A foreclosed home on 24thPlace and Locust Street calls about as much attention as the vinyl prints hanging on its boarded windows. The pictures, featuring interior spaces of local homes, blend into the exterior of the public property. Their subtle presentation suits the environment. People passing by only seem to notice the house-shaped planters and family portraits at a second glance.
But that’s not what Adam Carr sees. The storyteller and co-artist of the outdoor installation “Here, Mothers Are” sees photographs that need stapling and batteries that need replacing. He pulls up to the now-not-so-vacant lot with a staple gun in hand, ready to remedy any wear and tear caused by the elements.
For him, it’s just another day at the office. Well, another every other day at the office. The newfound art preparator collaborated with Sonja Thomsen to install the community improvement project, which explores the inner phenomenon of motherhood as described by women and families affiliated with The Dominican Center for Women, 2470 W. Locust St.
His job is as much learning on the fly as it is contemplating and storyboarding. He said he knew there would be a construction element to the installation. He didn’t expect that to include building a three-foot boundary wall supporting a new foundation of wood chips for the houseplanters and creating a perimeter for the installation. He and Thomsen spent days sweating — in a physical and figurative sense — with construction workers and volunteers.
“It was very physical,” he said. “There were a lot of things we figured out on the fly, but it’s a part of the process, you know.”
As quickly as Carr and Thomsen built walls, Daniel Herro, head preparator at the Haggerty Museum of Art, must be prepared to remove and relocate walls that are already built.
“I have to be a jack of all trades,” he said in the basement of the on-campus museum. Herro’s workspace, which serves as his office, stretches from a workshop to a frame-building station to the vaults, where the Haggerty’s permanent collection is stored.
Inside the workshop, there is a piece from the contemporary and modern works-on-paper series that has fallen off its hinges. He will reframe it and, per the artist’s request, paint the frame gray so the frame appears to disappear into the walls. For the Philip Guston prints currently on display, Herro had over a year and a half to start building frames for the 25 lithographic prints.
“If I do my job right, you don’t see what I do,” Herro said.
Herro has helped artists transform the Haggerty in ways never thought possible. They once turned the whole museum into a movie theater, with sound-proofed carpet to match. Another time, Herro and a few other employees helped an artist unpin dried bugs that she had pinned to the walls – all 1,000 of them. In the fall, Herro will paint the museum walls with chalkboard paint to prepare for an artist’s chalkboard drawing installation.
“I really enjoy working with the artists. For me, it’s really fun to work with them and help with installations. And it presents completely different challenges, too,” he said.
The director and curator of the Haggerty work about six months in advance to schedule art exhibitions that will be displayed. Three times a year, the entire museum closes down for a nine-day period called rotation.
“There’s no rest during rotation. It’s probably the most hectic time here,” Herro said.
During this time, the whole museum comes down. Nail holes are patched, walls are painted and new art is installed. Herro then relights every gallery.
Herro uses a handheld light meter to calculate the intensity of light shining on the hanging paintings and prints — especially important for print photographs, which can be damaged because of heat.
“Definitely when it all comes together it’s a huge relief, and it’s nice to see it all up there and people actually enjoying it, but I love the process,” Herro said.
Since 2010, Danielle Ahler, a junior in the College of Health Sciences, has worked at the Haggerty helping Herro prepare exhibitions. She said she was initially surprised at how much work goes into being a preparator.
“You don’t think about that when you come into the museum and look around,” Ahler said.
Hero has taught Ahler how to frame and assist during rotation time – mostly taking nails out of the walls and patching up the holes.
“The most rewarding part is actually seeing them all up and walking through and having time to look at all the artwork,” she said.