As the digital media interpretive media fellow at the de Young and the Legion of Honor, my primary role is to digitally document and interpret the yearlong project The Salon Doré: The Conservation of a Period Room, currently underway at the Legion of Honor.
Objects are fussy. They’re susceptible to humidity, light levels, vibrations, and any number of other dangers, both large (floods) and small (mice). And whether it’s a tiny tea cup or a four-ton bronze statue, each object also has its own idiosyncrasies. Wood, for example, doesn’t get along with water, and paper can’t stand light. A museum is carefully designed, in part, to control all these factors and to give objects the secure and stable home they deserve. But what happens when an object needs to travel outside the museum’s walls?
The permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco number over 100,000 objects, and only a percentage are on view. However, many of these treasured artworks can be viewed in exhibitions at other institutions throughout the world at any given time. When art objects are loaned in this way, they often travel for long periods of time, which is why it’s so important for our conservators to carefully prepare objects for their extended journeys. Such was the case when the Cleveland Museum of Art requested to borrow an ancient turban from the Nasca culture of Peru, featured in the exhibition Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes that opened last week.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is home to a unique collection of 167 film negatives taken by photographer Arnold Genthe chronicling the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake and fires. The negatives were acquired by the Legion of Honor in 1943.
On the day of the earthquake Genthe, an established photographer best known for his society portraits and views of old Chinatown, took to the streets of San Francisco equipped with a handheld Kodak camera and pockets full of roll film.
The film Genthe used was composed of a gelatin silver emulsion on a thin plastic support of cellulose nitrate. Cellulose nitrate film was introduced commercially at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. Lightweight, transparent and flexible, cellulose nitrate film freed photographers from the inconveniences of its predecessors, paper and glass plate negatives.
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