The cleaning fluid used to give the glass of the Exhibition Centre display cases a last polish has a very distinctive smell – maybe it’s a detergent marketing team’s idea of ‘Pine’. Whatever it’s supposed to remind me of, I always find it evocative: it tells me the job of mounting the exhibition is more or less complete.
The fortnights during which we change our displays bring together the work of many of the colleagues who contribute to the exhibitions programme. The conservators, who have appraised every item to make sure it can be safely exhibited and spent weeks making cradles and backing-boards, now oversee the placement of the manuscripts, books and pictures in the cases. Once everything is in position we make final decisions on the shape of the caption labels, and the conservators print them onto heavy paper, cut them to size and back them onto board for a professional finish.
While this is going on, Imaging Services mount the wall panels. The panels – a metre by a metre and a half – describe the themes of the display and provide additional visual interest in the form of images of poems, drawings or diary entries that aren’t on show in the display cases themselves. The panels are printed here in the Library, but designed by an external design consultancy which has also worked on various other aspects of the ‘Dream Voices’ project, such as posters, banners and guides. There are four panels surrounding the pillar in the Exhibition Centre, and the Library’s joiners have fixed up a new system of frames for mounting these, which look very smart.
Our I.T. experts have prepared a full set of web pages to complement the exhibition, and these will go live at http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/exhibitions/Sassoon/index.html later today. Meanwhile, my colleague as Joint Exhibitions Officer has been busy working on the distribution of print publicity and the production of large-type texts of the exhibition.
At the end of last week, just on schedule, we made the final adjustments to the position of the exhibits and captions: tiny nudgings and touchings, eighths and sixteenths of inches, until everything looks as straight and perpendicular as the uneven edges of elderly volumes and documents will allow. It’s only when exhibits and captions are brought together in the cases that we can see where shadows will fall, and we improvise with stands and mounts to avoid having shady patches in the wrong places. Yesterday morning the electrician refocused the spotlights on the wall panels, and the conservators have taken measurements of the light levels in the cases to ensure against damage to the paper, inks and pigments of the documents. The case lids have been closed for the last time, putting an air-tight seal between the exhibits and the outside environment. It’s now safe to squirt the cleaning fluid.
The smell of success? Our visitors will be the judges of that.