A Song for the Horse Nation, a critically acclaimed exhibit featuring 122 historic objects at the National Museum of the American Indian, offers behind-the-scenes tours every Friday. Knowledgeable conservators lead the Conservation and Mount Making Tour, and inform participants about the difficult yet essential task of conservation and mount making that often goes unnoticed. Conservators must diligently monitor exhibit temperatures and humidity, construct gentle yet secure mounts, and control light levels down to the exact footcandle to ensure safe storage and travel. It is thanks to their hard work that museum goers can enjoy the objects in their intact, historically accurate state.
Perhaps the most breathtaking object in the exhibit, and the first visitors see when they enter, is the magnificent Lakota tipi (circa 1890-1910). The giant artifact has traveled the world, including Japan in the 1980s, its journey evidenced by water stains from roof leaks and other details only noticeable at the conservator’s mention. 300 hours of restorative work went into stabilizing the tipi for exhibition, including constructing new poles and even a complete seam on the underside to protect from snags. Everything from the light positions (which are changed every few months) to the post placements are carefully considered to protect the artifact and preserve its original meaning.
Next time you are enjoying artwork at a museum, you can appreciate the restorative and mounting work that went into the experience, as well.