Mounting the Weisel Family Collection

The Thomas Weisel Family’s recent gift of Native American art is comprised in large part of pottery, including rare Mimbres pieces that date back to the 11th century. Approximately 50 pieces of Mimbres and Pueblo pottery will be on view in the upcoming exhibition, Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection, which highlights the gift. Pottery presents an interesting set of challenges when being considered for display, especially here in earthquake country. Our team of mount makers has been busily crafting custom-made mounts for each pot slated to go on view when the exhibition opens this Saturday, May 3.

A painted pot sits on a riser while a female technician adjusts its base

Custom mounts made for display are preceded by custom-made foam core mounts, which fit to the individual contours of a pot and secure it for long-term storage.

Decorated pieces of pottery sit nestled in foam core armatures that secure the jars.

The surfaces of Pueblo pottery are typically painted in an allover style, resulting in designs or images that are visible from every side of the pot. Thus, the first step in designing a mount is made by the curator, who decides which side of the pot is to be presented for display.

Once the pot’s orientation has been determined, the mount maker uses a concentric circle template to gauge the pot’s diameter and position the padded brass paddle mounts accordingly.

In addition to the mount, an isolation barrier is placed between the painted riser (the platform on which an object sits in a display case) and the vessel. Weighted bags will be placed inside each pot to lower its center of gravity to help stabilize it in the event of an earthquake.

Two images from left to right showing a female technician gently placing a pot into the mount measurer and the pot alone, securely mounted on the concentric circle measurements

Unlike Pueblo pottery, the designs on Mimbres earthenware appear primarily inside the bowl of the pot.

A black avian-human figure on a white background in the bowl of a pot

Bowl (Human-Avian Composite Figure), ca. 1010–1130. United States, New Mexico, Mimbres. Earthenware with pigment. Gift of the Thomas W. Weisel Family to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 2013.76.82

This presentation requires a different type of mount that is designed to tilt the bowl and allow visitors to easily view the painted surface within. To facilitate this, the mount makers made a brass ring to support the bowl form, and added two flat stock arms extending outward to bear the main weight of the bowl.

A black and white pot sits at an angle mounted on a standing ring mount

The ring style was used to accommodate what is sometimes called the "spirit hole," an intentional break made in the center of the bowl and the image. The ring mount surrounds the break and supports the object while remaining invisible to the viewer.

Lines on the Horizon: Native American Art from the Weisel Family Collection opens this Saturday, May 3.