Stop Everything: Tom is Ironing

Tom is going to be VERY chagrined that I shared this with you, but I couldn’t resist.  Building a tabletop display case for the West Gallery has been… a bear of a task. Here are Tom and Frank applying marvelseal to MDO plywood — a.k.a making an acid-free display case from scratch. These guys are troopers.

Ok, I helped a little:

Now the backstory:

A few months ago I called around getting price quotes on a custom tabletop case. I only needed a base and a plexiglass bonnet to protect whatever objects I chose to lay out on the table. The case would sit atop the flat-file units already installed in the gallery, and as such would not need special legs or anything. It needed to be acid free and relatively nice looking, but nothing fancy. Well, imagine my surprise when I got back a quote for $15,000! They could just as well have said ONE MILLION DOLLARS. I mean, seriously. WHO IS PAYING THESE PRICES?! I’m sure I can guess, but seriously?! Appalling. (Right? I mean, aren’t you appalled? Or am I just an incredible cheapskate?) Regardless, my DIY juices started flowing and I began the serious task of figuring out how to make one in-house for much, much less.

My research began by asking various conservators who were in-the-know about my options for acid-free wood. Turns out MDO plywood is a good material for such projects, and I was already familiar with it from the time I made Frank build custom storage shelving over a bathtub. Apparently to really seal the wood and protect artifacts from off-gassing, we would have to seal the top and edges with a product called Marvelseal. At 90 dollars per roll, Marvelseal ain’t cheap, but it’s a far cry from $15k.

So, I special-ordered two sheets of MDO plywood from Norfolk’s own Yukon Lumber and made sure I had the iron ready to go. We assembled the base of the display case this week in about two hours. Total cost so far? $280.

The next piece of the puzzle was figuring out how to create a plexiglass bonnet that would fit securely on the base. Tom went through a few phases of brainstorming for this design, and since I never rushed him (swear!) he ended up coming up with something great. We called up Norva Plastics and they agreed to build us a custom bonnet for the unbelievable price of ….. drumroll please…… $300.

So, class: how much have we spent on the display case so far? That’s right — $580. I mean, seriously.

The whole she-bang won’t be completed until the end of this week, but I wanted to tell you a bit about the experience so far. The final product will serve as a place to display our beautifully conserved hand-drawn blueprints of the Hermitage, as well as other fragile works on paper. Who knows, maybe I’ll throw a textile in there! The possibilities are endless. What types of things would you like to see displayed in our new enormous case?


2 thoughts on “Stop Everything: Tom is Ironing

  1. Refusing to pay $15K for a display case is not being cheap – it’s being a good steward of the organization’s funds, especially when there is a reasonable alternative. Great work – thank you for sharing! -Jen M.

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