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Precautions Protect O.C. Art Collections

January 25, 1994|CATHY CURTIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At Orange County museums, officials say they use standard techniques and equipment to help guard against earthquake damage--although, of course, none are guaranteed against the force of a major upheaval.

Brian Gray, director of design and facilities at Newport Harbor Art Museum in Newport Beach, explained that the storage area for paintings and large sculptures is padded, and "everything is strapped down or bungee-corded." Smaller items sit on carpeting so they won't shift, and netting is placed around steel storage bins to catch anything that might fall out. All the shelving units and files are bolted to the walls.

Within the exhibition galleries, Gray said, portable wall systems are strapped to the ceiling and objects are "as well attached as possible to the floor or exhibition furniture."

At the Laguna Art Museum, according to Bolton Colburn, curator of collections, the on-site vault contains a compact storage system for paintings. The rows of racks rest on wheels that are stabilized so as not to sway or jump out of their tracks in the event of seismic tremors. Drawings are stored in boxes nestled on metal racks with safety lips guarding their edges.

In the galleries, the Laguna Beach museum adheres small objects to their bases with museum wax or silicone. Paintings are secured with double sets of hooks (screw eyes and D-rings, the museum term for metal picture hangers). In some cases, the works are also attached with a plastic strap resembling an extra-strength hospital bracelet, which must be cut to be removed.

Brian Langston, marketing and public relations director at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, said the 1992 addition to the building was designed "to exceed all modern earthquake codes," and the collection storage system was specifically designed to be earthquake-resistant. Shelving rests on big rubber wheels with miniature "shock absorbers," and all of the shelves have attached netting.

Exhibition cases in the galleries were designed with most of their weight concentrated on the bottom, Langston said. Thick plexiglass covers the objects. Particularly valuable items are secured to their cases in four directions with lengths of monofilament line clad in a clear, bumper-like plastic tube and fastened with thin wire nails.

"The whole case would have to (topple) over for an object to be damaged," Langston said.

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