Escorting artwork to and from exotic places is one of the most exciting duties of a museum registrar. My recent courier assignment took me to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, to retrieve our Childe Hassam painting Isle of Shoals, Broad Cove (1911) that was in the exhibition American Impressionist: Childe Hassam on the Isles of Shoals.
I arrived on the last day of the show and was greeted at the entry by a colorful banner announcing the exhibition—I immediately recognized its striking blue seascape as a detail of HoMA’s very own painting, which was also prominently displayed across the sunny atrium inside the museum.
Several things about the exhibition resonated with me. At the entrance they displayed signage with photographs of all the museum staff who were involved in putting together the exhibition. It was wonderful to see the people behind the scenes getting credit for their hard work. I have never seen this type of acknowledgment before. And as I gazed at the beautiful seascape paintings, the sound of waves and crickets immediately transported me to the island of Appledore. It was the first time I had heard a soundtrack of natural sounds accompanying an art exhibition, to create a sense of place. Visitors were invited to sit on rocking chairs and imagine themselves on the island and to write postcards as in the artist’s time in the early 1900s. A large satellite map and contemporary photographs gave fresh scientific and artistic perspectives on the island. These multi-sensory and interactive features added greatly to my experience of Childe Hassam’s beautiful landscape paintings.
Two days later I arrived at the museum at my appointed time to do the required condition check and supervise the packing of our painting. I also brought all of my luggage from my hotel in order to be ready to jump on the truck with the painting and be driven down to Newark Airport in New Jersey. I examined the painting carefully under a bright light for any changes in its condition. Finding none, I gave the approval to pack the painting and put it into its custom-built crate. Soon the truck transport came and we carefully loaded the crate and strapped it inside of the truck. After a friendly goodbye to my counterpart at PEM, I climbed into the cab of the large truck armed with snacks and water for the long road trip to New Jersey. The painting and I travelled across New England and I enjoyed the hundreds of miles of burnt orange tree foliage along the highway. Five hours later we hit a lot of traffic congestion at the George Washington Bridge as we tried to cross the Hudson River. It was Election Day and everyone was on the road trying to go somewhere. It was dark when I finally arrived at Newark Airport, tired and hungry, on the first leg of my journey back to Honolulu. The next day I flew back to Honolulu with our painting.
Pictured at top: A Peabody Essex Museum banner featuring HoMA’s Childe Hassam painting