The Chessmen’s Travels

What exactly goes on behind the scenes of a project like the touring Chessmen exhibition?  There are many teams in many departments working hard to make sure the exhibition is of the highest quality in terms of design, activities, publications, choosing what objects will be on display and what is written about them.  Here in the Loans section we have the job of making sure that everything is in place both at National Museums Scotland and at the receiving venue to ensure the objects are safe and well cared for once they start their journey on tour. For the chessmen, this involves liaising with venues in Aberdeen, Shetland and Stornoway.

Lewis Chessmen Berserker, King and Warder from National Museums Scotland

When a venue asks to borrow from our collections it sets in motion many activities.  The job of the Loans section is to co-ordinate all of the many people involved in making a loan happen.  Firstly we must ensure the borrowing venue is safe both in terms of security and environmentally.  Many of our collections are sensitive to light, temperature or relative humidity and would be damaged if not kept in the correct conditions.

Once a venue is approved and the objects requested are not required elsewhere, we ask our colleagues in Conservation to assess if the objects need any conservation work before they are packed.  Condition reports are written too so that the objects can be checked regularly for any damage or changes in condition.  Then the objects are packed according to how they will travel – for the Chessmen this means their very own nice cosy travelling case.

Chessmen ready to travel
Some of the Lewis Chessmen ready to travel!

Once packed and all the paperwork for insurance and loan agreements has been organised the transport must be arranged.  Depending on the loan this could be a large truck or small van, or for overseas travel, a boat or an aeroplane.

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