Brandon’s CW Adventures, One Year Later

It’s hard to believe, but Brandon’s been the Senior Preparator at Colonial Williamsburg for a year now. He’s done a lot in that time, so I thought we’d take a break from my work to highlight some of his accomplishments.

As Senior Preparator, Brandon is responsible for safely transporting objects to, within, and from Colonial Williamsburg. A lot of these pieces include furniture, but we’re not talking about IKEA tables and couches. Early American southern furniture tends to be heavy because it’s made from various kinds of hard and softwoods, and comes in tall, cumbersome shapes that we usually don’t use anymore, such as large cabinets or bookcases. Depending on the time period, these works might also feature carved ornaments and other decorations, details that can snap off easily if you’re not paying attention. While many of these do come in pieces, they’re still heavy to move around. Because of their age, moreover, they’re fragile as well as bulky. Moving historical objects, in other words, presents distinct challenges.

Brandon picked up these pieces on his very first work trip, after he’d been at CW for about a week. He’s been on the go ever since.

A big part of Brandon’s job is bringing in new pieces to the collection, whether as temporary loans or new acquisitions. Since this usually requires traveling to private homes rather than more standardized museum galleries, Brandon often has to work around the challenges of moving valuable and often cumbersome antiques through unpredictable spaces in terms of layout, furniture concentration, and temperature control. The photograph above shows some of the very first pieces Brandon transported, on a trip to Kentucky. Once he moved the works to CW, he then installed them at the Rockefeller Museum. He’s also taken trips to Atlanta, South Carolina, and even Connecticut (and drove a van through Manhattan to get there, by the way) to pick up works for the collection.

Although Brandon does travel pretty regularly, most of his time is spent at CW itself, as there’s plenty of movement here to keep him busy. He brings pieces to the conservation labs for assessment, for instance, or assists curators with the seasonal changeout of furnishings in the different houses. He’s recently been going to historical properties such as the Wythe House to move around furniture or switch out the bedding to reflect the proper season.

Another of Brandon’s big tasks was moving all the firearms out of the foyer in the Governor’s Palace. As the waiting space for visitors, this room was designed to show off the wealth and power of the British Empire, with marble floors, royal seals, and loads of weapons intended to impress the viewer. The room had dark wood walls, but ongoing research revealed that it was actually painted white originally. As a result, everything had to be taken down so that the space could be painted, including all those weapons you see on the walls. Since CW hadn’t anticipated needing to take down on the guns in one go, Brandon had to improvise a safe yet efficient way to do so. How did he solve this conundrum? He found some unused crates down in one of the storage areas and modified them with padding and other materials.

Bassett Hall is an 18th-century farmhouse that was the home of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife, Abby Aldrich. Here it is newly decorated for a WW2 holiday theme.

Here’s another picture of some of his installation work. This was taken at Bassett Hall, home ofJohn D. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. It was recently redecorated for the holiday season, and shows a Christmas celebration from the WWII era. Brandon helped place and decorate the tree, as well as move the furniture around the room.

Colonial Williamsburg isn’t the only place where Brandon works on installations. Whenever CW lends out pieces for exhibition, Brandon transports and installs them. The works above all form part of an exhibition currently on view at the Chrysler Museum, Thomas Jefferson, Architect. This show looks at Jefferson’s complicated legacy as an Enlightenment-era architect, inventor, writer, and owner of enslaved people. The objects Brandon transported all dated from Jefferson’s time, including candlesticks, an antislavery medallion, a chair, and other objects. The painting depicting Europa and Jupiter disguised as a white bull is an eighteenth-century copy of a work by Guido Reni, and was actually on view in Raleigh Tavern while Jefferson was in Williamsburg, so it’s possible that he saw it.

Brandon’s also been working with curators on installing a new show, British Masterworks, which features some of the most sumptuous furniture and decorative objects from the permanent collection.

These pieces are not only heavy, their intricate forms make them challenging to move and requires a lot of planning and consultation with curators and conservators. In the case of the mirror, Brandon hung it and inserted the bird sculptures on it as well.

By far Brandon’s biggest task, however, is preparing for the installation of brand-new galleries currently under construction at CW’s art museums, scheduled to open next year. As Senior Preparator, Brandon works closely with all of the museum staff to determine the layout of brand-new galleries. It’s an ongoing task that demands patience and flexibility because curators and conservators often have different priorities when it comes to moving and placing objects. Brandon’s job is to navigate these different expectations while making sure the objects remain safe. Since the new galleries are still under construction, he’s mostly been working in the extant spaces, moving works around so that construction workers can modify and update them.

Brandon’s gotten up close and personal with George Washington, as painted by Charles Willson Peale. He’s helped move this life-size portrait a couple of times since working at CW, usually to accommodate construction schedules.

Next year though, he’ll be involved with a lot of new spaces, installing them for the very first time. Over the next several months, he’ll help move and place all kinds of objects from the permanent collection into brand new spaces. It will be a busy time, but I’m confident Brandon will excel because he’s been doing such a stellar job at CW already.

If you can’t tell already, I’m very proud of Brandon and the work he’s been doing. His work at CW not only demands ongoing creative problem-solving in terms of moving objects, but also soft skills such as empathy and good communication because he works with so many different kinds of people, whether they’re curators, donors, conservators, or educators. If you’ve walked through one of CW’s homes lately, or taken a stroll through the art museums, you’ve seen his efforts first-hand, even if you haven’t known it. I know the next year will be busy for him, but he’ll do a great job and I can’t wait to see the results of all his hard work.

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