Have Turban Will Travel

Objects are fussy. They’re susceptible to humidity, light levels, vibrations, and any number of other dangers, both large (floods) and small (mice). And whether it’s a tiny tea cup or a four-ton bronze statue, each object also has its own idiosyncrasies. Wood, for example, doesn’t get along with water, and paper can’t stand light. A museum is carefully designed, in part, to control all these factors and to give objects the secure and stable home they deserve. But what happens when an object needs to travel outside the museum’s walls?

The permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco number over 100,000 objects, and only a percentage are on view. However, many of these treasured artworks can be viewed in exhibitions at other institutions throughout the world at any given time. When art objects are loaned in this way, they often travel for long periods of time, which is why it’s so important for our conservators to carefully prepare objects for their extended journeys. Such was the case when the Cleveland Museum of Art requested to borrow an ancient turban from the Nasca culture of Peru, featured in the exhibition Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes that opened last week.

Turban, 200–600. Peru, South Coast, Nasca. Cotton cord wrapped with a band of camelid fiber fringe. The Caroline and H. McCoy Jones Collection Gift of Caroline McCoy-Jones. 2000.17.5

At over 33 feet in length, the turban is stored unwound and flat. A special fluted polyethylene tray has been specially fabricated to house this piece.


For the exhibition display, the Museums’ mount-maker, Camille Duplantier, created a customized hat form to demonstrate how the turban might have been worn in ancient Peru. Dealing with a hat that’s over 1,500 years old is a delicate business because the ancient fibers are brittle and can easily shred, and oils from hands can be deposited onto the wool. So head textile conservator Sarah Gates purchased 12 yards of cotton roping, similar in size to the turban that Duplantier used to fashion the mount.


Once the proper dimensions were determined, the head shape was covered in well-washed knit fabric appropriate for display.

Display fabric

Once this step was completed, the detailed work of mounting the actual turban to the hat form began in earnest. Duplantier used a combination of insect pins and stitching to attach the delicate turban to the form.

Fastening 1

Fastening 2

Just when Duplantier was at the end of her rope, the mounting was finished.


Mounted and ready for exhibition, the turban was enshrouded in lightweight silk to protect it during transport.


The talented packers of Ship Art created a custom crate so that the turban could securely travel.

Interior crate

Interior crate 2

Once the turban was ensconced in its first-class crate, the enclosure was labeled with the work’s condition report, detailed handling instructions, and climate requirements.


Finally, the interior crate was inserted into its larger, sturdier traveling package.

Exterior crate

Note the directional diagrams alerting handlers to the parcel's required orientation.

Exterior crate wtih directionals

Bon voyage! The crate and its delicate package depart for Cleveland.

Bon voyage

Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes is on view at the Cleveland Art Museum through January 6, 2013 after which time the exhibition (and the turban) will travel on to the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and finally the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.