scanning by SIL conservators. Since the duration of an exhibition can run a full year, additional items were also considered in order to replace light-sensitive materials after a few months. If library materials intended for display or photography were in poor condition, the necessary repairs were performed in the Book Conservation Lab by myself and Book Conservator, Katie Wagner. David Holbert, Imaging Specialist for the Smithsonian Libraries, scanned the images used as illustrations for the exhibition and the website.
The books and objects were measured by Preservation staff to the display requirements, and the measurements were sent to the exhibition designer, Tina Lynch, from Smithsonian Exhibits (SIE). Smithsonian Exhibits oversaw the production of the exhibit design, graphics, labels, and object mounts. While SIL Preservation staff created the book supports for many of the bound volumes when possible, the SIE mount maker, Richard Gould, fabricated custom plexi supports for oversize books and those of unusual format. Designing and fabricating mounts to support the books while they are on exhibit is a considerable challenge and Richard has worked many years with SIL creating a wide-range of clever solutions to accommodate the safe display of our collections.
An exhaustive list of books, objects, and graphics was prepared by the Exhibitions Program Coordinator, Kirsten van der Veen, as was a lengthy exhibition script by SIE. Object loans from other museums were also arranged months in advance by Kirsten. Appropriate permissions, paperwork, and insurance are necessary to arrange before borrowed objects can be placed for display. SIL’s preservation technician, Michael Keeling was assigned to mat and frame loaned items.
Several boxes of books and trade literature, objects, and book cradles were shipped by SIL Delivery Drivers, Dave Draffin and Calvert Gibson, from our Book Conservation Lab in Landover, Maryland to the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C, which houses the gallery.
SIE Project Manager Betsy Robinson coordinated scheduling with Kirsten van der Veen throughout the process to ensure the staff was prepared at each stage of exhibition development. Kirsten also worked closely with SIL Deputy Director, Mary Augusta Thomas, who provided necessary approvals, recommendation, and advice.
The installation was completed in two weeks. During the first week SIE, painted the gallery (including the exhibition display cases), installed illustrations (produced by the SIE Graphics Unit – supervised by Scott Schmidt), adjusted display pedestals, and hung framed items. SIL staff arrived the second week to unpack the Smithsonian Libraries books and loaned objects, secure the books and objects into custom supports, adjust lighting, and complete the final touches.
Cultivating America’s Gardens opens today, May 4th in the SIL Gallery on the first floor West of the National Museum of American History – and is sponsored by a generous donation from The Burpee Foundation, Inc.