The hat had been sitting there in the dark for years, unremarked upon. Its swirl of freshwater pearls, the imperial double eagle on the front, the decoration of thick gold braid on red velvet; none of it was included in the simple description—“Woman’s Fez”— in the Museums’ records.
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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.