Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Bad Idea Well Executed

Male Herm

No, no, I'm not going to write about certification, or any of that other stuff. Instead I'm going to try and bring a touch of levity and color to this blog and tell you what I did at work yesterday. I thought it would be interesting to write about it here because it involves the work of pre-program interns.

By way of introduction, I'm an objects conservator at the IMA; if you want, you can find out a little more about me here, but not here. I work on all sorts of things at the IMA, but one of the things I spend a lot of time doing is taking care of the outdoor sculptures. There are a bunch of sculptures on the campus, and I often have some help cleaning and maintaining them from a bevy of from smart and productive interns.

Back in 2006 Angela Duckwall was pre-programing with us. At that time we were looking for a way to better protect some of the stone sculptures on the grounds of the Oldfields-Lilly House and Gardens during the winter. Historically, sculptures like these would have been covered during the winter months. The reason? Freeze-thaw-action. Like I need to tell you, but the problem is that moisture seeps into the interstices of the stone, stays there and then after the temperature drops the water becomes ice, expands and then the little (or sometimes big) pieces of the stone get pushed apart. In short it's not good for the sculptures and we try to reduce the chances of this happening (knock on virtual wood here, because all of the sculptures are still in good shape).

To combat this, Angela made covers out of Tyvek for all of the stone sculptures (thanks, Dupont, for making Tyvek). The thinking was if cars could be live all year long under Tyvek covers, then our sculptures could live a good winter life under them. Of course, Tyvek is clever in that it is water resistant, yet breathable, so moisture doesn't get trapped inside the covers.

Wait. Let me back up. When I say Angela made them, I mean she made them by hand. She went out and measured the sculptures and then bought a bunch of Tyvek, thread, cord, and some pull ties. She took all of this home and then made covers on her sewing machine. It's pretty amazing when you think about it, especially when you see the covers that she made and realize that all 10 of them work perfectly.

One of the "Four Seasons" well covered

The first year she made them we made damn sure we put them on, but last year, well .... A travesty, I know, and Angela let me know about it via e-mail from Winterthur. But it wasn't my fault. Honestly. I can't put them on until after December 20th (we have a winter solstice celebration at the IMA), and then if you figure in the Holidays it might as well already be the second week of January, which invariably is filled with icy rain or other stuff, making it all but impossible to get outside to work. And then the next thing I know February is over, and by that time spring is practically here, so why bother. So, yes, last year, I didn't get them put on.

But this year, I said, was going to be different. I was determined to get them on. And the next thing I knew, January was gone. This is where Preston Smith comes in (he's been pre-programing with us for a while now, learning about all sorts of stuff, including the inter-workings of a hand-held XRF). I told Preston that we should get those covers on ASAP. And he agreed.

Preston ready to go

So, when I showed up for work yesterday there was an additional 5 inches of snow on the ground. I was ready to call the whole thing off, but Preston was like, "Dude!" So, I was like, let's go do it. I really though it was a bad idea, but why not, right? Plus, Preston kind of shamed me into it -- think of what Angela will say, he said. Thanks, Preston.

Before you watch the following video, please know that it was very cold. Snow was flying everywhere. Many schools in town had shut down for the day. The streets were filled with automobile accidents and ambulances, but we forged on because we had a job to do. We knew Angela was watching us. It was difficult to express the gravity of our situation and our current emotional state, but I tried, during the moment.

And work we did. What follows below is a slide show of our accomplishments.

Here's what I learned from all of this: since you're unlikely to make any real money in this profession, you ought to enjoy what you're doing. Preston reminded me of this today. We turned what would otherwise have been a miserable thing to do, considering the weather, into what will probably be the highlight of my week.

Don't get me wrong, it was dangerous out there. Very dangerous, you know. The IMA's campus is immense and daunting. There were a few moments when I think we were both disoriented and unsure if we were going to make it back to civilization alive. Here's one such event:

Despite all of the work, sweat, and uncertainty I'd like to think we maintained a kind of enthusiasm only found in the work that you enjoy. So I'll end with a couple of videos that I made. I call them "Cart Cam," because I literally put the camera on top of the car and then ran like mad.

