Posts Tagged 'mounts'

Supporting Art

Hopi Visions: Journey of the Human Spirit is a new year-long exhibition highlighting a forty-eight foot mural by Hopi artists Michael Kabotie and Delbridge Honanie. The mural, titled Journey of the Human Spirit, depicts the history of the Hopi people from their mythic emergence to modern day. Included in the installation are numerous works from the DMA’s permanent collection, carefully curated to enhance and highlight the story told by the mural. Many of the objects included are ceramics ranging in dates from 950 CE to the late 20th century. As can be expected with such a range of dates, the condition of the objects varies from pristine to reassembled fragments. A question that must be answered prior to installing works like these is how to best display the work while not compromising its structural integrity. This problem is often solved by building specialty mounts.

A mount is a support, backing, or setting on which an object is fixed for display purposes. There are multiple types of mounts, but the one utilized most for Hopi Visions is a custom built brass mount. Russell Sublette, who just celebrated his 39th year at the DMA, is a Senior Preparator and the Head Mount Maker at the Museum. He is responsible for the majority of mounts you see (or rather, don’t see) within the permanent collection displays.

During exhibition planning, the curator and designer work together to determine how they wish to display an object. Do they want to show a bowl placed flat on a surface in a way that reflects its utilitarian purpose or do they want to display it at an angle to better highlight the design on the interior? Once these decisions have been reached, it is up to Russell to turn these wishes into a reality. He carefully inspects the object, looking for fractures, breaks, and any other issues that might affect its structural integrity, in order to determine the best contact points between the mount and the object. He then takes measurements and works on design. Russell’s goal is to create a mount that provides maximum stability while maintaining a minimal profile. In other words, the mount needs to be as invisible as possible. It is a job that requires focus and precision.

Russell begins with long rods of brass that he cuts down and shapes to follow to contour of the object. He uses extreme care when working on the clips—the part of the mount on which the object rests. It is imperative that the clips do not put too much pressure on the object as that could lead to cracks and breakage. Once he has completed the fabrication of the mount, Russell hands it over to fellow preparator, Sean Cairns, for the finishing touches. Sean’s job is to make the visible parts of the mount disappear. He paints the mount to match the object’s design as closely possible, layering colors and making sure to inspect the piece from multiple viewpoints. When Sean’s work is done, the mount should blend seamlessly with the object.

A good mount maker is a great asset to any museum. Mount making requires skill, talent, and artistic abilities, all of which abound in Russell and Sean. So, when you visit Hopi Visions, please appreciate the objects on display, but then take an extra moment to appreciate the mounts that support the art.

Katie Province is the Assistant Registrar for Collections and Exhibitions at the DMA

The Man Behind the Mounts

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Over the past 23 years, visitors to the DMA have witnessed the handiwork of preparator and resident mountmaker Russell Sublette without actually seeing it: the lid of an African box seems to lift as if pulled by an unseen hand, the Tiffany windows emanate a ghostly glow from within the wall into which they are built, odd-shaped objects stand straight and tall in their cases. He has made a Yoruba Egungun costume twirl and dance in the galleries, and created a mannequin support for an equestrian Madonna to ride.

Window with Starfish ("Spring") and Window with Sea Anemone ("Summer"), c. 1885-1895, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, glass, lead, iron, and wooden frame (original), Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

Window with Starfish (“Spring”) and Window with Sea Anemone (“Summer”), c. 1885-95, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, glass, lead, iron, and wooden frame (original), Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

“The point of the mount is to let the object speak without the mount being the center of attention,” Sublette says. “The best compliment you can give a mountmaker is ‘What a great object.’”

A 35-year veteran of the Museum, Sublette began his journey to become the DMA’s expert mountmaker in high school metal shop class. He still has a dust pan he made in 1972. After working for several years as a general art handler at the DMA, he focused his attention on making mounts with the Gold of Three Continents exhibition in 1990. A training course at Benchmark, a national company that supplies mounts and supports for museums across the country, provided him with a solid foundation and advice that he still carries with him to this day.

Sublette’s most recent handiwork can be seen (if you look closely enough) in the Behind the Scenes installation in the DMA’s new Paintings Conservation Gallery. Unframed canvases seem to float in their cases and provide visitors the opportunity to learn about painting support systems. The mount for William Henry Huddle’s Marble Falls was his favorite because it was the most challenging. Much time and effort were needed to thread the gravity clip and a triangular brace made to provide a strong structural gusset so the painting does not wobble.

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The Huddle is indicative of Sublette’s process and approach to mountmaking: First he has to figure out the “key to the object”–how to mount the artwork securely in four points or less. Then he asks himself, “How do I make this mount as discrete as possible, invisible if I can?” Sublette achieves this unobtrusive subtlety by becoming an “amateur engineer” and figuring out how thin a piece of metal can be and still hold the weight of the piece securely. Thin pieces of metal can hold a lot of weight of they are bent, twisted and machined to strengthen and make them more rigid. Sublette says that mountmakers are “artists in service of art.” This particular artist’s preferred medium is brass: it’s cheaper than steel, very malleable, needs only a small oxygen tank, and produces no soot.

Sublette says he enjoys the mountmaking aspect of his job because it takes 100% engagement and allows for close contact with the art. He admits to revisiting an object 100-150 times before its mount is complete, measuring and re-measuring, memorizing each line and contour. “It’s important to take the mount to the piece and not the piece to the mount. You shouldn’t have to force a piece into an acrobatic dance to fit the mount. I’m anal as hell. But now I’m using it for the forces of good.”

Sublette also made the shell surround mounts for the pedestals for the double-sided works in the conservation gallery, including Ernst Kirchner’s Four Wooden Sculptures (recto)/ Ice Skater (verso) and Emile Bernard’s Breton Women Attending a Pardon (recto)/Unfinished Sketch (verso). A far cry from the dust pans of yore.

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Reagan Duplisea is associate registrar of exhibitions at the DMA.


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