All posts by RegistrarTrek

Museum professional, lover of all collections work, former collections manager of the TECHNOSEUM in Mannheim, Germany. Now Professional Services Specialist for Gallery Systems. Independent museum professional. Cat wrangler and #SciFi enthusiast. Views are my own. Of course, they are. I can't make anybody responsible for the garbage my brain produces!

A Registrar’s Trilemma – How would you decide?

fire-truck-4912_640When you are studying museum studies or taking a course in artifact handling and preventive conservation, you learn a lot about ideal storage conditions, improving climate conditions, what to do, what to avoid. However, all exercises you solve in class are clear-cut cases. Normally, there will be one right answer to the question, “What would you decide?”

Then, there is real museum life. And like real life in general it doesn’t consist of clear cases. You will always run into situations where you have to decide not which solution to a problem is the best but which one is the least bad. Best practice is great but sometimes all you can do is decide between the disaster and the catastrophe.

This is a true story which I will tell in two parts. In the first part I will confront you with a situation, provide you with some additional information and leave you with the question, “How would you decide?” so you can think about the situation until I tell you how the story turned out.

The setting

You are the collections manager of a museum with a large collection of technological artifacts. It’s 7:30 on a Friday morning in December when you receive a call from the maintenance department: A fire detector has caused one false alarm in the night, with two fire brigades marching out. The detector was reset and caused another false alarm early this morning. It needs fixing.

The storage hall is provided with two similar infrared fire detectors, each one controlling one half of the hall. In order to fix it, the fire detector must be checked and eventually replaced by an external service technician and can only be reached using a cherry picker. The place where the cherry picker could stand inside the hall to reach the fire detector is blocked by two large historical trucks.
Alternatively, when one gate is opened, the cherry picker can stand outside the hall reaching inside and the technician can work from there. As a result, the temperature inside the hall would drop from 11C to around zero next to the gate, and a little more in places further down the hall.

Storage hall climate conditions

  • Artifacts stored in the hall are trucks and railway material
  • The temperature in the hall is 11 degrees Celsius
  • relative humidity is at about 42%

Weather conditions

The local weather station currently reports a reading of -3C at 55% relative humidity, and the weather is overcast but dry. There is a weather warning by the meteorological service for heavy snowfalls, approximate starting time: 10 o’clock a.m.
The weather forecast for next week: on Monday, the temperature will rise to 5C with an 85% chance of rain. The weather will stay warm and wet for the next one or two weeks.

Telephone messages

FFS – Fine Fire Services, call 7:56 a.m.
A service technician can be there at 9 a.m. Work on the fire detector will take approximately 1 to 2 hours, depending on whether the detector needs only to be cleaned or completely replaced. The workers would have be notified by 10 a.m., otherwise they would not be able to come until Monday morning.

Conservator Trucks&Cars, call 7:59 a.m.
Trucks can be moved, but need heavy equipment and support from maintenance department.

Head of maintenance department, call 8:05 a.m.
Tow bar and truck able to pull the historic trucks are available; staff to help the conservator is available.

Conservator Trucks&Cars, call 8:07 a.m.
Where to pull the trucks? The only possible place is the forecourt outside the hall. How long will it take to pull them there? If work begins immediately, they can finish by approximately 9:30 a.m.


Do you have all the information you need to make a decision? How would you go about deciding?

a) Pull the two trucks out of the hall so the technician can work inside?

b) Open one gate so the cherry picker can stand outside and the work can be done inside the hall?

c) Wait until Monday or later, leaving 50% of your hall without a fire warning system, until the temperature rises and it will be dry?

Now, my dear readers: How and what would you decide?

Read the real outcome here.


Happy anniversary, Registrar Trek!

celebrationOn January 2nd 2013 we started a project with the purpose to inform the public about collections work and bring collections people around the world together. Now, a year later, we are a team of four authors and 32 translators from 19 countries, providing 16 languages.

I guess you, our faithful readers, are more interested in what we have in stock for the next year of Registrar Trek than in statistics*.

First of all, be insured that we will keep you entertained with stories and articles from the world of collections management. And we are happy for every new contribution you will send in. Our plan is to hunt for more practical hands-on stories, examples of good practice in registering, good storage solutions and smart ideas in documentation and collections management. We will even have some real world stories that will end with questions like “How would you decide?” leaving you with the possibility to chew on the problem until we reveal the outcome in one of the next posts.

Matt will keep us informed about art forger Mark Landis and his aliases, Anne has some more to tell “off the shelf” and Derek will take you all into the fascination of registrar’s work. Angela is planning to launch a small fun series called “The Museum of Spam”.

