In last month’s conservation blog, I included some rather scary graphs that showed how light was reflecting off buildings opposite the museum and shining directly into our Arctic clothing showcase. Our solution was simple but not very elegant: put a curtain over the case to block out the sun’s rays!
The curtain is effective but also has some drawbacks: it needs someone to put it on every evening and take it off in the mornings before the visitors arrive; it can only be used when the museum is closed; and it looks more functional than stylish. We felt that it was time for a better solution.
When the museum was refurbished in 2010, the glass sliding doors into the main gallery were covered with vinyl transfers depicting the Nesham Glacier in Canada. This was partly because it is a very striking (and Polar-related) image, and partly because it provided a very effective way of blocking light into the gallery. You can see the image in all its glory below (click on it to see a larger version):
Unfortunately, the design doesn’t stretch quite to the edges of the doors, and there are gaps around the sides where light can come in. We are now looking for ways to block this without spoiling the beauty of the doors. My first thought was to match one of the mid tones in the image and print extra vinyl strips to go either side. Unfortunately for us, legislation has been introduced since 2010 to reduce volatile organic compounds in paints, varnishes and stains – the new inks are better for human and environmental health but make it very difficult to match the colours on our doors exactly. We printed a sample with the new inks, but it had brown tones instead of the original’s greenish tint.
Algar Signcraft, who printed the original image for us, kindly gave us lots of sample colours to see if we could find a good match. I put these samples on the gallery doors and so we could do some testing:
Our conservation intern, Ellie, used a light meter to investigate how effective the different films were at blocking light and UV. She found that, unsurprisingly, the darker the film, the more light it cut out. The Nesham glacier picture itself only cut out about 25% of the light, but it was very good at diffusing it so there were no direct shafts of sunlight hitting the showcases behind it. She also found that the colour of the three grey films at the bottom varied dramatically depending on whether it was sunny or overcast outside. All of the films performed well enough for our purposes, but they were very difference in appearance and it was difficult to decide which one would look best.
I invited some of my colleagues from the museum to come and adjudicate:
After a lot of discussion, we agreed unanimously that the best film was the one in the middle (the white, frosted one) – phew! Now that we’ve made a decision, I’m going to order some vinyl strips for this door and we can see how well they perform in “real life”. Hopefully this will solve the case of the mysterious reflection and we can finally retire our rather unglamorous showcase curtain!