The Registrar: A Museum's "Risk Management"

Vasti DeEsch, LUAG’s Collection Manager/Registrar, was kind enough to speak to me about her position and the meticulous work that goes into preserving LUAG’s teaching collection. The main function of a registrar is to document and track the movement of every single object in a collection. LUAG has over 13,000 objects in its collection. As soon as a work of art enters the museum the registrar creates a trail of information which includes its location and condition. A registrar also deals with many other aspects of a museum, including legal documents, insurance, acquisitions, loans and exhibitions.

Vasti has a passion for investigating and researching, which is greatly beneficial to her position. The work of a registrar involves a constant learning curve. New artist mediums and new technologies used to preserve artwork are always being developed. Vasti attends many classes and workshops to keep up to date with changing mediums and storage techniques. Something you might not know about Vasti is she also has a strong love of languages which proves useful when dealing with art from foreign countries.

A big part of a registrar’s job is to avoid any risks that may damage an artwork. It is almost as if a registrar could be called museum’s “risk management.”  A lot of rules and precautionary measures are followed so risks are minimized. Vasti tells students that when an object enters the museum, the object becomes a treasure. This creates the mindset that all objects must be protected and conserved. She also educates anyone who visits the collection, including museum study students and faculty conducting research in collection, on how to conduct themselves when around the artwork. There are general rules visitors must follow to eliminate risks that could create damage. A few rules are:

  • Only pencils, no pens (to avoid the mistake of creating ink marks)
  • No food or beverage (to avoid the risk of beverage or food spilling and attracting pests)
  • No picking up the art (to avoid mishandling and damage from dirt and oils an hands)

And then there are the white gloves…

To me the white gloves are a symbol of the importance of an object’s preservation, but of course they also have a practical function. They protect against anything damaging that could possibly be on someone’s hands. What I did not know is some objects, such as glass, are better handled without gloves, because of the risk of slipping.

Vasti deals with storage concerns on a daily basis. There are many factors to consider. Some main factors include relative humidity levels, pest control, and storage materials. Humidity levels, too wet or too dry can damage art, and depending on the medium, there are different optimal humidity levels. No bugs should ever be allowed near the collection, because bugs can be very damaging. Also, any material touching the art must be considered. There is a specific science behind knowing what materials can touch each other for the least amount of wear or alteration to occur.

Registrars have their white gloved hands in many aspects of a museum’s operation. It is their sole responsibility to protect the art and minimize any risk to its preservation. They are the guardians of all the museum’s treasures.

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