Recently, the Pink Palace Collections and Exhibits departments moved three of the museum’s largest artifacts. The Burton Callicott murals have hung over the grand staircase in the mansion lobby since 1934 when Callicott was commissioned as part of the Public Works of Art Project. The museum’s advisory board wanted the option of removing the paintings if they did not like them, so Callicott painted the three scenes on canvas instead of directly to the wall. The murals hung until 1995 when they were removed for extensive conservation. After the restoration, the conservators returned the murals to the museum rolled, and staff restretched the canvases and added frames on the floor of the lobby before rehanging them.
Construction for the new mansion exhibits is scheduled to begin in January 2017, and the murals needed to be moved out of the mansion for their protection. The 2016 mural move was the first time the murals were removed from the wall and relocated while stretched and framed, which presented a number of challenges. Each panel is almost 15 feet tall and 10 feet wide and also permeated with wax making the two largest panels weigh about 250 pounds each. From the scaffolding, we removed the screws attaching the frame to the wall and lifted the paintings off their blocks and onto the ground. The staircase landing is uneven, so custom blocks were cut to keep the paintings level.
Once we removed the center painting from the wall, we moved it to the far left, and three people held it in place with the help of a small arm attached to the wall for support. While they supported the painting, others removed the center scaffolding. Next, we moved the painting to the middle of the staircase, lifted it on the rim of the landing, and lowered it to the floor with two people in a man lift to support the top of the painting. For the next two paintings, we moved each to the center, reinstalled the back center scaffolding, attached straps to the supports, and lowered the panels at an angle to the floor with the people in the man lift supporting the bottom of the paintings.
Getting the paintings down to the floor was only part of the process. The murals are being stored in our on-site storage area until construction is complete. The challenge is that there is no simple way to move the murals from the mansion lobby into storage. Using dollies, we walked the paintings horizontally through the mansion, across the mezzanine, down the main staircase, through the museum ticketing lobby, down the hallway by the planetarium and through the rollup doors into storage. Once there, we stood the paintings back vertically and lifted them using straps onto shelves built along the outer wall of the second and third floors.
The move took 10 hours, three levels of scaffolding, 11 staff members with hands on the painting, 5 safety harnesses and one telescoping man lift. The murals and all staff arrived at the end of the move safely.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico is the Supervisor of Exhibits and Graphics Services. She has a master’s degree in history from The University of Memphis, and she helped move the murals by doing exactly what the preparator and conservator said.