Curtain Storage: Phase 1

A 175-room mansion has a lot of windows, and those windows all need curtains. In fact, for many of the more public rooms, HF duPont commissioned multiple sets of curtains and matching slipcovers for different seasons. The practical implications of these stylistic choices?Winterthur owns a lot of curtains.

I became personally familiar with many of these curtains and valences this summer, during the day per week that I helped the registration department. Winterthur is currently embarking on a 10 year-long project aimed at greatly improving the quality and accessibility of their collections storage. One of the biggest projects this summer was to install new shelving in Curtain Storage II.

Some background information might be required to explain why this project was such a mammoth task. Winterthur has two adjacent storage rooms for curtains, both containing dozens of hanging curtains on specially-made copper racks. The curtains hang from the ceiling, and because of this the storage room is two-stories high. The rooms are both extremely impressive, stuffed to the brim with an eclectic assortment of fabrics. Because curtain storage is a popular place to take behind the scenes tours, the plan was to keep the outermost room (Curtain Storage I)  in its original configuration. However, hanging places stress on the curtain fabric, and every time someone visits the rooms (which is frequently), the curtains are all exposed to light. To solve this problem, the curtains in Curtain Storage II were taken down and carefully packed in textile storage boxes to be placed on new shelving.

Curtain Storage I
Curtain Storage I

Phase 1. The Hagley Move

In order to put in shelves, we needed a completely empty room. Workmen, electricians, power tools, and moving shelves are not conducive to a safe environment for delicate textiles! There was not enough room to put all the inventory of Curtain Storage I in any other part of the museum. Solving this problem, Winterthur moved some of its other textiles (mostly slipcovers and curtains not in heavy rotation) into temporary storage at Hagley, a nearby museum. The extra space could then hold curtains while the shelving went in.

First, an inventory had to be taken of the items being sent. I arrived just as registration was finishing up the inventory process, but I did help Devon (one of the registration assistants) with a little bit of inventorying, digging in folds of fabric to find well-hidden accession numbers and holding out swathes of fabric to be photographed.

After inventorying, the boxes had to be packed up for moving. I spent one full day helping pack up textile boxes in plastic bags that Jesse (the graduate student project manager) crimped with a terrifying melting tool that looked like an industrial hair-straightener. The finished product looked a lot like a cereal bag.

Another day, I wrapped most of the trolleys being moved to Hagley in plastic wrap. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that the plastic wrap almost defeated me- I was exhausted by the end of the morning! I accomplished my task in an extremely dignified manner: running backwards around the trolley as fast as possible, stopping halfway up to catch my breath and get rid of my dizziness!

Ta da! One Lydia-wrapped trolley...
Ta da! One Lydia-wrapped trolley…

After that, Jesse, one of the other storage interns (Vivien), and I slowly moved all 17 trolleys in batches of 2 down to the loading bay. With 2 elevators, 4 doors, countless hallways, and occasional tour groups to contend with, the route was truly an obstacle course! Because this project was so different from the reading and computer work that I typically performed both at Winterthur and at school, it was really valuable to realize all the processes that go into moving delicate items. I think that seeing all 17 trolleys collected and ready to be moved offsite also inspired a strong sense of accomplishment for everyone involved!