August 18, 2007

Museum filtering out damaging ultraviolet rays

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The University Museum at Southern Illinois University Carbondale won't take the abuse anymore.

For years, ultraviolet rays streamed unchecked through the windows in the Atrium Gallery and other North Hall venues. No longer. Just days before the beginning of the fall 2007 semester and the busy school-year museum schedule – which includes putting watercolor and oil paintings in the Atrium Gallery – Jesse M. Duncan, a panorama specialist with Precision Tinting, is fitting UV filters onto the museum windows.

UV rays cause sunburn. They also fade paint. It is generally inappropriate to slather SPF-heavy sunscreen onto museum exhibits, but museums must protect the art and artifacts they exhibit nonetheless.

"Light is one of the most damaging factors for any museum collection," museum Director Dona Bachman said. "We often use the north end of the museum, where there are outside windows, for exhibits. In the past, we've had to limit what we put there and for how long it can be displayed."

Bachman said UV rays are "not something exotic" – they come through unprotected glass in residences just as easily as through a museum's windows. "If you've ever taken down a painting that has been hanging in one place for a long time and noticed the paint behind it is a different shade, you've seen evidence of the damage UV rays can cause to paint," she said.

"Our charge is to preserve the collection, not just for the present, but for future generations to enjoy," she said.

That charge becomes a little bit easier with the new UV filtered glass. A grant from the Office of the Provost paid for the filters, Bachman said.

University Museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1977, has been in Faner Hall since 1974. The museum moved 11 times in its history, sometimes back to the same place, since it first opened in 1874.