Handling Guidelines for the Exhibit Team

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Proper handling prevents unnecessary damage - such as breakage or tearing - and safeguards against the physical stresses that can lead to future damage.

What are the general guidelines for handling objects chosen for exhibit?

How an object is handled influences both its immediate and long-term condition. Safe handling requires care, common sense, and an understanding of the materials and construction of the object. Damage is possible each time an object is moved so avoid unnecessary handling of artifacts. Handle each object with the same level of concern, as it is inappropriate to make personal judgments about the value of any object.
The mountmaker and object installer have a great effect on the condition of objects. These individuals must be especially diligent in their handling practices. Inappropriate handling by exhibit planners and designers also poses a significant risk to collections; plan ahead and take notes so that an object only needs to be measured once.

  • Handle one object at a time, using both hands to support or cradle the object. Do not hold anything else, even a pencil or measuring tape.
  • Support the object over its entirety. For example, place paper artifacts on an acid-free board and handle the board. Place textile garments in a carrying box.
  • Do not pick up an object by a rim, handle or protruding part; avoid lifting furniture by a chair arm, or table top.
  • Keep the object over a table or other protective surface. Cup one hand beneath a small object in case it slips from your grasp.
  • Rest the object on its most stable surface (often its widest surface) and one without flaking or attachments. Locate objects away from table edges, but within easy reach.
  • Never drag or push an object across a surface, even a padded work table. To reposition pick up the object with both hands. Do not allow any part to hang or extend over an edge such as a notebook or table ledge.
  • Do not force an object to open, a lid to come off, or an object to move in an attempt to see how it once functioned.
  • Because ink is impossible to remove from objects, always use pencil, not pen, to take notes. Never touch an object with a pencil or pen; do not trace an object. Do not rest tape measures, rulers or magnifiers directly on an object.
  • Never place anything on top of an object except for clean tissue paper or polyethylene sheeting as a dust cover. If objects must be left out on a table or on open shelving use "OBJECT BELOW" signs to alert other staff members. Do not use the object or its storage folder as a flat surface on which to take notes.
  • Wear clean gloves when handling metal objects, textiles, porous ceramics, baskets, ethnographic collections, paper, and photographs. Cotton gloves with grip dots on the palm are sometimes preferable. (See suppliers list)
  • If gloves are not worn (high fired ceramics and glass can be too slippery) wash your hands often to prevent oils, sulfur, acids, and other chemicals present in your skin, as well as dirt from the objects themselves, from becoming embedded in the surface of the artifact you are handling. Do not use skin lotion.
  • Remove jewelry, roll up cuffs, and generally make sure nothing will brush across or scratch the object while you are examining or moving it. Remove tools from shirt and pant pockets.

Are there specific handling guidelines for types of materials?

Different materials do require some special handling. Learning as much about different materials as possible will allow you to make good judgments. The following guidelines are meant as examples.

  • To lift up a paper or photograph, slide a piece of acid-free paper beneath a strong undamaged corner. Never fold, bend, or crease paper; keep the sheet flat. Handle photographs along the edges; avoid touching the image area. Clean gloves should be worn.
  • Ask for help when moving furniture, machinery, or other large objects; never drag or pull a piece. Remove drawers and other unattached elements. Tie doors closed and mirrors in place with cotton twill tape.
  • Large paintings must always be handled by two people and should be transported on an appropriate cart. Carry a small painting by both sides of the frame or with one hand on the bottom and the other on an adjacent side, never by the top member or the hanging hard- ware. Be careful not to touch the painted surface or the back of the canvas. Use a smooth motion so that the canvas does not flex on the stretcher. Keep the painting upright by supporting the frame on padded blocks and use cardboard to separate two paintings on the same set of cushions. Never place a painting face-up unless active flaking is observed.
  • Ethnographic objects are often structurally fragile. Wads of tissue paper or fabric covered pillows may be necessary to support the object evenly and avoid stressing natural fiber bindings and weak adhesives. The surface and applied elements are often friable or prone to misalignment. Make sure the area you are handling is not powdery or flaking. Provide ample room and support to prevent crushing feathers, fur, matting and other attachments.
  • Do not try on a textile or accessory. A mannequin or other padded support form must be sized to support the garment without stressing its seams.

What are the requirements for object holding areas and work spaces?

General curatorial standards for object care are the first requirements for object holding areas. Additional criteria for exhibit projects include the following.

  • Keep object holding areas clean and uncluttered. Prohibit eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Confine painting, sanding, sawing or filing to a separate area. If work must be done in the same vicinity, do it well away from the objects and store objects in a cabinet or a lidded box, or cover with clean tissue paper or clear, polyethylene sheeting.
  • Provide security for the holding area, with access limited to appropriate staff members and clear authority assigned for object movement. A written register listing the objects should provide a space to indicate when an object is relocated. Never remove any accession tag or number from an object.
  • To examine or work with an object, choose a table away from heating and air conditioning ducts, sources of drafts such as doorways, direct sunlight, and areas of heavy traffic. Prepare a surface on which to place the object by laying down clean acid-free paper, clean inert foam, or a table pad.

Are there special guidelines for transporting Objects?

Have a plan for where you will place the object and how it will be oriented before handling. If the object is too large or awkward to be safely moved by one person, ask for help. Clear pathways beforehand and have padded trays and carts available. If required, have someone open doors for you.

  • Before moving, look at the object and decide how you will pick up the object. If an object appears unstable (tears, breaks, or lifting and flaking surfaces) consult the curator, registrar, or conservator before handling.
  • Transport objects in a padded tray, box, folder, or cart of appropriate size. Do not try to force an object into a container that is too small. Never stack objects one on top of another. Separate individual items and parts of one object such as the lid of a ceramic coffee pot with acid-free tissue paper or inert foam. Place a sheet of clean acid-free paper between papers and photographs.

Products, Manufacturers, and Suppliers

Mention of a product, manufacturer, or supplier by name in this publication is for information only and does not constitute an endorsement of that product or supplier by the National Park Service. Listed materials have been used successfully in past applications. It is suggested that readers also seek alternate product and vendor information to assess the full range of available supplies and equipment.

Gloves
Sure-Grip Curator Gloves
Man-How, Inc.