This time last year the thought of moving almost 5,000 objects from display at the National Museum of Scotland was bracing to say the least. It wasn’t just the quantity that sent shivers down my spine, it was the diversity of the collections moving that was truly exhilarating: Egyptian mummies, Japanese netsuke, Rennie Macintosh furniture, a F1 racing car, razor sharp swords, and a small aircraft (just to name a few).
I should pause for a moment to explain I joined National Museums Scotland in September 2013. My previous experience was dedicated to fine art collections utterly devoid of mummies, weapons and vehicles of any kind. In short, this was a very new project for me and one where I was responsible for ensuring the move of collections was coordinated, efficient and delivered without a hitch. See what I mean…bracing or what?!
But regardless of how giddy the concept made me, there was no getting out of it. These objects had to move to enable the development of ten exciting new galleries opening in 2016. After meeting with a range of expert colleagues to draw on their vast experience, a lot of careful planning, the right resources and an excellent team comprising a move coordinator, project assistants, photographers, curators, technicians and conservators we did it. In fact, we didn’t just move the collections; from June to November we successfully de-installed, photographed, reorganised and moved a total of 4,826 objects to the National Museums Collection Centre in Granton.
The project certainly presented a range of challenges. In literal terms, the biggest of these was a Space Capsule. On loan from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC, the Gemini TTV-2 Paraglider Capsule is 2.7 metres high, 2.5 metres wide, 3.5 metres long and weighs 2.2 tonnes. Can you believe they jettison these things into space?
Challenge number one: It didn’t fit in the goods lift
There are two main goods lifts that service the museum. Neither capable of carrying a space capsule. The only way out when you’re this size is via a bespoke window specifically designed to facilitate large object moves from the museum galleries to the street outside. Exit via the window requires a flat bed truck with crane, a scaffold and road closure. Following many emails, telephone calls and discussions, we locked all three into place and set the date for the move at 6am on Saturday 21 November.
Challenge number two: It didn’t fit out the door
The space capsule was installed in the Connect gallery in 2010. The doorway to this gallery was narrowed for aesthetic reasons shortly after install and while it did look good, it needed widening if we were going to get the capsule out. From 5pm on Thursday 20 November, contractors worked into the wee hours opening up the door. They made it just large enough to get the capsule out safely.
Challenge number three: The narrow route out
In addition to the space capsule, The Connect gallery contains a rocket, an engine and a locomotive. These three items are so vast in size we decided to protect them in situ during the development work. Protection came in the form of giant wooden boxes, carefully constructed to prevent the objects being damaged. These boxes narrowed the route required for the capsule to move out: our team of technicians required bespoke slim-line skates and oodles of patience to slowly negotiate a safe path between the large boxes, making minute changes in angle to safely guide the capsule out.
And from there on out, it was plain sailing!
And the time has come for us to starting planning the move and installation of objects returning to display in 2016. Needless to say, I am braced and ready!