Monday, February 17, 2014

Handle With Care Part I: The 400 Piece Puzzle

Recently, Andrew Wallace (Manager of Collections and Exhibitions) from The Figge Art Museum (check out the museum's website here contacted me to see if I would be willing and able to help install an upcoming show.  The show, Landscape: Ingalena Klenell and Beth Lipman is comprised of over 400 pieces of sculpted and fused glass -a large percentage of the glass is suspended from the ceiling.  You can read about the artists and the show HERE.

In addition to loaning the Figge Art Museum the piece Landscape, the Museum Of Glass (click HERE to check out the MOG website) also loaned us Regan and Lynette for 9 days to help install the piece.  Here they are installing the waterfall panel (one of the first panels to be installed).  We gave these brave women from Tacoma a proper Midwest welcome and rolled out some of the most bitter cold we could find.  I'm talking in the neighborhood of -22 degrees below zero on Monday morning!

The first thing we tackled was preparing the space for the installation.  Before we arrived on Saturday morning, steel I-Beams had been installed in the ceiling.  Two-person teams carried 17 sections of Unistrut up the main stairs at the museum -since even their big elevator was too small to accommodate the beams.  The wisdom of my chocolate, caffeine and cream-filled diet was called into question early and often for this project.

Once they were all installed in place, the I-Beams, Unistrut, and wire mesh gave us a grid from which to suspend several hundreds of panels of glass.

In addition to prepping the ceiling, a deck/base had to be built, installed, and then promptly covered over with Masonite, Tyvek, and a plastic template to protect the base while we worked on top of it.  The plastic template helped us 'locate' where specific panels were supposed to be hung/installed.

I didn't have my camera with me the days that he worked, but I would be remiss if I did not thank Mike Dietsch for all of his hard work getting both the ceiling and the floor constructed and into place.  Thanks Mike!

Here is Lynette surveying the battlefield on the eve of battle.

While one group was working to prepare the space, another was diligently opening and unpacking a small armada of crates filled with delicate glass artwork.  Opening up one of many crates for the show is Dana Densberger, who is Owner, Preparator, and Registrar at Dana Densberger Design and Preparator and Registrar at Augustana College in Rock Island.

As the crates were unpacked, the pieces of glass were laid out....



....and then wired.

The wire gets threaded through one of these little tubes, around the piece, and then back through the tube again.  A special set of pliers is used to crimp the tube on the wire so the wire doesn't slip and the piece fall to the ground and shatter with catastrophic results.

Different lengths of wire needed to be cut in advance so various pieces could be hung at the proper height.

And then the wiring began.....

We were wiring and re-wiring (and sometimes re-re-wiring!) pieces throughout the 8 day installation to get things 'just right'.  I think the last piece to have any kind of wiring work done to it was done during the last hour of the install on the last day.  It was a ongoing process to be sure.

Andrew Wallace threading the tubes on the wire after looping it around the ceiling grid.  There is no way to convey in a picture the level of stress that builds as you are holding a set of pliers in your sweaty hand 12 feet over a fantastically delicate piece of glass. Even if one of us were to have a mishap one time out of a hundred, we still would have had 4 or 5 broken panels of glass during the install.

Landscape is a truly amazing experience for the senses and I can't give enough credit to the artists' vision, workmanship, and commitment to bring this piece to fruition.  I hope to be able to provide a sneak peek at some of the the delicate nuances and details found throughout the piece.

I have included links to both artists websites.  Beth Lipman ( and Ingalena Klennell (

Now that we have a few layers of 'glass curtains' built up, you can begin to see how the different layers interact with each other to build the overall experience.

A close-up of the waterfall.

A side view of the different 'curtain' layers.

A quick set of detail shots to try to convey how much activity and texture are within each pane/sheet/section of glass.

The cloudy mountains start to take shape.

How did we know what piece went where?

Packed inside the crates were dozens and dozens of pictures of the exhibition for reference.  As you can imagine though, images of clear objects placed in front of other clear objects placed in front of other clear objects can be a challenge to decipher.  The task of 'image decoding' fell primarily on Lynette, Regan, and Dana.

As we built several successive curtains of glass away from the wall we periodically had to re-position the Masonite while leaving the Tyvek and plastic template in place.  This would normally be a fairly straightforward task to accomplish.  However, we essentially had to delicately sneak the Masonite panels out since we now had a small army of suspended glass artwork hanging 1/4 inch above the plastic template.  I can't begin to describe the overall body clench you feel when you start to move something and hear the sound of glass clinking on glass.

We had the good fortune of having two ceramicists help on the project.  Ceramic artists are a fantastic asset because they have strong hands and arms, are used to working with delicate objects, and I have yet to meet one who was afraid of putting in some hard work.  In the visual arts, Ceramics is a 'team sport'.  Here is the fantastically good-natured Justin Shortgen.

Take a moment to check out Justin's cool ceramics here (

Some more close-up shots of the gorgeous details in the glass.

Here is Robin Hill, the Assistant Registrar at the Figge, holding a piece of glass in place while two people on the scaffolding adjust the height and location of the wires in order to make sure the pane of glass is suspended in its proper location in 3-dimensional space.  Sometimes you're lucky and holding the glass only takes a few minutes to get everything in position.  Sometimes you're not so lucky.....

......A little to the South.......Andrew up 2 inches on your side.......Looks good.........CRIMP IT!

Some successful attempts at coaxing my little auto-focus camera into capturing the depth-of-field I wanted in order to show some of details within the glass.

There were several panels of 'mist' that needed to be hung near the waterfall.  But first they needed to have wire attached to them.  These mist panels struck me as the kind of delicate I hate to even contemplate          -merely thinking about them might cause sections to crumble.  Wiring the mist was one of the few show-hanging tasks I never even attempted.

A shot of Regan fearlessly threading a wire through the mist.

The net result of the mist to the overall composition.

After the mist was installed, Lynette had to carefully slide in between the 'curtains' to position herself next to the river and start adding glass ripples.

Not only did Lynette have to be focused on gently applying the glass to the mirror, she had to hold her body still while she worked.  One twitch or ill-considered foot re-positioning, and she could have been in a bad situation quicker than anyone could have reacted to.

Cool. Calm. Focused......and only half-way done.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. I might share this on FB, steve, if you don't mind.