When the Challenge Becomes the Solution: Great Displays on an Art Gallery's Uneven Barn Walls
by Bobby Baker, Bobby Baker Gallery, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Creative use of Gallery System equipment helps this “Art Barn” retain its rustic feel without sacrificing quality presentation and flexibility
One of the cool things about using the Gallery System to hang one’s art is that you really don’t have do anything special to accommodate the hanging system when framing your work. My work is custom framed to adapt to each piece’s unique size, with a wire mount to easily hang on the system’s pushbutton hooks.
That’s especially helpful in the case of our “Art Barn” gallery, an antique Cape Cod barn built in the 1800s. Its walls present some interesting challenges to displaying art, so minimizing concerns about framing and preparation of the art was very welcome.
First things first. We wanted to retain the building’s character and decided to keep the barn as original as possible, rather than finishing the interior with the usual smooth white “vanilla” gallery walls. While those are easy to hang art on, we felt that the barn’s existing uneven boards, wood beams, and studs (even those in the most “in-the-way” spots) created a special atmosphere that appeals to our Cape Cod customer base. But that was just the beginning!
When presented with such a challenge one must take a step back and envision solutions before banging nails. We chose Gallery System after seeing my work hanging on it in a gallery in Chatham, Mass., and realizing how easy it was to use. Another big plus for us was the fact that the wall-mounted tracks are easily cut to any length. That was helpful as we laid out the wall plan of where we wanted to display art.
At first, we thought the horizontal and vertical timbers that protruded from our barn’s wall surfaces would be obstacles, but they ended up being part of the solution. We started by mounting a wall track on one of the beams that ran across the top of a wall and placed our cable hangers on it. At first glance, that seemed like it wouldn’t work – with the hanging hooks several inches away from the wall, as shown in Figure 1, the art would swing about and become crooked. Hardly an acceptable display!
However, this is where planning allowed the beams and studs to work for us.
The works we display are typically in the range of 30 x 25 inches, which means they are wide enough to rest against the woodwork that stands out from the wall. The vertical studs and horizontal beams support the art hanging on the steel cables, as seen in Figure 2, and it doesn’t move a bit! This enables us to hang 2 or 3 pieces one above the other on each cable. We can raise or lower the art by adjusting the very easy-to-use pushbutton hook. In a few areas where the woodwork wouldn’t accommodate a section of track, we resorted to the old-fashioned hook and nail to display smaller pieces of art.
A second art-barn challenge was utilizing the railing on the steps that gives access to storage on the second floor. We placed a track on a ceiling beam above the steps (see Figure 3) and attached two cables and hooks, on which we hung two 36 x 36-inch pieces of art, one above the other. This allows the railing to stabilize what would otherwise have been free-swinging objects and gives us extra display space – and as a bonus, the art obscures the stairs and railing. Using a pair of cables adds stability and ensures the pieces stay straight in their vertical column. Again, the simplicity of cutting the track to fit and the overall ease of using the Gallery System cables and pushbutton hooks made this easy to implement.
Lastly, the front of our gallery has two large barn doors. We open one as the main entrance for customers, while the other remains closed, becoming a great interior display area, as seen in Figure 4. We cut a piece of track to fit along the top of the second barn door’s frame, which stands out a few inches from the recessed door panels. This had the potential to create another “swinging in the wind” scenario, but again, part of the problem is the solution. Another piece of framing runs horizontally around the midway point of the door, and when large pieces are displayed they rest comfortably against it. We’re currently showing a piece 40 inches high by 28 inches wide using two cables and hooks for stability; it looks great there and never moves.
After more than five years of operation, we still find that Gallery System eases the art hanging process and allows us to concentrate on creating displays rather than fretting over how to display our art. And its adaptability and overall ease of use have made it a winning solution for the Bobby Baker Gallery.
Bobby Baker has been called "one of New England's best coastal photographers," with his work described as "iconic, timeless, elegant, remarkable, and contemplative." His artistic journey began in the late 1970s as assistant to a Palm Beach, Fla., event photographer and included extensive travel across the US, Caribbean, and Mexico before dropping anchor on Cape Cod with his wife Dena. His work has been widely featured in publications, gallery shows, and private collections, and by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce; he has been awarded Copley Artist status by the Copley Society of Art in Boston. His studio and gallery are in the Cape Cod village of Cataumet.