Installation week: through the looking glass

By Sophie

Tonight, we open our exhibition doors to the public for the first time!

Since September we have all been working hard researching, planning and designing the exhibition and it has finally reached the climax! We have spent the past week running around getting the displays installed, panels mounted, and tea poured ready for the first visitors to come sailing in tonight.

Here is a little snapshot into our busiest week yet.

Wednesday 6th March: Final meeting and beginning to install!

On Wednesday we had our final meeting with our supervisors before jumping into installation. We were able to finalise our plans for the opening night (most importantly the food and wine provisions) as well as where each of us would be needed on the night.

We then were able to start installing!  Unfortunately for the team, this meant going up into the cold stores and bringing all 60 of the objects to the library condition checks.  We condition check each and every item to be displayed individually, as it allows us to see any damage on objects prior to installation and decide if they need any special treatment, such as cleaning or a particular mount for display. Luckily Katie had her 500 hour long ‘anything and everything’ playlist downloaded, giving us something to keep us entertained as we noted and drew every chip, crack, tear and wrinkle in the objects!

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The team conducting the condition checks. Thankfully, the library has a very big table which the whole team can work on!

Thursday 7th March: Loan items and setting up the cases

Thursday was loan day! In the morning I went to St Andrews Preservation Trust (where I met my kindred spirit, Sophie), to help the curator, Nicola, transport the 16 items we are loaning from the Trust to Anstruther.  Unfortunately, the weather was not in our favour, meaning a quick waddle in the rain as we carried our big tea bins to the car between us!

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Sophie meeting her kindred spirit, Sophie the service dog. She would definitely be a welcome member of the Tale of tea Cities Team.

Whilst I was helping to transport the loans, Azam headed up the Anstruther team in bringing two additional cases into the exhibition room and began bringing in plinths for use during the exhibition. However, I arrived before they had reached the aptly named “smelly cupboard” which housed the plinths which were needed to display the map, so I had the pleasure of retrieving them from the dusty cupboard under the stairs.

We ended the day by condition checking all our loan items. Thankfully, with four of us there, it took no time at all to check the 16 items ready to be placed in the cases the next day!

Friday 8th March: Time to place our items!

Friday morning was a fun but hectic few hours. We began to place all the items which were in the library into their relevant displays.

It was exciting to finally see what had only been in our minds for months eventually coming to life. Unfortunately, what looks good in you mind does not always translate into real life. Much of the morning was spent tweaking displays, moving bowl an inch to the right, finding plinths for items which needed to be propped up which we thought could go flat, or, in the case of our tea cup display, completely changing around the planned layout. However, by lunch we had displays which we were incredibly happy with, and we were beginning to see life being breathed into the previously empty room again!

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Needs must when installing a museum display! Good thing Margaux has been working on her core so was able to get the decoration to reach right up the corners whilst keeping her shoes off the sheet!

The night before, the publication team picked up the first few posters from the printers which were to become our panels.  I was very excited at first, seeing the colourful displays which we could now begin to mount and put in place. However, it was at this point someone pointed out my terrible spelling abilities, as I had spelt the word “Yarmouth” as “Yarnmouth” in all but one of the panels I had written.  Cue embarrassment and minor meltdown number one from me. It just goes to show that mistakes can make it through not one, not two but three separate proof reads. I can’t remember who found the mistake in the end, but thankfully they did before the opening night!

And it’s a good thing the team can have fun even when put on hoover duty.

After lunch we had a poster mounting crash course from the curator, Linda.  To save some of the budget for display, we decided to order posters from the printers, rather than pre-mounted panels, which we could put onto the foamboard ourselves. Unfortunately, with many years of practise, Linda made it look incredibly easy to cut a straight line using a craft knife. She had cut the foamboard to size, mounted the A1 poster and pressed it into the finished panel using a heat press by herself in about ten minutes. Half an hour later, Azam, Yohan, Tessa and I had finished our first A4 panel together.  By the end of the day we had a good system going and were making good progress with the posters.

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The team learning how to use the Vacuum Heat Press. The poster is heated and under pressure is pressed onto foamboard, binding the two together and completing our panels!



Some extra hands were recruited at the end of Friday to help us mount the posters onto the foamboard.

Monday 11th March: Panel Mounting Day!

It’s a new week and the Tale of Tea Team were feeling refreshed and ready to ramp up preparations for Thursday!

The morning was spent turning all the remaining posters into the panels, as well as me moulding custom plinths for some of our items – much harder than it sounds when you’re using a very flexible craft knife on very firm foam.

After a quick lunch it was time to hang our posters! It involved ‘slightly to the left, to the right, back to the left, perfect!’ more than i care to remember, as well as the world’s largest ball of blue tack. We can really see the exhibition coming together and the panels have added some well received pops of colour to the room!

The dream Education team who had a great eye for level panels!

Tuesday 12th March: More panels…

Tuesday was a fairy easy and quick day for the Tale of Tea Cities team.  There were more panels to mount which always gives people something to keep themselves busy with.  Meanwhile, we also began adding some more decorations to the room, including some fishing net scavenged from all parts of the museum, from the historic boatyard to Linda’s work desk!

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Hanging the tangled netting was definitely a two-person job.
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…it also makes a very nice cape.

Wednesday 13th March – Final touches!

Wednesday was the last full day the team had before opening night! Luckily for us, all of the final resources we needed seemed to all come together at once and we were ready to put the final touches in place! It, of course, involved the hanging of more panels to replace the ones with spelling or formatting mistakes. We also received an order of vinyl lettering to mount on the wall! Whilst we received another crash course from Linda, it was a lot harder that we thought to get the letters to stay on the wall.

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Margaux mounting the vinyl lettering on the wall.  Whilst she seems calm and makes it look easy, there was definitely a tense atmosphere when peeling of the covering sheet!

With all the objects and labels finally in place, we were able to move around the lighting available in the room to suit the needs of the exhibits.  Luckily today we had the combined forces of the tallest amongst us, Katie, and the strongest, Margaux.  It involved a lot of trial, error, and staring into the light in order to get it perfect.  Nonetheless, between them we were able to manoeuvre the tricky and stiff light fittings on the ceilings to get a set up we are very happy with!

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Who needs a step ladder when you have an extra tall Katie to do your light fittings for you?

We ended the day feeling extremely happy with our results.  Throughout the installation week we have had customers walking through a half-finished exhibition, and finally today we left it complete.

All we have to do now is sit back and enjoy the reward of our months of hard work.  We hope that everyone who visits enjoys viewing the exhibition as much as we have enjoyed making it, and we can’t wait to welcome the first visitors come opening night!