“I’m ready for my close-up”: preparing The Great Book of Ireland for exhibition

We hope by now many people have been able to visit the Glucksman Gallery at University College Cork to enjoy all on offer from the current exhibition Facing Pages: the Art of The Great Book of Ireland.

The Great Book of Ireland on display for 'Facing Pages'
The Great Book of Ireland on display for ‘Facing Pages’

The centrepiece of the exhibition, in the Library’s humble opinion, is The Great Book of Ireland on display in its exhibition case. That said, the original artworks on display throughout the gallery are also impressive, highlighting the variety of artists who contributed to The Great Book of Ireland.

There is always a lot of pre-planning and discussion before any object is displayed. It’s something that perhaps the general public don’t fully realise and if we professionals involved do our jobs properly no one notices, or should notice. The Great Book of Ireland presented its own unique issues to those of us charged with its care – librarians, conservator and archivist alike. Here’s just a little insight into one area.

The book is on display in an exhibition case, open on a feature page that is changed on a fortnightly basis. Once it was decided which pages were to be displayed, we opened the book at these chosen pages. This was to judge how well the book adjusted to that opening and how much support the book needed to open at that page. Notes were taken at this stage: how many foam boards for either side of the book (verso and recto) to prop and support the book so the page displayed properly, and how the spine moved at each opening (for the type of spine foam supports needed). Depending on where the feature page was located (page 33 or page 131) greatly impacted on how many foam boards were needed (verso and recto) and the movement of the spine.

Foam sheets on verso mount for Beckett/le Brocquy page
Foam sheets on verso mount for Beckett/le Brocquy page

Paul Curtis, Conservator, specifically designed a mount to rest the book upon for exhibition. Using a measured board as a template for the book’s size and the largest foam mounts we use in our reading room, we placed these in the exhibition case so Paul could judge the degree of angle the mounts had to be at to properly support the book for display.

At this stage we also noted what space remained in the case for two separate captions and for environmental monitors (as we take weekly/twice-weekly temperature and humidity readings from inside the case). The captions were then made to ‘fit’ to this space, careful that the font being used was the same as the exhibition font for the captions for the artwork.

The mount created is in three separate parts – two ends and a spine support. Every part is slightly at a different angle in order to accommodate the nature of The Great Book and how it ‘sits’ when opened on each chosen feature page. Once Paul had made the mount, we gave it a test-run in the library by again placing the book opened on each feature page, noting exactly the number of foam boards needed underneath the verso or recto mount and how many foam sheets needed to support the spine at each feature page. Any other issues were also noted e.g. for a page needing additional ‘help’ in remaining open, a strip of mylar cut to size is a great help!

The Kennelly/Ballagh page - a strip of mylar was needed
The Kennelly/Ballagh page – a strip of mylar was needed

Every time a feature page is changed these notes and foam boards on hand are vital in making the process as easy and simple as possible, with the minimum handling of The Great Book of Ireland.

I feel there is a joke along the lines of “how many people does it take…..” with the punch-line being one conservator, one archivist and one librarian, and lots of others too, but its true in this case.

There were other aspects in the planning – like where to locate the exhibition case in the gallery for the purpose of light control and how this met the expectations of those of us charged with preserving The Great Book of Ireland with how the curators designed their exhibition, and how minutely the temperature and humidity readings were monitored by gallery staff for 3 months in advance of the opening of the exhibition so all involved were happy.  A digital copy of The Great Book of Ireland was also created in advance with the end result being anyone who visits can flick through a touch-screen version and digitally “turn the pages” of every page of The Great Book of Ireland. That also took months of planning and work for many different professionals locally, nationally and overseas.

There are other aspects of planning any exhibition that are too many to go into here, perhaps that’s a story for another day. Believe me when I say it is never “just thrown together” as with any exhibition there are always months of planning and preparation.

'Facing Pages' exhibition at Glucksman Gallery
‘Facing Pages’ exhibition at Glucksman Gallery

Well done to Fiona Kearney, Chris Clarke and the rest of the team in the Glucksman who curated the exhibition and to all the support staff in different areas of UCC who assisted in making Facing Pages: the Art of The Great Book of Ireland a reality.

Maybe you should make another visit to the Glucksman Gallery at UCC – you’d never know what you’d see this time round?

Facing Pages: the Art of The Great Book of Ireland continues until July 13. Further information can be found at http://www.glucksman.org/

Special Collections & Archives , UCC.

11am - 4.30pm, Monday to Friday and Until 7.15pm on Wednesdays

Boole Library

UCC Library University College Cork Cork Ireland T12 ND89