Heroes and Hired Guns – Part 2

In addition to my volunteer Heroes for the Studley Collection Exhibit, an almost equal number of “Hired Guns” were on board, people whose services and products were paid for out of exhibit ticket sales proceeds and my own bank account.

In more or less alphabetical order, the Hired Guns were:

kathy donnelly

Kathy Donnelly of Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools — I learned fairly late in the process that simply designating and paying for insurance was not enough once the value of the artwork and collection got to nosebleed heights.  It required a valid, legally binding appraisal.  Urgently I contacted a number of appraisers I thought might fit the bill, but only MJD Tools stood up the the plate, all the rest chickened out.  In a sense it might have been understandable, the Studley Collection had changed hands only once since Henry conveyed it to the Hardwick Family, and that most recent change of ownership had been by private contract.  There was no way to truly know the value of this treasure, and except for Kathy and Martin, no appraiser was willing to put their name on such a document.  In essence, Kathy and Martin Donnelly put the reputation of MJD Tools on the line for me and you to enable Studley to come before the public eye.  There is no way I can truly express my thanks to them for this.  And to top it off, Kathy was writing and shepherding the appraisal process right in the middle of one of their humongous tool auctions!  Truly, if Kathy Donnelly had not come through, the exhibit would have been cancelled at the last minute, for me a humiliating and reputation destroying catastrophe.   I am anticipating with joy the opportunity to look them in the eyes with heartfelt thanks at their July auction, with a hearty handshake for Martin and a fervent hug for Kathy.


Douglas Heath/Scottish Rite Temple — Truthfully I was torn on whether to include Mr. Heath among the Heroes or the Hired Guns, as he was properly aligned with both.  In the end I included him here because as the Registrar of the Scottish Rite Temple of Cedar Rapids, it was he to whom I sent the payment for the exhibit venue.  That said, there can be no mistaking his enthusiastic personal support for the project, and no legal length to which he would no go to make the exhibit a success.  The set up day on Thursday before the exhibit opened was a perfect case in point.  Mr.  Heath arrived at the Temple between 6 and 7 AM as normal, yet he stayed with us until the final person departed around 10PM following the evening reception for the Handworks tool makers.  And during the event hours, whenever he was not occupied with some other mandatory duty on behalf of the Temple, he was in the gallery looking at Studley along with everyone else.


FedEx Custom Critical Fine Arts Transport aka “The White Gloves Crew” — They got the Studley Collection where it needed to go in perfect condition, ahead of schedule, and on-budget.


With aplomb they nudged the scheduling at my request, understood my changing needs, and responded to them with a timely stream of correspondence and telephone confirmations throughout the entire event.  I am not sure I need to elaborate much here.


Travis Newell/Unique Events — After the fiasco with the original lighting vendor I was faced with the options of 1) finding a new competent vendor with less than a week to go, and 2) staying up all night for a week fabricating the lighting system.  Thanks to the bird-dogging of Jameel Abraham I got in touch with Travis Newel of Unique Events, a mostly wedding and dance party staging company.   Museum exhibits was definitely their focus as a business, especially one as idiosyncratic as Studley.  I was dubious, but after a lengthy conversation with Travis Thursday evening, a walk-through of the Temple, and a demo at the Unique Events offices, I was convinced.  It was clear that Travis and his crew were as passionate about good lighting for events as I was.


They showed up exactly when promised, executed an amazing lighting scheme (drawn almost literally on the back of an envelope) that both highlighted the exhibit yet remained unobtrusive.


Using magnetic-base battery-powered LED units, they came every morning to mount the lights on the ceiling fan housings, then returned every night to take them back down and get them charged for the next day.  Huzzahs all around!

Debby Peak, Senior Vice President, Huntington T. Block Insurance — HTB is a big player in the fine arts insurance world, well known to almost anyone who needs specialized art-based insurance for almost any artifact-related purpose.  Miss Peake was terrific at brokering the insurance underwriting, no small task given the odd nature of the need and the tiny size of the exhibit.  Our folder of correspondence was substantial, but it worked out exactly as she said it would.  Without her, the exhibit could have literally been impossible as Mister Stewart was sensibly not going to allow this treasure to depart from him without the level of insurance coverage he wanted, and rightfully so.


Ramsey Creek CabinetworksJosh Yoder‘s crew at Ramsey Creek was the foundation for building the physical infrastructure of the exhibit, the mahogany trimmed vitrine base and the pair of black platform holding the two workbenches.  (Josh is in the brown shirt)  I sent them specs and drawings, they built them exactly as promised, and delivered them to the Scottish Rite Temple exactly when we needed them as I was composing the exhibit space.  Josh also coordinated with Jim Rogers (see below) to make sure the plexiglass case would fit the base precisely.  Purrrfect!


Perhaps my greatest pleasure in my dealings with Josh was when he brought the entire fabrication crew (backs to camera) to the opening session of the exhibit.  They were every bit as entranced as the other visitors.  As Josh tells the story, the crew was bemused at the prospect of needing an hour to look at “one thing” until the end of their session, when they were begging to stay longer.

Jim Rogers/Plexicraft — When I  inquired about getting the plexiglass vitrine fabricated for the exhibit given my peculiar specs for it, almost without fail I got the answer, “There’s this guy in Iowa City who makes medical equipment.  Check with him.”  Well, “this guy” was Jim Rogers, whose work is primarily the fabrication of ultra precise housings for medical and biology research instruments.  The scale and purpose of the exhibit case was way outside his normal range of activities, but when I dropped in to see him last fall he agreed to give it a try.  He tried and succeeded.  If you were at the exhibit you can attest to the plexiglass case being  highly functional and at the same time not overpowering, a sympathetic housing for the contents.  Making a display case this large with the complexity required — removing the front at the bottom of every hour so that I could manipulate the contents and make your experience a the richer — was no easy task, but he pulled it off.



Special Note

Now that the exhibit is finished, and with no plans for anything else similar, I happen to have a superb mahogany-trimmed plexiglass-vitrine exhibit case that is just taking up space in the middle of the shop.  If you are interested and need such a piece, let me know.  Case contents not included.



Rapids ReproductionsAll those giant panels in the exhibit?  Rapids Repro did them.  The banners with images of the front cover?   Ditto.  They did what they said they would do, delivered at the precise time promised, and matching the specs I provided.  On budget.  ‘Nuff said.

Staples (Staunton VA) —  Once we had the tickets designed I simply went to the nearest Staples and handed them the memory stick and stood back.  Though he was already clocked out for the evening, the print shop employee remained and got all the tickets printed on the stock I wanted, then trimmed the sheets for me so I could take them all with me instead of having to make a second 100-mile round trip.  Little things like that are in fact pretty darned big things when a complex project depends on them.


Jason Weaver — Jason came up with a perfect visual design for the exhibit website, and got the site up and kept it running even though the site server got completely smoked during the opening of the ticket sales when over 500 people tried to log on in a fifteen second stretch.   That took a little getting over.  The mere fact that you had tickets to buy, and a record of that transaction to get you into the exhibit, was all Jason’s doing.  Were it up to me, we would still be trying to figure things out.

So there you have it, the Heroes and Hired Guns who were instrumental in making the once-in-a-lifetime exhibit happen.