Posted By: Rina Luzius, Ethnology
How do you go about moving a 10 foot tall, 2 feet wide welcome figure that is in 4 pieces from a museum into a public lobby? Very carefully!
First hire a first class art handling firm to help move the heavy but delicate Welcome Figure to the University of Washington Tower for installation. Separate pieces were delicately wrapped in blankets, strapped down and driven to their new display venue in a moving van. Once there, Ethnology collections manager Rebecca Andrews and I met with the art handlers, along with our good colleagues Arn Slettebak from Exhibits and Sarah Tollefson from Facilities. Kurt Kiefer, former campus art administrator, was also there to help.
The first step in the installation process was to cordon off the installation area from the public employees walking through the building! We attracted quite a crowd of on-lookers as we worked to install the figure. Fortunately, the Welcome Figure already had a very sturdy metal platform mount that it was attached to, so this made our job easier. We had to lift the heavy figure plus mount safely onto the display platform without scratching the painted surface, this took all 6 of us. Then the art handler securely bolted the figure into place on the platform, so it wouldn’t tip over in an earthquake.
Then we assembled the figure: separate arms had to be lifted up, set in place and bolted on. Although this sounds like a simple process, the arms are designed to move up and down, and needed to be secured in an outstretched position. Once the figure and arms were in place, the head had to be inserted into a steel mount at the back of the figure. This was the most technically difficult portion of the installation, as the heavy head had to be lifted over our heads. We were balanced on tall ladders on either side of the figure, and it was a challenge to gravity with the heavy wooden head. The final step was securing the 6 foot tall woven tunic on the figure.
The Welcome Figure now stands prominently in the UW Tower lobby, welcoming all visitors in the traditional First Nations way, with outstretched arms. Figures such as this one once stood along the shores of Washington and Vancouver Island facing the water, to greet people as they arrived by canoe. We hope you get a chance to see the Welcome Figure sometime.