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Following the Christchurch, Seddon, and Kaikoura earthquakes several Christchurch and Wellington GLAM (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums) institutions sustained damage to their plastic cleat hanging systems. The cleats, being made of a nylon material, split or broke off the screw. An in-house survey report in 2017 recommended that secure fastenings replace the cleats. At Archives NZ we also used a screw at the bottom edge of the frame which prevents any pivot movement from the hanging point to the base.

A striking example from The National Collection of War Art. 'Kiwis' by Peter McIntyre 1941
A striking example from The National Collection of War Art. 'Kiwis' by Peter McIntyre 1941
Reference: AAAC 898 NCWA 025 R22503995

The original cleat style hanging systems used in the collections

Our collections originally used two different cleat systems: a nylon cleat, and a steel marine cleat.

Both types were attached to the back of the painting’s frame and slotted into a screw that’s attached to the racking. Although the marine cleats wouldn’t fail like the nylon cleats, there was still a risk of vertical movement off the screw in a seismic event. In the interests of preservation, we replaced these as well.

Damaged cleats after the Seddon and Kaikoura earthquakes

An example of two cleats that sustained damage from Alexander Turnbull Library collections after the Kaikoura earthquakes. Though no paintings were damaged, this illustrates the two kinds of damage the cleats suffered during the earthquakes.

In both cases, the failure of the cleat might occur on one or both sides allowing the painting to fall inside the racking. The screw can also break or bend with seismic movement.

A new seismic hanging system, replacing the old cleat system

Archives NZ conservators investigated a new system, implemented at the Alexander Turnbull Library based on extensive research at the Christchurch Art Gallery. These Japanese made Takiya seismic hooks and D-rings were selected as they best suited the size of art works we have in our vertical racking. These replaced the original cleats and screws outlined above.

The project was carried out under the supervision of the conservator, Anna Whitehead, and included a light cleaning of the frame and front of the paintings. For this work I used a squirrel hair brush and a museum vacuum to control the suction. The only thing in contact with the canvas is the soft squirrel hair brush which lifts off any dust from the surface. Paintings that had accretions (dirt or foreign matter attached) were recorded in a condition survey that a painting conservator will address later.

Cleaning the painting surface using a soft squirrel hair brush and museum vacuum cleaner under supervision by Anna Whitehead.

With around 174 artworks of various sizes in the vertical racking, it is a big undertaking. Paintings are framed using different methods and materials, each presenting their own challenges.

Occasionally we'll need to replace a backing board when old tape in poor condition is removed. This often occurs before mounting new hardware, or when adjustments are made to the back of the frame.

Not all the paintings we hold in the racks are war art. We also hold a variety of landscape works relating to Tourism & Publicity, and a John Drawbridge piece from the Wellington Education Board.

As an artist, the most rewarding thing is to be able to work up close to these wonderful artworks and to observe the different painting techniques each artist used, which often correspond to the art movements of the day. I also wonder about the conditions the artists must’ve had to suffer while sketching for these paintings, all to show us what being at the battlefront was really like.