And of course, there will be stories and articles from guest authors. We’ve actually got one in the pipeline from a data base enthusiast and there are several others promised.

So, stay with us and stay tuned!

Your Registrar Trek Team


* Statistics: We published 62 posts, had 12,000 visitors who visited our blog nearly 20,000 times. Over 300 subscribed to our RSS-feed.

This post is also available in Italian, translated by Silvia Telmon.


Season’s Greetings from Registrar Trek

Working on an installation of 173 coffee makers. Still more to come...

Working on an installation of 173 coffee makers. Still more to come…

The special exhibition area is abandoned. Where only half an hour ago artifacts were put into racks or cleaned by conservators, everything is quiet. The last working day before Christmas. Usually, that’s the day to arrange papers and thoughts, review the past year, look ahead to upcoming projects and share some of these thoughts with colleagues.

This year is different. Christmas „catches“ me in the middle of the installation of our upcoming special exhibition, on electrical household appliances. Last year was packed with taking care of vacuum cleaners, pressing irons, food processors, hair-dryers, coffee makers… well over 1500 objects were picked for exhibition, many more were researched and their data corrected in the data base. Now everything must be put in the right place, get individual treatment (i.e. fixing of loose parts or cleaning) and a correct label. No contemplative working process that invites reflectiveness. But I don’t want to leave for the holidays without my own personal review and outlook, especially because this time I can share it with colleagues all around the world:

Aside from the challenges of the aforementioned collections exhibition the last year was defined by the start and growth of Registrar Trek. We went live on January 2nd and I’m sure that there will be time for a special review on our first anniversary. It’s great to see how a weird idea from two people has developed within one year into a project that is known and supported by so many colleagues around the globe.

Christmas tree at the TECHNOSEUM: decorated with household appliances. TECHNOSEUM, picture by Klaus Luginsland

Christmas tree at the TECHNOSEUM: decorated with household appliances… TECHNOSEUM, picture by Klaus Luginsland

The financial crisis in North America and Europe is clearly noticeable, especially in the cultural sector. I know that many of our readers and some members of the Registrar Trek team are trying desperately to get back into a job in the field of collections management. Unfortunately, all that we can do is keep our fingers crossed and wish them the best of luck, courage and the power of endurance.

Those who are in permanent contracts feel the growing pressure of taking over more responsibilities because the work must be done with fewer colleagues and declining budgets. Combining professional ethics and financial needs is a difficult task. Amidst of all this trouble, let us not forget that the collections field is not the only one affected by the crisis. I have seen many discussions on professional groups and listservs about how money is spent on the wrong things and wrong projects, and it seems to me that every colleague envies the other for funded projects. Personally, I feel that’s not a successful approach. As registrars, collection managers, curators of collections or documentation officers we are in the same boat as conservators, educators, guides, guards, curators, marketing people… The boat is called „museum,“ and we will need each others’ skills to avoid shipwreck.

...obviously, our marketing department likes the upcoming exhibition as much as we collections people do. TECHNOSEUM, picture by Klaus Luginsland

…obviously, our marketing department likes the upcoming exhibition as much as we collections people do. TECHNOSEUM, picture by Klaus Luginsland

So, for the new year, let us do what we collections people do best: take care of the things that need close attention to detail, help with paperwork and organizational tasks, and, in the figurative sense, wrap the frayed nerves – our own and those of our colleagues.

I’m really glad that the Registrar Trek Team does consist of so many professions: there are of course registrars and collection managers, but also conservators, curators, marketing specialists, visitor guides and people from totally different fields. This variety keeps the exchange of thoughts interesting and the development of this project joyful. For the upcoming year, we have more exciting stories and articles in the pipeline, so stay tuned.

Now I’m going to gather some waste and stack a few pallets before I leave for Christmas. But before that, in the name of the whole Registrar Trek Team:

We wish you Merry Christmas and a happy healthy and successful New Year 2014!


This text is also available in Italian translated by Silvia Telmon.


Update: Art in Hotels

Sometimes we receive feedback regarding our articles on Registrar Trek from the farest regions of our planet. But last Monday it was feedback from just next door:
“Guess what I saw this weekend?” Dr. Hajo Neumann one of our curators asked me.
I was clueless.
“Hotel Art!” he grinned and showed me this picture:

Foto00061 by Hajo Neumann

Yes, folks, someone actually nailed the picture directly to the wall! So close the whole frame bends. That it was hung so close to the window that it gets all the UV exposure it can possibly get is a nice extra.


Art in Hotels

For the record: I love hotels. And I think museums could learn a lot from them about making visitors feel welcome. But there’s one thing that continually catches my eye from a professional point of view. So allow me to share a few words today on the topic of “Art in Hotels.”

