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How hair helps conserve art

Today's blogger is Laura Mosteller, Conservation Technician II at the IMA.

As the conservation technician at the IMA, one of my responsibilities is keeping an eye on the devices that measure temperature and humidity in the galleries. Why? A major aspect of our mission at the museum and the field of conservation is to preserve artworks for generations, and often these artworks are composed of vulnerable materials. Changes in temperature and humidity can result in stresses of warping, dislocating joins, cracking and lifting of surface layers, breaking fibers, metals corrosion, and cockling of works on paper. Not to mention that mold will thrive at relative humidity levels of 70 percent or higher.

hygro_closedThere are many devices available that enable a real time recording of the gallery environment and we use a variety of these for recording comprehensive data history. What you may be surprised to learn is that one of the devices uses horse or human hair as a very important element for sensing humidity fluctuations. Called a hygrothermograph, it is one of the most common devices used to measure and record temperature and humidity. You’ve likely seen the contraption in many museums and wondered if it was a contemporary work of art.

hygro_openHumidity measuring devices have been around for hundreds of years; in the early days a material that was hygroscopic, or capable of absorbing moisture, was connected to the instrument to act as a humidity sensor.  The substance may have been twine or paper, and it would expand and contract when influenced by the varying levels of the moisture content in the air. These changes in the material could be quantitatively measured to interpret the relative humidity. In the late 1770s, Horace Benedict de Saussure is credited for implementing the sensible hygroscopic material of human hair in his design of the device. It is said that he used the locks of his lovely wife; perhaps the idea came to him after she complained of a bad hair day on a rainy afternoon. In today’s version, hair can be stripped of its oils and gathered in a small bundle providing the perfect humidity detector. So if you’re the type of person who enjoys unusual facts, this one is certain to impress your friends.


New Year’s Eve at the IMA and a “Soundsuit” by Nick Cave

Today’s guest blogger is Vishant Shah, member of the planning committee for New Year’s Eve at the IMA and co-founder of Foundation East.

New Year’s Eve at the IMA is a great party and your ticket will also help the Museum acquire a Soundsuit by Nick Cave, a world-renowned contemporary artist and fashion designer. But what in the world is a Soundsuit?

Nick Cave (American, b. 1959), Soundsuit, 2013.  Photo by James Prinz. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Nick Cave (American, b. 1959), Soundsuit, 2013.
Photo by James Prinz. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Soundsuits are wearable sculptures that are bright, whimsical, and other-worldly. They have been exhibited all over the world – set in place as traditional sculpture or fully alive and in motion, out of museums and into the streets. Check out this video to see his Soundsuits in motion.

A Soundsuit is a multimedia piece comprised of a cornucopia of objects – second-hand sweaters covered with metal items to create tree-like body sculptures, found objects like an abacus obscuring the features of the wearer and creating miraculous sound as the wearer leaps about. Cave uses the term ‘second skin’ in describing his first Soundsuit, and I am excited to journey into Nick Cave’s universe on New Year’s Eve!

$25 of your ticket to New Year’s Eve at the IMA will help support the Soundsuit so that all of Indianapolis can experience this amazing work of art. At the event, you can purchase Nick Cave buttons or exquisite BASH party hats, and a portion of those funds will also support the acquisition. So wear them proudly! Online donations are also welcome.

Whether you are at the IMA to dance or party in the galleries, make it your resolution to stop by the Deer Zink Special Events Pavilion to check out the Soundsuit by Nick Cave.


Toddlers, art, and the IMA

Today's blogger is Heidi Davis-Soylu, Manager of Academic Engagement and Learning Research at the IMA.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

The TAG group visits the Orchard and Greenhouse to collect plant fibers. Photo by Eric Lubrick.

This year at the IMA, we’re excited about a new school program designed specifically for preschools. The Toddler Art Group (TAG) launched in September with the help of our partner school, St. Mary’s Child Center at the Butler Lab location, and partnering arts organization, Arts for Learning. If you happen to see a clever bunch of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds singing, drawing, or performing in the galleries, you might have spotted our TAGers!

