Monday, September 28, 2009

Opening Day

Well, it's finally here....opening day. After months of planning and work the gallery doors opened at 9:30AM and visitors began exploring the exhibit. We actually just wrapped up some minor tweaking of things on Sunday afternoon. I drove home for the most part feeling good about the finished product. There were still a few things that I wanted to improve on, but the library staff was satisfied and I decided that we were good to go. Sunday night back in Houston, I poured myself a glass of 2006 Corley Proprietary Red wine and enjoyed the feeling of completion. After 16 - 18 hour work days for weeks, it was good to be finished.

Monday evening the Library invited some guests to hear a presentation by author George M. Taber. He wrote the excellent book 'Judgment of Paris' which I read about four times on flights from Houston to Oakland and back. Much of the exhibit revolves around the period of that famous 1976 event that really changed the face of the wine world. After the presentation about the Paris Tasting guests gathered in the Library rotunda for a small wine and cheese reception, Mr. Taber signed books and then people started touring through the exhibit. For the most part the feedback was very positive. People seemed to really like the realism of the artificial vineyard, crush pad and cellar...hopefully they read a few of the reader rails and maybe learned a few small things about winemaking or some points that will be beneficial down the road in the quest for expanded wine knowledge and appreciation.

The photo at the top of the page shows a mannequin (as grape picker) carrying a 'just harvested' lug of grapes. (Photo by Wilf Thorne)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Some Last Minute Details...

As the installation work continues everyday at the George Bush Presidential Library, I must also finish some last minute detail work on the weekends at home. Next weekend we will all most certainly be finishing up at the Library so these are my last two days to work at home. One of the items that will be installed on the exhibit entry wall is an antique wine press (about 100 years old) that I found in a barn in Sonoma County, California. This is one of three antique basket presses that I now have for the exhibit. Another even older one that came from Placer County, California will find a temporary home in the libraries rotunda area, and a third will be used to promote the exhibit at various locations. Restoring these old presses has become a true 'labor of love' for me. As I take them apart, pressure wash, strip old paint, varnish and repaint ....or leave with a natural patina, (depending on the look I want) I can only imagine what stories they may tell.

Another last minute detail (that I decided at the last minute to make a detail) was the decision to add some authentic 'terra cotta patina' to my replica Houdon bust of Thomas Jefferson. In reading the official Monticello website page discussing the Houdon busts of Jefferson it is mentioned that the artist Houdon always worked in terra cotta clay for the original and even after plaster of Paris casts were made for duplicates they most often were coated with a thin terra cotta layer to give it a distinct patination. Just as I decided to paint the exhibit replica of Jefferson's dining room in 'chrome yellow' paint (not wedgwood blue) because that is the color of Jefferson's dining room when he actually lived in retirement at Monticello from 1809 - 1826.
I decided that the bust must have a terra cotta patination...not the bland white as it came.

The photo at the top of the page shows the replica Jefferson bust just after appling the terra cotta paint layer. The photo below shows a half of the large wooden basket of one of the antique presses after appling spar varnish but before painting the metal pieces.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Installation Begins

The past week has been filled with activity....the Nasa exhibit is now down and The Culture of Wine exhibit started installation. The outer walls of the Ansary Gallery were prepped with a layer of cintra board in the areas that would be photo murals the photo murals. Quickly a team of two young ladies from C.C. Creations in College Station began hanging the self-adhesive vinyl 4 foot x 10 foot mural panels. Before long the gallery took on a new feel. Now instead of black walls the gallery had the look of a winery crush pad and rolling vineyard setting. I was very pleased with the look of the murals. They were printed by a small family owned shop in Northwest Houston called 'Sign-Ups and Banners'. I never saw the finished mural panels at the print shop so walking into the gallery and seeing a 'very nice' finished product was great...(and a relief.)

On Thursday, August 20th we moved the big Bucher press into position on the exhibits crush pad. This took some time...a very large truck, about a dozen people, (and of course a little drama.) But then how often do you move a 3800 pound wine press into a Presidential library?
After the press was in place we easily rolled in the 1969 Ford 2000 tractor and valley bin. From there exhibit specialist Jason Hancock and his team began working on wall installation and I started putting in the vineyard corner posts, stakes and trellis wire with the help of some library staff.

After all the work, planning and money spent on the exhibit to this point it was great to see the installation finally begin. It's going to be a busy month....

In the top photo the Bucher wine press is being pushed into the Ansary Gallery in The George Bush Presidential Library. In the photo at the bottom of the page I am tightening a vineyard trellis wire on a corner post.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Creating a Faux Stone Vineyard Wall

When you drive through wine country in many parts of the world you will see vineyards edged by beautiful short stone walls. Originally built hundreds of years ago throughout much of Europe's wine growing regions, stone vineyard walls are frequently seen in Napa Valley and other parts of Northern California as well. You may also think of the term 'Clos' used frequently in Burgundy that refers to an enclosed vineyard.

Stone vineyard walls take on several different methods of construction. The oldest walls were simply stacked stone of various shapes and sizes that were skillfully fitted to create a solid stable wall. Over time however these would fall in spots and need repair to re-stack the rocks. The second method was similar to the loose stacked stones but a mortar was added to strengthen the wall and prevent collapse. And finally a newer more modern method seen more often in California is a flagstone and mortar technique over a cinder block base wall.

For the wine exhibit I wanted to incorporate a little bit of that look into the exhibits vineyard area. For several weeks I contemplated the best way to build the wall and make it look authentic without weighing thousands of pounds because of my need to transport the exhibit pieces from venue to venue. After a lot of research I decided that I would construct the wall out of EPS foam panels...(or styrofoam) laminated to a plywood shell. The style I decided to replicate was the flagstone and mortar look. Fortunately for me two of the major suppliers that I needed to source supplies from are located in Houston. I had custom 2" x 12" x 60" and 2" x 9.75" x 60" foam panels produced at Houston Foam Plastics. From there I went to a company down South of Houston called Industrial Polymers and purchased 4 gallons of a special product called "StyroSpray 1000". This stuff is great! You spray or brush it in multiple coats over the styrofoam panels and it cures to form a hard, durable shell which can be painted with just about any paint. Many people have no idea about construction with foam materials. But actually it is very popular for constructing many faux reproductions in theme parks and museums. For my needs, the greatest asset with the foam technique is that the end product is super light for it's size.

The photo above shows one of the panels just after completion of the faux painting, a technique done with four or five different sponges. The photos below show construction of the wall pieces. The first shows panels being laminated to the plywood framework. The second shows me cutting the stone design into the foam with a 'Dremel' tool. The bottom photo shows a carved panel coated with 'StyroSpray 1000'.