Art in hotels is great. Art can comfort those who are feeling lonely. It can lead to new discoveries and awaken treasured memories. Art can be inspirational, and it can have a calming effect after a hectic day. But art can also do the opposite: it can make a hotel guest feel extremely uncomfortable. I experienced the following examples myself, during one long weekend in various hotels.

1. The Subtle Horror of Heirlooms

Nothing is nicer than art we inherit. There are often real pearls in the well guarded treasures of our ancestors. There is, however, a simple rule of thumb: if you must remove something from your house because it gives your grandchild nightmares, it’s hardly appropriate to hang it in a hotel room instead:

A nature scene in copper? Perfect for a country hotel! What’s not to like?


After all, what says “Welcome” better than the dead eyes of a zombie-bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)?


2. You’ll Hang Right with Us!

A while ago, a clever publisher of art posters had an idea: In a society in which we can no longer be sure that people will recognize art when they see it, a little help might be required. So he supplied reprints of famous works of art with enlarged, stylized signatures of the artists—“Vincent,” “Monet,” “Manet,” etc. It seems like hotels are fond of this kind of art print, and I bet you’ve already seen this on one of van Gogh’s sunflower bouquets or another. In one hotel I had Monet’s “Fields in the Spring” above my bed.


The original is undeniably a masterpiece of Impressionist art. Yet in this case it was a picture under which no registrar could ever sleep well. You can see in the first photo that the colors have faded after years of exposure to UV light. But the true horror doesn’t become apparent until the photo with flash.


The environmental conditions in the hotel room were obviously anything but ideal. As if that weren’t enough, the frame was secured in a manner I have not often seen before. Unfortunately, the lighting was too dim to document this sufficiently:


The picture was actually nailed to the wall through the frame… In the hotel’s defense, the room was otherwise fine and the food was excellent.

3. Do You Have the Monet in Apricot?

Art reproductions have enjoyed a long and honorable tradition. They present us with the opportunity to be surrounded by valuable art without having to spend huge amounts of money on it. Naturally, one usually chooses the work of art to suit the room. Recently, though, I noticed some hotel art that turned this principle upside-down: instead of finding art that suited the room, the art was made to suit it.

Sometimes sections are extracted from masterpieces in ways the artists never originally intended. For example, there’s the woman with the umbrella in the aforementioned “Fields in the Spring,” extracted, enlarged, and in portrait mode. She fits better in the corridor that way, and there isn’t so much unnecessary undergrowth in the picture… In an extreme example, the colors are adjusted to make them a better match with the wallpaper.

Another annoying custom is mass production made to look like real paintings. Closer examination reveals these to be inkjet on canvas stapled to boards made to look like a stretcher frame. This kind of mass-produced art can be found in any style (particularly popular, for example, is something based on Edward Hopper for fast-food restaurants), and abstract themes are especially common. Presumably because they’re extremely low-maintenance: they’re considered intellectual from the start and can be produced in any color imaginable. And whoever finds a motif that can hang as a matched set over a double bed wins:


Whether it’s really art is debatable. In this case, I think someone went through a catalog looking for décor to match the room. And the fact that you can’t borrow a level from the reception desk to get them hung straight, at least, was the final straw.

I can’t exclude the possibility, however, that the hotel owner especially liked the piece shown above. Beauty ultimately lies in the eye of the beholder. Still, even if you like something a lot, so much so that you can’t get enough of it, a hotel owner should never make the mistake—even with mass productions—of hanging the same piece in two places to which the same guest has access!


I find it amazing that they managed to hang both sets nearly identically crooked!


Sleep well!

Translated from German into English by Cindy Opitz.

This text is also available in French translated by Marine Martineau.


A Captain Leaves The Ship

boat-85601_640There are good days and there are bad days. This is a bad, sad day. A day I hoped would never come – or if it did, then in the far, far future when Registrar Trek is a myth the old registrars tell the young registrars about.

This project started out as a project of two people: Fernando and me. We had been exchanging thoughts for … well, almost exactly a year. We laughed, had fun, inspired each other and out of this, Registrar Trek was born. A small project at first. Two people writing articles and translating them in their mother tongue. When we went live in January, we soon gained more authors, translators and more languages. Registrar Trek grew rapidly, up to 37 contributors.

Rapid growth is great, but it’s difficult to keep an eye on everything. So, while I was busy managing new team members, adding translations and writing stuff, I didn’t notice that one team member was not happy with how things were going. A very important team member, my Captain (we often joked that his role model was Captain Jean-Luc Picard and mine was Admiral Kathryn Janeway).

