The Housatonic Museum of Art (HMA) is home to one of the premier college art collections in the United States. Its collection offers students and the community alike the opportunity to view works that span the history of art from the ancient to the contemporary. The museum is a central focal point on the campus of Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
“The concentration of our collection includes work from about 1967 to 1990, which is when Burt Chernow, who is the founder of the collection, began collecting in earnest,” says HMA director Robbin Zella.
As the collection has grown over the years, so has the need for preservation and storage.
“We worked with Integral Storage Solutions to essentially re-do the storage facility,” said Zella. “At the time, we had the HVAC system completely overhauled and felt like it was a good opportunity to rethink the space. It hadn’t been optimized in terms of the equipment that we had. That’s when we developed a plan that included rolling art racks and all of the shelving was specially designed for our needs here at the museum.
Integral Storage Systems principal Jeff DiCicco consulted directly with Zella to design customized storage systems for HMA’s collection
“The majority of this storage space is occupied by large pull out art rack, which is one of the best ways to maximize the storage capacity for framed art, while providing unique advantages for preservation and conservation versus traditional bin storage systems,” said DiCicco.
There are three basic types of pull out art rack, with accompanying costs and benefits.
According to Dicicco, the three types of pull out art rack systems are, in order of increasing cost:
- modular art rack (with nylon or plastic wheels directly on the floor – typically self supporting),
- floor-mounted / ceiling-guided (rails anchored to the floor / weight carried on floor rails are anchored to), and
- ceiling-mounted / floor guided (system weight carried by the ceiling above the art rack system).
The higher the cost, the less vibration you can expect to be transmitted through the equipment to the art, and the greater the size of the racks you can design.
“At the Housatonic Museum of Art, we installed floor-mounted, ceiling guided racks that are 10-1/2 feet high and 10 feet long. The ceiling is about 15′ high, so the upper guides needed to be suspended from the deck above the storage area, “said DiCicco. “The rails are leveled and anchored to the concrete slab to provide a very rigid and level foundation for the pull-out art racks.”
DiCicco’s chose floor mounted rails because they are one of the most effective ways to minimize vibration. Nylon or plastic wheels riding directly on the floor of the facility would not have been optimal for this space.
“In another area of the storage space, we installed a small compact storage system with bulk rack, said DiCicco. “By eliminating the need for two aisles, we were able to increase the storage capacity for some medium and large size items.”
Bulk rack is often used in museum applications where the shelves need to accommodate large, heavy objects.
HMA called on Integral Storage Solutions for an additional phase of installation for systems to store smaller framed or matted art.
“They knew they needed large bin type storage. But, much of the space in the storage area had already been optimized to provide the maximum storage capacity. We then noticed that, along one wall, there was a row of museum cabinets, dating back before the renovation, DiCicco said. “The cabinets were not very tall, and the space above the cabinets, up to the ceiling, was not being utilized.”
DiCicco knew that standard shelving wasn’t the right solution for this job.
“Those types of storage solutions would not give us the weight capacity we needed,” he explained. “So, our solution was to design custom width, height and depth shelving that would more-or-less straddle the existing museum cabinets. This makes it look almost like the different pieces of storage equipment were one integrated system from the get-go, while accomplishing the goals of gaining more bin storage capacity with shelves that can hold lots of weight without needing to be cantilevered off of the wall.”
According to Robbin Zella, the formula for storing artwork is usually to have twice the size of space versus your exhibition space. However, the isn’t practical for Housatonic Museum of Art, which uses a total of 347,000 square feet of the community college campus for exhibition.
“Art is everywhere on the campus. In offices, in hallways, in the cafeteria, in the lounge areas,” said Zella. “So everywhere you go, you’ll see art. Which is great for the students and a little daunting for the staff.”
For Zella, protecting that collection is a critical part of her job.
“The Housatonic Museum of Art has three areas of concentration. The first one is exhibitions, the second is educational outreach and the third, and most important, is conservation,” she said.
In fact, Housatonic Museum of Art is a public trust. All of the works in the collection actually belong to the State of Connecticut. The museum is committed to being a staunch protector of that legacy for generations to come.
For more information about Housatonic Community College, visit their website.