From September through May, 20 of our friends from St. Mary’s will visit the IMA twice each month for TAG time. A typical TAG session begins with a hunt for Tag Tiger, a stuffed animal tiger who likes to take naps in the galleries. Guided by a modified version of “we’re going on a bear hunt,” our tag_tigerfriends from St Mary’s locate Tag Tiger and then take her for a walk to look at art and find a good place to read her a story. Story time is followed by two or three sensory activities that help students build their own meaning of the art and, we hope, to establish positive relationships more broadly with art, learning, and the Museum. On their second visit each month, students explore art-making in an IMA studio classroom and revisit an artwork from the previous visit that resonated with the children the most. For example, the group decreed “the ship” (Tim Hawkinson’s Möbius Ship) the most intriguing work from our first tour of the Contemporary galleries.

We look forward to learning a lot from the students throughout this pilot year and we hope to grow the program during the next academic year to include more partner schools.

Readers of this post might also be interested in our wee Wednesdays program designed for children ages 0 through 5, open to the public.


Making art accessible to low-vision visitors

Today's blog post was written by Jennifer Todd, Manager of Docent Programs, and the IMA’s Accessibility Core of Docents.

The IMA wants to share art with everyone, including those with vision loss and other disabilities. We welcome the opportunity to offer monthly tours for blind and low vision visitors to be guided by touch and description through the Museum’s permanent collection. The Touch & Audio Descriptive Tours, which are open to the public, take place on the first Saturday of each month at 11 am — including this Saturday, December 7.

low_vision_tourTwo interactive approaches are offered during these public tours. The Touchable approach offers visitors of all ages and abilities the opportunity to experience original works of art through their sense of touch. Visitors are provided with nitrile gloves, while museum educators guide their touching and describe the work of art. The Audio Description approach offers visitors, along with their families, companions or caregivers, the opportunity to engage in a discussion of works of art through the use of descriptive narration and participant interaction. Tours include a combination of both approaches. Group sizes are small and interaction is encouraged.

If you, or someone you know, are looking for an opportunity to get in touch with art — we invite you to join us!

Reservations for these tours is recommended, and can be made by contacting Wendy Wilkerson at Visitors may also schedule a private group tour by appointment.


Lesson from the cotton fields

Guest blogger Felipe Martinez is Associate Executive Presbyter, Whitewater Valley Presbytery, and moderator of the 2013 Spirit & Place judges panel.

On November 1, the Spirit and Place Festival will kick off its 2013 theme Risk with a gutsy event, $20K: A Competition about Race. Creators of four finalist projects will present their vision to an audience and a panel of judges, hoping to receive the $20,000 award to implement their innovative ideas inviting a fresh conversation about race in Indianapolis. The winner of this competition will help Indianapolis and central Indiana residents look back on our own histories, and challenge us to a shared commitment to reshape our communities in positive ways.

At some point in an honest, open dialogue about race in the United States, family stories surface. The stories might date back decades, or refer to events last week; the stories might be of facing and overcoming oppression, or of the perks and pitfalls of being a part of a racial majority. And then there are the stories which document the moments when we learn or unlearn how race contributes to the shaping of community.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

Prof. Luis R. Martinez and students, circa 1945.

When I reflect on my earliest notions of race, I think about my dad, who was a public school teacher in Mexico for over 60 years. Dad always had a second job to help supplement his meager salary. One summer in the 1940s, he even traveled to southern Texas to work as a field hand picking cotton. There, for the first time, he labored side by side with African American workers. He spoke to me with compassion of their physical strength to do the work and their spiritual depth to survive in a blatantly racist society. Though his contact with them ended when he returned to Mexico, the impact of those relationships endured. Dad taught me to pray for those who suffer from injustice and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

If we risk together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder to remember and re-imagine, to dream and dare, our actions will have a lasting impact in our richly diverse community.


About Guest Blogger

The IMA is always looking for new definitions of art. So we’ve asked guest bloggers to share their thoughts on the subject.

Guest Blogger has written 105 articles for us.