The problem with working with team members from all over the world via internet is that you don’t meet people face to face. In the normal museum business your eyes or your intuition tell you that something isn’t understood the way it is said or that one team member is not happy. When this occurs, you could grab two cups of coffee, close the office door and sit down and talk. On the internet you have to rely on what you read from others, a very limited view of what is going on in another human being.

Maybe it was words I wrote that weren’t understood the way I meant them, maybe it was other things I did or said (or didn’t do or didn’t say), but the fact is that Fernando has decided to leave the Registrar Trek. No chance to reach him, no chance to set things straight, no chance to hold him back. I always said that if one of us stopped having fun, this would be the end of Registrar Trek. And in a way I still feel I don’t want to steer that ship without my captain, co-founder and co-administrator. So my first impulse was to close the project down.

But then, there are all of the great colleagues who offered their help with translations and the many people I know are working on contributions for Registrar Trek. And of course there are you, the readers of the blog, who keep us motivated to invest our free time in articles and translations. So, I feel a responsibility to carry on. I can’t promise that we can do it as well as we did before. Now, the captain is missing! But we will carry on.



A Registrar’s Hack: Puss in Boots

You all know that in a perfect museum everything is at the right place at the right time. Unfortunately, this isn’t a perfect world, hence: no perfect museum. So, part of a registrar’s job is to improvise. Find bug fixes, workarounds and substitutes, use common sense and sometimes parts from your local DIY store. Often, you use your experiences from your everyday life to apply them to you museum work. Just now I discovered that it also works the other way round.

Recently, my cat fell from great height onto something very rough and hard, we suspect from a scaffold, roof or building crane to the asphalt road. As a result her back paws were torn open, she ruined her claws and lost two of them. The vet bandaged the legs, but when she tried to walk with it, she always slipped on our parquet floor. Well, as you might imagine from the accident, it isn’t my cat’s idea of fun to lie around doing nothing. So she kept on walking and slipping. That’s when my registrar’s brain started thinking…

Like most collections people I have a private supply of gloves: nitril, latex, cotton, leather… for every purpose the right glove. Among these are those handy little things most of you will know:


Not suitable for all purposes, for the little pimples on them are made from vinyl, but the right ones for carrying around something with a very smooth, slippery surface. In my case, it was the other way round: they should carry something on a slippery floor.

I sacrificed two thumbs to have improvised socks I could pull over the bandage.


Later I fixed them with some sticking plaster to hold them in place. Now, she still isn’t exactly a happy cat, she’s still a little insecure with the bandages (pun intended: she’s all thumbs with her rear legs…) but can walk around without slipping again.

Puss in Boots

Case solved.



Straying from the path: a book about wallpaper

The great thing about being a museum professional is that you never know when and where the skills you learn along your path will be needed in the future. This is a story about it.

A few months ago I discussed with Robert M. Kelly an article he was writing for a journal. Having dealt with museum texts a number of times before I was able to give some hints. I guess all of you who ever wrote or edited exhibitions and catalog texts know what it means to use the surgeon’s knife on filler words or the butcher’s ax on whole passages to make a text fit into the given word count…

When we were through, Bob asked me to help him on a book he was writing. A book about wallpaper. The early years of wallpaper.

I said: „Bob, I’m a collection manager, I don’t know anything about wallpaper and I’m no native speaker.“
Bob said: „Yeah, exactly what I’m looking for.“
Sometimes I’m glad that most conversations nowadays are via email, because if he had asked if it’s okay to ship the Mona Lisa via [insert favorite parcel service] I would have given him exactly the same facial expression.

Anyway, now, exactly 9 months after I started to read the first sentences of the manuscript the book is out and I’m proud as hell!

Backstory of Wallpaper book face

Why should I read a book about wallpaper, you ask?

Well, there are many good reasons: wallpaper is on the walls of historic houses and we have to care about it just the same as we care about the furniture, the carpets and the other artifacts. We might have wallpaper in our collections, as brand-new rolls that were never delivered and installed, as fragments being rescued from destroyed houses, as wallpaper pieces inventoried by mistake as lining paper (or vice versa) or as study collection for design questions. As always: the more you know about something, the easier it is to care for it.

But this is not a book about conservation or registration issues. It tells the social and economic story of how wallpaper was made in the early days, how it was sold and how it became popular on the walls in Europe and the North American colonies. And it’s a book about people.

We meet people who made, sold, bought and installed wallpaper. We meet Jean-Michel Papillon , who did the wonderfully detailed descriptions and drawings of the craft intended for Diderot’s Encyclopédie (some to be seen in the book) – but was forced into this trade by his father and turned his back on it as soon as he could. Thomas Coleman who began selling wallpaper in London and later moved over to the American colonies to do the same. Catharine Mac Cormick who was one of the few installers we know by name, representing the countless female and male paperhangers who didn’t leave a mark in the records.