Cart Cam 1 in which I don't make a turn and run into a bank of snow
Cart Cam 2 with Preston Sliding Behind Me
Cart Cam 3 After some 8 hours out in the snow, wind, and ice you can't blame me for being a little winded here.

Post script ... I just noticed a mathematical error in this post. Anybody else find it?


Angela said...

Was it 9 or 10 covers?

Mitchell Hearns Bishop said...

Whoa! To think I thought it was cold today at the Los Angeles Arboretum! Give me dry deposition any time.

Maria L. Gilbert said...

What a great story! And with *excellent* video footage. The IMA grounds look quite lovely in the snow. I'm going to look at outdoors sculpture with new eyes, plus I want to be an objects conservator now. Looks like FUN!

Nina Simon said...

I think there's a great opportunity to print on the Tyvek, ala tuxedo tshirts. The sculpture covers could hint at the innards or convey alternative content in the winter.

This was fun. I like the images of the Tyvek and can't help thinking that some artist could have billed this as a site-specific installation.

Crista Pack said...

9 covers and 12 sculptures to cover? Looks like you and Preston better get sewing!

That does look like a lot fun though...you definitely picked the best day of the year. I love the cart cam!

Richard McCoy said...

Thanks for all the good comments.

I think Angela is the artist, then. But definitely and Christo Jean-Claude rip off.

There 10 sculpture that we covered, but I think I use the number 9, 10, and 12 at different points in the post. Ah, well.

Cart Cam was a ton of fun, I didn't upload the others when I'm wheezing and breathing heavy.

Amy McKune said...

Thanks for sharing. Okay, so now I feel guilty that I complained about shoveling my driveway last night. Horray Preston, for convincing Richard it was the right thing to do.

Amber said...

Fabulous blog! I love Preston's hat!

Thanks for sharing this story. Uplifting and inspirational for all of us who need to get motivated sometimes.

After reading/seeing your blog I really want to learn how to do the cart cam and links. Is it difficult to do?

IMA is so cutting edge with this stuff!

Matcon Webmaster said...

This is a very interesting use for Tyvek!
We have customers who are using Tyvek for archiving art and shipping of art. Typically they are museums and art sellers who use Tyvek to protect paintings, sculptures, sketches, documents, and many other materials during shipping and storage.
This is the first time we have seen Tyvek used for protecting outdoor sculptures.
We are a Tyvek distributor and have a blog on innovative uses of Tyvek. Can we post a link to your blog and use your photo on our blog? See http://www.materialconcepts.com/tyvek-blog/.
Please let me know.
And if you would like to purchase Tyvek, please check out the Tyvek section of our website http://www.materialconcepts.com/products/tyvek/.
Thank you very much for another cool use of Tyvek!

Richard McCoy said...

You know a lot of the comments I received outside of this blog have revolved around Preson's hat. I wish he'd pipe up and tell the story of his hat and his coat.

Amy: how about Hurray Richard? Man, I get no respect. But, clearly, Preston is the catalyst.

Amber: I couldn't agree more about Cart Cam being the new cutting edge. Ha, ha.

Matcon: Sure, have at it.

Two Rules:

1) Be sure to credit this blog and link back here, so more people can find out about this group.

2) Be sure to credit the IMA for the photos; though I took them, I'm pretty sure they are property of the IMA. (They own me like that.) Since those artworks are nearly 100 years old and I don't believe there are attributions, I don't believe there are any copyright restrictions.

Thanks for your interest.

Matcon Webmaster said...

Thanks for letting us use the photos in the new blog post about using Tyvek to protect outdoor sculptures at:

Drop a link or comment on our Tyvek Innovative Uses Blog if you come up with anything else cool!

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