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Let there be light


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POSTED: Monday, July 20, 2009

Redecorate your house, and one of the first considerations is lighting. What mood do you want to set?

In a museum, however, there are also considerations of public safety, storytelling ability, conservation and economy. Bishop Museum's revamped Hawaiian Hall has entirely new lighting systems.

When it was constructed more than a century ago, the Victorian gallery was designed for natural light, using windows next to the display cases and an enormous double-glazed skylight. When the harmful effects of UV rays were discovered, the windows were closed and the skylight covered over.

The windows are now neatly paneled while the museum decides how best to handle them. The skylight has been restored, however, using filters to mitigate UV damage.

Vice President for Cultural Collections Betty Kam said that the skylight restoration has gone a long way toward the hall's historical reconstruction.

“;You can actually tell when clouds are passing overhead,”; she said, pausing to catch her breath during the hectic last weeks of renovation. “;The idea was always to connect what was inside the hall to the natural world outside. For too long, Hawaiian Hall felt cut off. Now, when the sun is going down and soft light is gleaming from up there, you look around and you see what (director William) Brigham must have seen in 1898.”;

The electrical work in Hawaiian Hall was started two years ago, supervised by Herb Hanamoto of HH Electric. “;New wiring everywhere, opened up the floors and ran chases all around,”; said Hanamoto. “;Pretty big job! And hidden by the restoration.”;

HH Electric has been back several times for “;small things, tweaks.”; For the display cases themselves—as well as illuminating whale-size objects hanging in the hall—new, more efficient lighting was installed.

“;What's special is the LED interior case lighting,”; said David Kemble, senior exhibit designer. “;The exterior lighting is more standard, including theatrical style lighting for the hanging objects.

“;In the upright cases we're using low-voltage MR-16 LED lamps that are less than 4 watts each, that emit no UV radiation, that emit very little IR radiation (meaning heat), that are rated for 50,000 hours, compared to 2,000 hours for a standard spotlight, and that come with three-beam spread options.”;

The LEDs are slotted into minitracks within recessed troughs around the perimeter of the case ceilings. After the lights are installed and aimed at the artifacts, dimmers are used to adjust the lights down to conservation standards. According to Kemble, it averages about 50 lux, or 5-foot candles.

Custom-manufactured LED light bars—“;engineered for a short throw and with a specific beam spread ... developed by Steve Weintraub of Art Preservation Services in New York”;—are used in shallow cases to minimize glare.

“;Overall direction for the lighting design was provided by the project's exhibit designers, Ralph Appelbaum Associates of New York,”; explained Kemble. “;They brought in a lighting designer named Kyle Chebulis of Technical Artistry in New York, who helped us select the LED lamps and the track lighting system as well as to develop a lighting plan for the hanging objects in the middle of the hall.

“;Because the lighting design consultants were all on the East Coast, museum staff did the field testing of options and documented the results. The museum staff also did all of the installation and aiming of the lights.”;

The new system, said Kemble, gives the museum greater control over the presentation. “;Before the renovation, the cases only had fluorescent lighting, with no capability to aim and focus lights. When you looked up into the hall from the ground floor, you saw big blocks of white light everywhere.

“;Now the lighting is much more focused and subtle. The new lighting is also way better in terms of upholding conservation standards, to ensure that objects on display are protected against degradation over time.”;

Betty Kam puts it simpler: “;Hawaiian Hall was a grand old lady, and she is a grand lady once more.”;