Following the traces of people makes the book easy and fun to read. While it is a book about the history and technology of wallpaper, it is not a dry one. It’s a journey into the past.

Now, as I continue my journey on the path of a collection manager and museum professional, I am very curious when and where the skill of having helped a book about wallpaper to see the light of day will be needed in another project. In the meanwhile, I will have a picture of a wallpaper as a wallpaper on my screen….




The book is available in every bookstore:

Robert M. Kelly: The Backstory of Wallpaper. Paper-Hangings 1650-1750. Published by, hardcover, 190 pages.
ISBN-10: 0985656107
ISBN-13: 978-0985656102

You can take a look inside here:

This post is also available in Dutch, translated by Jiska Verbouw, in Zulu/Ndebele, translated by Phineas Chauke and in French, translated by Marine Martineau.


A Survey on Journals, Magazines and Newsletters for Registrars

I recently started a survey on journals, magazines and newsletters for conservators. The aim was and is to gather a comprehensive list of information sources world wide.
Until today there doesn‘t seem to exist anything alike and I believe that it will contribute to better information and networking among museum professionals.

Since registrars are gaining importance and taking over duties that where formerly carried out by conservators I believe it’s interesting and important to collect sources for registrars too, broaden the horizon and interlink both groups alike.

There are, at the time I’m writing these lines, 46 journals listed in a database that I made available online. Only a handful of them are covering topics that are interresting for registrars.
You can make the difference! Please help me to collect online and ofline resources for registrars.

The datbase is available online:
> Login as Guest “Gastkonto” to browse and search the entries.
> Login as “Editor” and use “contribute” as passphrase to add or edit entries.
> You may also write me a mail (a.franz[at]divisual[dot]net) with your suggestions and recommendations.

Thank you very much!
Andreas Franz, dipl. Conservator FH/SKR


A registrar’s toolkit

springcleaningA registrar needs a whole bunch of materials to work with. They may vary from museum type to museum type and from working setup to working setup, but in 2013 a brainstorming among registrars on the RC-AAM listserv put together a list of useful tools and supplies that covers the needs for many registrar’s duties. The Registrar Trekkers (authors and translators of this blog) had a look at this list and added some more items. After we finished our brainstorming we give the list to you, our readers. Feel free to add what is missing in the comments section and we will update the list from time to time.


Working setup:

Lightweight Toolbox
LED Flashlight
Extra batteries
Small Notebook or Tablet PC
A good computer software! We don’t normally think of software as a “tool,” but without it, cataloging is impractical and making the catalog available to others is impractical to impossible.
Plastic plank or board for support of notebook or paper


Personal setup:

Apron (or lab coat)
Nitrile Gloves
Cotton Gloves
Dust mask
Fisherman’s vest (with multiple pockets)
Optivisor (2x)



Inspection Set (Telescoping, includes magnetitic pick-up, LED mini light, alligator clip, LEXan mirror, magnifier)
Pencil Sharpener
Fine Sewing Needle
Curved needle
Measuring Calipers
Fabric Tape Measure
Metal tape measure
Anti-static brush
Paint Brushes (3 size)
Blower Brush (Small)
Blower Brush (Med)
Cotton Swabs
Tweezers (5 pc Basic Set)
Bone Folder
Photo Scale (Set of 2)
A smallish self-healing cutting mat
A cork-back stainless steel ruler.
high-quality snap-blade knife, knife with exchangeable blades (i.e. X-Acto, Olfa…)
high-quality all-around scissors (i.e. Dahle…)
Embroidery scissors
Fabric Scissors (is there a difference to am embroidery scissor?)
scissor to cut sticky tape


Consumable Supply:

White Viynl Eraser
2H Pencils (12 ct)
All-Stabilo Pencil White
All-Stabilo Pencil Black
Tyvek Tags (2″x3″) 100 ct
Acid-Free Artifact Tags (1.5″ x 3.5 “) 100 ct
Spunbonded Reemay (25 ct.)
Twill Tape (1/2”) 36 Yard
Mercerized white cotton and black cotton thread
Cotton Balls
Knife Blades (5 ct)
B-72 Base Coat (Fluid)
Wash Bottle (For Dis. H2O)
Methyl Cellulose (1.5 oz) (some people prefer other adhesives)
Jar, Specimen (Mix Methyl Cellulose)
Plastic Bags
Velcro brand hook-and-loop fastening – non-adhesive (can be cut to size)