A matter of inches
In the summer of 2014, I interned at the Denison Museum as the Monomoy Curatorial Intern. This entailed helping with the process of suggesting and preparing objects from the Museum’s permanent collection to go on view in the Denison President’s home – Monomoy Place. I also had the privilege of helping to prepare some objects to go on display in the Museum’s Fall 2014 exhibition “Curiosity.” Throughout the process, I learned some important lessons about working in a museum. One of these lessons had to do with the nature of the “inch” and the importance of always checking your measurements.
Among the objects chosen for Monomoy were two-dimensional works on paper, including two geometric Nassos Daphnis prints and two colorful Japanese woodblock prints. These prints needed to be framed and matted before they were hung. In order to frame the works of art, we needed to know their exact dimensions as well as their frame measurements and their window measurements.
I had no experience with framing at all. My supervisor, Megan Hancock, taught me from the ground up. I started with measuring the dimensions of the art using a standard tape measure we had in the office. I recorded all these measurements in a spreadsheet order form to be sent to a frame supply shop. We ordered the framing supplies to the dimensions we needed, and then assembled the works of art in the Museum.
One of the works to be framed was a Nassos Daphnis print of red semicircles. This piece had already been measured by another intern, but I measured it again to make sure the previous measurements were correct. To my surprise, the new measurements did not match the old ones at all. Confused, I thought maybe there were two different Nassos Daphnis red semicircle prints and the one I was measuring just happened to be larger. Barely fazed, I continued with my measuring.
When time was approaching to order the framing supplies, I brought out a measuring tape and started to check over the measurements I had taken. This time, I used a different measuring tape. Since all inches are the same, I thought, it would not matter that I was using a different measuring tape. But as I measured the dimensions again, I noticed something strange: none of my new measurements were matching with the old measurements.
Perplexed, I found the measuring tape I had used in the beginning of the framing process and held it next to the new tape measure I was using. To my horror, the inches did not align! The inches on the old tape were significantly larger, meaning all of my preliminary measurements were incorrect. In the beginning of the summer, the Museum had ordered a shipment of red, blue, and yellow measuring tapes from China. It turns out all of these tapes had incorrect inches, even the fun blue measuring tape I had been using. We ended up getting rid of these tapes to avoid any further measuring conundrums.
Upon further investigation, I learned that, despite using the metric system, the Chinese use a unit of measurement called the “Chinese inch.” The Chinese inch is about 1.312 US inches. So, the Chinese measuring tapes were not wrong, per se, they just had inches that were not the same size as standard US inches.
After this discovery, I used a different measuring device to go back and measure the dimensions of each work of art again, this time using standard U.S. inches. This was great practice for me as I was learning the methods of framing, but could have been disastrous had we placed the framing order, received framing supplies that did not fit the works of art, and then had to re-order supplies and potentially be late installing the art in Monomoy. Fortunately, we caught the problem just in time.
This experience taught me that it is of utmost importance to double check, if not triple check, your work. This is especially critical when framing works of art. This experience also taught me that, alas, not all inches are the same.
By Gretchen Giltner ’16