Tribune Review: By Mary Pickels

Erica Nuckles ignored the construction work surrounding her Wednesday throughout Fort Ligonier, concentrating on the task at hand.

Her tools of the trade included acid-free tissue paper, bubble wrap, sticky notes and labeled cardboard boxes.

Nuckles, site history and collections director, is preparing artifacts for transport and temporary storage during renovations.

The museum closed for the season Tuesday, as work continued on a new Center for History Education.

It will provide more than 5,000 square feet for programming, nearly 4,000 square feet of offices and a space that can be configured into a 220-person theater or seat 110 in classrooms.

Items will be stored on-site, at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg and at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, at least through winter.

Unpacking will take place next summer or fall, Nuckles said, with new display cases and newly designed exhibits.

“We want to focus on the story and what the artifacts mean,” she said.

Nuckles wore purple synthetic rubber gloves as she wrapped pieces of the 50-year-old museum's French and Indian War history.

The gloves keep oils on her hands from transferring to objects.

From tiny trading beads that will temporarily be housed in jars to nearly wall-size paintings, Nuckles is removing many of the museum's familiar artifacts.

A yellow writing tablet and highlighter help her with inventory.

“She has to catalogue everything,” said Julie Donovan, director of marketing and public relations.

Part of Nuckle's job is weighing the risk of moving art and artifacts against the risk for damage.

Some items, like muskets and swords, can be removed from mounts and kept at the museum. Glass cases and doors can be sealed against dust, allowing furniture to be draped rather than moved. Gallery paintings were taken down from walls and moved months ago.

“I wanted them out before there was any construction,” Nuckles said.

The paintings have no glass coverings.

“You don't want to put anything on the surface, if you can avoid it,” Nuckles said.

The paintings were placed in custom-made crates for transport and are stored upright on racks.

When the gallery is redesigned, a European salon style of “stacking” will allow installation of 14 previously hanging portraits and five others never before displayed.

Interior work to the site includes improving visitor traffic flow, housing the George Washington collection in a single area and moving the museum gift shop.

The new George Washington Gallery will house pieces formerly displayed throughout the galleries, including his “Remarks,” a handwritten account of his life at the fort and pistols he was given by the Marquis de Lafayette.

New cases will better display items, Nuckles said. They will use minimal text and clearer identification, rather than the current method of matching numbers with definitions elsewhere in the case.

“It will be less jumbled. The information is all very sound,” she said. “We are not changing the story, just presenting it in a fresher way.”

Nuckles planned to continue packing up many of the galleries' contents on Thursday.

“I'm a one-person collections department. It's a lot of prep work,” she said.

“If Erica had her way, she would drive the (delivery) truck,” Donovan said.

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