Post by: Rebecca Massie Lane
Director, Washington County Museum of Fine Arts
Late in the day on Wednesday, August 24, 2011, NOAA was predicting a direct hit on Hagerstown. As fate would have it, the work on replacement of the museum’s roof had reached a perilous point over one of the most important collections galleries in the museum, the Schreiber Gallery, where the Renaissance and Baroque paintings and sculpture are exhibited. The roofer advised me that he would be installing “bunker” cloth over the entire affected roof area. That was enough to convince me that the museum should take emergency preparedness measures. I closed the museum for four days to allow for the arrival and aftermath of the hurricane. The staff met to plan emergency measures in the event of curatorial emergencies. Emergency supplies were set up. The next two days were devoted to careful, laborious de-installation and relocation of the works of art in the affected gallery.
Fortunately, the hurricane veered to the East and Washington County, Maryland was spared and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts was unaffected. But while the works of art were available for examination, the curatorial staff conducted a first sample population inventory, baseline condition reporting, upgrading of hanging hardware and photography of the collection. In addition, the museum’s conservator, who had been alerted of the emergency, scheduled a site visit for the days following the hurricane and she was able to conduct assessments of the front, back and frames of each painting. In addition, curatorial staff were able to complete light cleaning and dusting of the paintings before they were reinstalled. Through the emergency, we were able to gain better knowledge of large, heavy paintings that had been part of a long-term installation, and to begin the inventory with this collection.