Amid restoration, University Museums acquires Stephens curtain


Undergraduate Amy Lowery hand-cleans Mylar strips in the Stephens curtain. Photo by Alex Murphy.

With a target completion date of April 9, a small team is tackling a large job: restoring and cleaning the 2,800-square-foot curtain that has guarded the stage at Stephens Auditorium since the facility opened in 1969.

In mid-December, University Museums officially acquired the curtain for its Art on Campus collection. Museums textile conservation fellow Kate Greder has led the restoration work, assisted by anthropology undergraduate Amy Lowery. Additionally, Claire Kruesel, a master's student in creative writing and the environment, is assisting with research and publicity.

The facts

Title: Giniro-no-kigou ("Silver Code"), 1969

Designer: Mukai Ryokichi (1918-2010)

Produced at: Kawashima Textile Mills, Kyoto, Japan

Dimensions: 80 feet by 35 feet

Weight: 2,800 lbs.

Materials: Polyester, rayon, nylon, Mylar and polyvinyl chloride film

Cost: $20,500, commissioned by Bill and Dorothy Fisher

Kyoto-Ames transport: $50,000

Acquired for the Art on Campus collection: December 2013

ISU News Service video

Work began Aug. 26 on the stage side of the curtain, replacing rod pockets near its lower edge, stabilizing the backing and cleaning the back lining. The remaining seven months of the project – working around the building's performance schedule -- are devoted to the front of the tapestry.

Armed with a special conservation vacuum, small brushes, microfiber cloths and water, Greder and Lowery are hand-cleaning the curtain, inch by inch. Some days they'll clean as much as 20 square feet, some days as little as three.

"We haven't found any major staining, and it's in really sturdy condition," Greder said. "But there's a thick layer of dust covering everything. And we're lifting out things like dead bugs and pieces of confetti."

The university community is welcome to observe the cleaning process during two public sessions: Thursday, Feb. 6 (4-6 p.m.), and Sunday, March 2 (noon-2 p.m.).

Art on campus

Adding the curtain to the Art on Campus collection adds maintenance requirements, as well as an obligation for education/scholarship about it, said University Museums director Lynette Pohlman.

Stephens curtain

Hand-cleaning continues through early April on the Stephens curtain. Photo by Alex Murphy.

"We have wanted [the curtain] for many years. It's part of the cultural history of this university and many people have a story about it," she said. "If you don't maintain your cultural heritage, it will fade away."

Pohlman is investigating a potential second phase of restoration, for which University Museums will need to seek private gifts. Phase 2 work could replace the grommets at the top of the curtain and, depending on a consultant's recommendation, add a mechanized rigging system to raise and lower the 2,800-pound tapestry. During the curtain's first 44 years and 3,000-plus performances, that task has been accomplished with ropes, pulleys and determination.

Funds from the office of the vice president for business and finance and University Museums will cover the first phase of the restoration. The restoration project also is accruing funds in account 2311822, University Museums special programs and projects, at the ISU Foundation.