Monday, March 14, 2016

Lighting "Art Quilts of the Midwest'

Blogger's Note: This semester students taking Care and Conservation of Textiles—a course offered through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design—will share some of their experiences working with the International Quilt Study Center & Museum collection.

By Jami Swartz

Museum exhibition lighting helps showcase displayed objects in their full glory. When installed properly exhibition lighting will go mostly unnoticed by the average museum guest. However, as our Care and Conservation class learned last week, the task of illuminating quilts for exhibition at IQSCM is a considered process that balances visual enjoyment with preservation and care. Improper lighting can lead to irreversible damage of textiles and quilts, which is counter to IQSCM’s mission of long term preservation and care. Because of this, many factors including the type of bulb used, the intensity of illumination, as well as the position and angle of light sources are carefully considered and measured when illuminating exhibitions at IQSCM.

The author holding a light meter up to a quilt included in
the Art Quilts of the Midwest exhibit at IQSCM.

IQSCM employs Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs for gallery illumination. In addition to their long lifespan, LED lights emit very little damaging ultraviolet (UV) and virtually no infrared (IR) radiation.  Both UV and IR rays cause permanent damage to textiles regarding both fiber structure and color. Despite the fact that LED bulbs emit less UV and IR rays than halogen, incandescent, or fluorescent options, careful attention is paid to the light intensity for the purpose of preservation.

Fellow Care and Conservation classmate Sarah holds a
light meter up to a quilt in the Art Quilts of the Midwest exhibit at IQSCM. 

A light meter is held close to the surface of each quilt in order to measure the intensity of illumination. The person measuring the light intensity moves the meter across the entire surface of the quilt to make sure that no part is receiving light over the set threshold of 50 lux, or 5 foot candles. If the light meter reads over 50 lux (or 5 foot candles) the light source must be adjusted.

David Crews adjusts a light fixture while fellow
Care and Conservation classmate Christi holds a light
meter up to a quilt in the Art Quilts of the Midwest exhibit.
David Crews helps Sarah add a filter to a light fixture. 
Adjusting light sources is generally left up to IQSCM’s lighting guru David Crews, who has illuminated all but one exhibit at IQSCM. Crews informed our class that the light intensity is altered by either adding a filter or gel, or adjusting the fixture to change the angle and/or position of the light. There are some fixtures at IQSCM that do not need filters and whose intensity can be adjusted by turning a knob—the wonders of technology. Making sure that objects do not suffer the ill effects of light is only one part of gallery illumination.

David Crews and Sarah make some final lighting decision.

IQSCM offers visitors the chance to view exceptional and often rare quilts in beautiful spaces, and lighting plays a key role in this. David Crews’ lighting lessons also involved paying attention to the visual aesthetics of exhibited objects. One must make sure the object’s true colors are displayed correctly and respect any artistic intent (if present). In addition to making sure the object is presented in a pleasing and accurate manner, Crews also makes sure that none of the lighting fixtures shine on or at museum guest while they are in the gallery space—untoward glare from a light fixture is not a pleasant experience.

The halogen bulb graveyard: IQSCM recently switched from
halogen to LED bulbs. The halogens bulbs will be recycled. 

As you have seen, lighting museum exhibitions is a multifaceted task with issues concerning preservation as well as aesthetics. Careful planning and artful employment of lights helps museum guests enjoy IQSCM’s collections while keeping the irreversible damages of light to a minimum.

The International Quilt Study Center & Museum makes its academic home in the Department of Textiles, Merchandising & Fashion Design in the College of Education and Human Sciences.


  1. I love the medallion quilts and would love to see an exhibit on them. They are beautiful!

  2. I really would love to see all the exhibits, mainly the medallions, but the Japanese quilts are enthralling.

  3. Jami, this is a great post. Your writing is terrific and error free! Enjoyed every word.