Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2016.

Rehousing Chinese Scrolls

Some objects in the museum’s collection need very specialized types of care and handling. During our 2009-2011 IMLS Grant to digitize the ancient and world cultures collections, we photographed the Asian scrolls, and realized that many were fragile and being stored improperly. One important aspect of storing scrolls is that the weight should ideally be placed on the handles and not on the scroll itself. Too much weight being placed on the scroll can lead to folds and creases in the painting when the scroll is unrolled. Here are some guidelines for the proper handling of scrolls from the Weissman Preservation Center. There are also some interesting videos on the proper handling of scrolls at the Freer/Sackler Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art’s website.

The scrolls at WCMA were originally stored in a drawer all together.

You can see in the picture how the weight is being placed on the whole length of the scroll instead of just on the handles. I ordered some archival boxes to fix the problem.

I also printed out pictures of how the scroll looks when unrolled, like shoe boxes in a shoe store, the images attached to the boxes make it less likely that the scrolls will be handled more than absolutely necessary.

I also printed out the label information for each scroll including the artist, medium, museum accession number, and title and placed the labels on the sides of the boxes so that they will be easily viewed when the scrolls are all on the shelf together.

I fit the boxes on shelves and stacked them in places where other boxes couldn’t fit, essentially creating a whole new open drawer. This new drawer has taken some pressure off other packed storage spaces and now holds some over sized prints including our interesting and fragile World War I poster collection. It is important for fragile, ancient pieces to be treated in a way that promotes stability, keeping them in good condition so the scrolls can be used in classes, exhibitions and enjoyed aesthetically for many years to come.


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