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Conservation Notes: Get to know a SHEB

March 4th, 2013

Many of the works in our collection are fragile and delicate, but there are some that are fragile and also very, very heavy. In this post, conservator of sculpture and decorative arts Lisa Ellis and mountmaker John Williams explain how our staff members move this kind of work around the Gallery.

Notes on the Storage, Handling and Exhibition Base (SHEB) for Archangel Michael

Archangel Michael, French, circa 1290, limestone with traces of polychromy, 153 cm high, 48 cm wide, 37 cm deep, Anonymous Gift, 1997, © 2013 Art Gallery of Ontario

This superlative and rare sculpture, depicting the Archangel Michael, was an anonymous gift to the AGO in 1997. It is dated to around 1290 and is carved out of limestone.

Depending on exhibition schedules, sculptures at the AGO rarely sit still for any length of time. Instead they tend to move from gallery to gallery and sometimes temporarily reside in storage areas or even travel to other institutions on loan. The AGO conservators and mountmakers assist the Exhibition Services department in the movement of large, fragile objects such as the Archangel Michael.

The Archangel Michael was of particular concern to sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis, as it is made of a relatively soft stone — limestone has a Moh’s hardness rating of 3 out of a possible 10 — and it is heavy, weighing 144.7 kilograms. No matter how carefully the work is handled, each move of the sculpture in and off view and in and out of storage posed the risk of damage to the surface.

In order to minimize handling of the sculpture during installations and deinstallations, a team of AGO staff — mountmaker John Williams, sculpture and decorative arts conservator Lisa Ellis and designer Kristina Ljubanovic — designed and constructed a storage, handling and exhibition base (SHEB).

The SHEB is a very strong, inflexible but lightweight base to which the sculpture is mechanically attached. It’s designed in such a way so that staff can handle it instead of the sculpture. There are steel and aluminum clips that attach the sculpture to the aluminum base, which in turn we can lift with a pallet jack or gantry. While the sculpture is on view in the galleries, the exhibition platform fits around and hides the SHEB. A half-inch plate sits just under the sculpture and this allows the exhibition platform material to skirt around the footprint of the sculpture, covering the SHEB.

Moving Archangel Michael in 13 not-so-easy steps:


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