Truth is, every one of the 10,000 works in the museum's collection has been through this meticulous, nerve-wracking process, which is skillfully and patiently coordinated by the museum's team of registrars. The registrars are an invaluable part of the museum, working behind the scenes to rotate works in and out of the galleries seamlessly, without damaging or losing track of a single one.
While some works easily fit into shipping crates, others present our registrars with a bit more of a challenge. Whether dealing with extreme fragility, enormity or odd shapes and forms, the registrars are responsible for flawlessly and efficiently moving the items across the world for our viewing pleasure.
The museum's head registrar, Tricia Miller, took the time to give me an inside look at the exciting and somewhat hectic job of registration at an art museum.
Elizabeth Poland: What exactly does a registrar of an art museum do?
Tricia Miller: A registrar for an art museum is the information and logistics specialist for the care, preservation and management of works of art in the museum, whether in the permanent collection or on loan to the museum. There are three main areas of management for a registrar:
Overseeing the care and preservation of the works of art in the museum, from proper storage and handling to proper display. Registrars oversee and manage the environmental conditions to which works of art are exposed in order to best preserve them for future generations.
Overseeing the logistics for securing and planning for all current and future exhibitions. Museum staff work on exhibitions 1-2 years in advance and the registrars manage the logistical details such as reviewing and securing loan agreements and exhibition contracts and negotiating insurance, packing and crating, and shipping for all incoming temporary exhibitions.
Overseeing the organization of and access to information about the works of art in the collection and the temporary exhibitions. The registrars office creates and maintains a research file, called a curatorial file, for each object in the museum’s collection of over 10,000 objects. We also create and maintain a file for every temporary exhibition that has been on display at the museum from 1946 to the present. The registrars office also maintains a collections database which tracks all information associated with works of art in the collection.
EP: What is the most challenging part of your job?
TM: Managing multiple and sometimes varied tasks. In one week it is possible that I will work with UGA Legal Affairs on negotiating a contract or loan agreement, discuss the restoration of a work of art with a contract conservator, talk with HVAC engineers about the temperature and humidity in the building, use a pallet jack to move a heavy object in storage, work on data entry in the collections database, meet a truck driver who is delivering a work of art and examine the condition of a 17th-century Dutch etching.
EP: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
TM: Hands-on, intimate work with the objects. When an object comes into or goes out of the museum, a registrar conducts a condition report, which is a very close examination of the object to record its condition at the time of its arrival or departure. Registrars are some of the few people in the museum who are trained and authorized to handle the works of art, so we often have the privilege of being in close contact with important works of art.
EP: What was the most interesting work you saw moved?
TM: One of the more interesting things I’ve watched being moved is a 19th-century copy of an ancient sculpture at the Uffizi Palace called "Wrestlers." It is a marble sculpture on a marble base measuring over 6 feet tall. We hired fine arts moving specialists to coordinate disassembling, palletizing and moving this large, heavy sculpture with riggers.
EP: What advice would you give to a prospective art museum registrar?
TM: Museum studies programs will give you a good basic understanding of how museums operate and then volunteer in a registrars department at a museum. Registrars can always use help with the wide variety of tasks they manage.