FAIC Rigging Basics for Conservation Professionals - my experience

By Rachael Arenstein posted 07-23-2022 10:52

It is often hard, in private practice to weigh the long-term benefits of professional development and training against time out of the studio and loss of billable hours. Yet, we know that gaining new skills, insights and contacts are essential in staying current and up with changes in the field. FAIC’s workshops are, of course, targeted to our community, and it is exciting when a new course precisely fits a personal development need. I was particularly excited to participate in the three-day Rigging Basics for Conservation Professionals workshop that was offered after AIC’s annual meeting in Los Angeles. I hoped that the program would address some needs that my partners and I identified in our practice. When we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell the instructors and participants why we enrolled in the workshop, I listed two issues that I felt I’ve struggled with.

  1. I wanted a better understanding on what we could do in our own studio to safely lift and transport heavy artifacts. I recently worked on a marble sculpture that was about as heavy as we felt we could handle without mechanical assistance. It was a nerve-wracking and sweaty endeavor. I was eager to learn what equipment might be reasonable for our studio space and how we could feel more comfortable working on larger scale projects, some of which we have passed up in the past.
  2. I wanted to have a better grasp of the issues to discuss issues with riggers when we are working on a job together. As an all-female conservation practice, we have worked with excellent riggers and others who treated us as window dressing. We recently worked the deinstallation of an outdoor totem pole. The rigging team was fantastic, and the project was completed with no issues, but as we discussed the condition of the pole and how it would be moved, I felt I was lacking in proper terminology that would allow me to better understand their plans.
The FAIC rigging workshop addressed both of these needs. The first day was a marathon of PowerPoint lectures. Luke Boehnke, Principal at Wolf Magritte LLC and Erik Risser Associate Conservator of Antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum wowed the participants by showing a range of extraordinarily difficult and complex projects they had worked on. Luke showed complex museum and commercial art installations while Erik focused on rigging to facilitate treatment. Julia Latané, Head of Art Preparation and Installation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) walked us through the recent installation of a monumental sculpture at her institution. Julia Commander presented on her work coming up with creative solutions for the treatment and reinstallation of the Ancient Egypt and Nubia Galleries at the Penn Museum.  And Kevin Marshall, recently retired Head of Preparation Department at J. Paul Getty Museum showed a range of issues faced by the Getty. I can’t speak for other participants, but the lectures left me feeling a little overwhelmed and glad that I am not faced with some of those kinds of projects! I suspect that I wasn’t the only one.

The second and third day of the workshop were hands-on training in compression mounts, strapping, rigging, fork-lift driving and more. We were divided up into two groups and had a chance to work on a range of sculptures, crates and situations. The instructors didn’t show us what to do, they presented scenarios that we, as a team, had to problem-solve. Each instructor focused not only on technical challenges but also safety, for both handlers and the artwork. It was great fun learning from the instructors and fellow participants.

Over the past two years I’ve participated and taught a number of virtual/online workshops. The Rigging workshop was a perfect example of what we’ve been missing since the start of the pandemic. Our group was excited to be present, meeting new people, working with our hands and learning new skills together. I relished the opportunity to meet new colleagues and reconnect with old friends. This program was precisely targeted to the needs of the preservation community and a terrific addition to FAIC’s programming. I am grateful to the instructors for sharing their wealth of knowledge and experience. And special thanks to Sarah Saetren, FAIC Education Manager, who facilitated the program, ensuring that the participants were transported, fed and the program ran smoothly. I am extraordinarily grateful for the FAIC professional development scholarship that facilitated my participation covering the costs of the workshop registration and hotel stay.  Now I am looking forward to the next big, heavy, awkward project with anticipation!