Underground Illinois: It takes a delicate hand to get masterpieces on display

Underground Illinois: It takes a delicate hand to get masterpieces on display

When Walter Wilson and Tim Fox are at their best, the general public perusing Krannert Art Museum won't notice the work they do in the basement of the building, where the design and installation specialists craft mounts for the artwork displayed throughout the galleries.

Plates on display look as if they're floating against the wall, while frames and mounts draw the viewer's attention to the artwork. At times, light reflects off the walls as if out of nowhere.

In reality, Wilson and Fox's work is hidden behind, under or on each piece of work.

"In general, the purpose ... is to allow us to put the artwork in its best light," Fox said.

In the two basement rooms, which Wilson and Fox access via a massive freight elevator, the duo slip on purple nitrile gloves that are thin enough so that their hands remain tactile while protecting the artwork from the oils that emanate from their skin.

Every detail that allows artwork to be received, shipped, mounted or framed is given intense thought.

Wilson and Fox custom make boxes and crates for each piece of artwork to send, whether it's to Chicago, Europe, Asia or the east coast of Africa, where most of the artwork came from for the recent "World on the Horizon" show.

"You have this huge range depending on the object, how it's handled, and how it's transported," Wilson said.

Wilson and Fox take great care to make sure the person receiving the artwork knows exactly how each piece is packaged. When a wooden crate is open, clear packaging allows the artwork to become visible, so it isn't damaged during removal. Notes are written on each folio to identify which side is the top of the painting and which is the front.

Foam surrounds that artwork, which Wilson custom cuts on a saw in the shop. The foam not only cushions the artwork from shock, it insulates it when a package is delivered from extreme heat to colder temperatures or vice versa.

"This helps slow (the temperature change) down, just like the cooler you'd use for drinks," Wilson said. "You don't want the art to have that shock of coming out in that really different climate."

One room over, Fox, who started at the museum only a few weeks ago but has been in the same field for decades, puts together mounts for decorative plates, and stands for teapots, cups and bowls for an upcoming show. Any slight visible parts are usually matched to the artwork to make it fade into the background.

"It's to help secure the art," Fox said, "but we want it to be as invisible as possible."

The artwork, Wilson and Fox know, is the star of the show. But their supporting role is essential to its display.

Topics (1):Art