Behind the Scenes at the DAM

How the DAM Equipped PreVIEW with Special Tools for Handling & Examining Textiles

Located in the northwest corner of the textile art gallery, PreVIEW is a space that offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the handling, care, and study of textiles in the Denver Art Museum’s collection. Along with its role as a venue for public programs, PreVIEW is a multidisciplinary and versatile work area, shared by staff members from the curatorial, conservation, education, exhibitions, and collections management departments.

In PreVIEW, textiles are evaluated for exhibition, conserved, documented, photographed, studied, and rehoused, among other activities. PreVIEW space was constructed using funds from a generous endowment gifted by the Avenir Foundation. It was thereafter equipped and outfitted with funds donated by the William H. Donner Foundation.

Adjustable work tables & storage

An overall view of PreVIEW. Quilt, American, 1885. Denver Art Museum: Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Guido Goldman, 2008.398.

With around 9,000 textiles in the DAM’s collection spread across four curatorial departments, the ability to accommodate varying sizes of textiles is essential to the functionality of this space. Ten height-adjustable rolling tables allow for ergonomic and diverse configurations. Some of the tables have removable slats, allowing conservators to access objects from above and below during treatments, without compromising the objects’ safety. There are wall-mounted textile racks for temporary storage of rolled textiles as well as rolled supplies and materials. The storage system employs brackets and support arms that can be arranged at various widths to adapt to a range of object sizes

Hoist suspends large textiles (images in slide show below)

View of a work table with a slat removed. Quilt, American, 1885. Denver Art Museum: Neuster Textile Collection: Gift of Guido Goldman, 2008.398.

A main feature of PreVIEW is a custom-designed and built hoist that is used to easily and safely suspend large textiles vertically. Anchored into a steel beam in the concrete ceiling, the hoist operates using an electric winch and cable system that raises and lowers a boom. The boom spans approximately 16 feet. Along the boom, there are two types of hanging systems to which the textiles can be mounted: a gentle clamping mechanism or Velcro. The boom is first lowered to table height, the top edge of the textile is attached to the boom, and then the boom is raised slowly and smoothly. Suspending the textile allows front and back viewing and also facilitates photography of the object and “test-hanging.” Test-hanging a textile offers the ability to look for even tension as well as to investigate different hanging mechanisms such as Velcro, support rods, and rare earth magnets.

Rolling boom to photograph large objects

The photography boom enables the imaging of large-scale objects. Pieced Quilt, American, 1914. Denver Art Museum: Neusteter Textile Collection: Gift of Mr. Kurtz Myers & Mrs. Ransom A. Miller, 1977.63.

Photography is extremely important to the record of an object and for printed publications about the collection. To facilitate photography, PreVIEW is equipped with a rolling photography boom that can be easily maneuvered through the space. The boom can be moved both vertically and horizontally to accommodate a wide range of object dimensions. The camera is mounted to the end of the boom and can be raised high above the object to allow the full object to be captured in the image without distortions. The camera is operated from a computer tethered to the camera with a long cable, allowing the camera to be controlled even when out of reach.

A computer-driven microscope aids documentation

Lastly, PreVIEW is also equipped with a computer-driven microscope. This instrument captures images of textiles at a range of magnifications and can be connected to a wall-mounted monitor to share the images with visitors. It is an excellent tool for documentation and demonstration.

There are a variety of public programs that take place in PreVIEW. Check out the museum’s Textile Talks for more information. Visitors are also encouraged to attend Open Window in PreVIEW every Thursday afternoon from 1:30–3:30 pm. This is an opportunity to speak with museum staff about their projects and learn more about the DAM’s behind-the-scenes activities.

Caitlin Whaley is the conservation assistant in the conservation department at the Denver Art Museum. Caitlin has been with the DAM since 2012. She loves to silversmith as well as see live music.