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Apr 17

Mountmaking Forum ›magnets?


beth 8/9/13

Hi all, I am wondering about general thoughts on the use of magnets for permanent display. A client has suggested using sheet magnet for holding light ephemera and it makes me woozy, maybe because I have not used magnets much? I know there are the specifics of weight of object and type of magnet, but any general thoughts? This is "permanent" display. Thanks! Beth



steve 8/9/13

We use rare earth magnets often for some textiles that don't weigh a lot.



Chris Harrison



Beth, I've been using magnets for years with great success. I have several sizable wall cases in which the back panels are held to the back of the case with large magnets (3" dia. x 1/2" thick). The magnets are mounted to the back of the wall case and the  display panels have 1/4" thick x 3" square steel plates mounted on their back side that are aligned with the magnets. This system allows for quick changeovers in our temporary galleries. I can prep a new panel with mounts etc and switch out in very short order with out fasteners of any kind. The real beauty of this is speed of installation which isn't really a factor in your more permanent situation.

Concerning weight and strength, I used a setup  that offers a 20% safety margin and was able to dismiss that woozy feeling and sleep at night.

One other thought: None of the artifacts on display in my cases are steel or alloys of steel. My over active imagination could foresee a display of steel knives for example. Over several months on display they might become magnetized. When it comes time to de-install them I wouldn't want them to "jump together" while resting side by side on the Rubbermaid cart! I don't really know if imparting a magnetic field into a steel artifact would do it any lasting harm but a metals conservator might have an opinion on the matter.


Best of luck,

Christopher Harrison Dumbarton Oaks Museum Trustees for Harvard University 1703 32nd Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20007



Philip Brutz



We have used magnets to hang textiles making sure that we had a safe way release the art when we deinstall.

This is a good article on the use of magnets for art work:


Philip Brutz Mount Maker Exhibition Production The Cleveland Museum of Art 11150 East Boulevard Cleveland, Ohio 44106-1797

T  216-707-2617 F  216-707-6687




Jamie Hascall


8/9/13I think I would look at your situation from a slightly different point of view. I would want to ask the question of whether a pressure mount is appropriate for the object on long term display? Magnets form a pressure mount that is very tight and not really adjustable other than through the use of paddings. Using magnets as individual points of support applies a point load and does not necessarily support the adjacent parts of the object. This can lead to scalloping and distortion of the object, depending on its structural stability. These are not necessarily problems, just things that should be considered about how the support behaves and the needs of the object.

The Santa Fe exhibits prep crew developed a method of inserting the magnets into a backer of Gatorboard and then using a strip of 20 gauge galvanized steel across the front to give a distributed pressure bar. Both the backer and the strip were well padded with Ultrasuede or felt to provide barrier, cushion, and tooth. This allowed the object to be supported quite evenly, but did totally flatten the area being supported. Visually, there was a continuous strip across the top of the object that could be painted out in a way that did not draw the eye.

The one thing that is very important when using magnets is to be sure that there is no way the surfaces can be contaminated with ferrous metal filings. They can hide in the felt and if sufficient moisture is present can lead to rust staining.

With these thoughts in mind, take a look at the objects you're working with and see if magnets seem like a reasonable tool for solving this problem. If not, let us know a little more of the specifics and we can all put our heads together for a solution.


Jamie Hascall Former Chief Preparator Museums of New Mexico Exhibits Now back in Seattle




Slim Evans 8/12/13

Re: [mountmaking-forum] Re: magnets? Hi,I worked on an exhibit at the Academy of Motion Pictures a few years ago. It was Japanese anime with the backgrounds on paper with illustrations on gels on top. We put roofing nails (they have a large head) in the walls and then put a barrier layer of Mylar over them and used small Earth magnets on top of the gels to hold them to the wall. I thought it was very cool and it worked fine. A little tricky getting everything all lined up with the different layers but we were able to use some tape, if I remember correctly. It was up around three months.






Dear Beth,

I want to first introduce myself – I am a conservator and have been interested in the use of magnets in conservation for several years. I want to thank Shelly Uhlir for forwarding me recent posts on this List serve.

The use of magnets is actually more complicated than one first expects. The initial concept is simple, but it is the implementation of it that is complicated. Much of what is written by Jamie Hascall is very true. I have also found that when one describes any given system, not all of the information is actually given. Therefore, the system is not fully repeated. And thus can not be adjusted to another situation or another artifact. Also the effect is that ones success, is not always the next ones. 

What I have found interesting is that folks with a mounting influence or backgrounds have more often mentioned the ferromagnetic material’s characteristics and less with the magnet, unlike conservator who only describe the actually magnet specifications but not the ferromagnetic material. The published literature illustrates this desparrancy. In attempt to assist folks in gathering and recording all of the necessary information I have created a handout. So please contact me and I can send you one. Or go to http://www.spicerart.com/page90/page90.html. I apologize for this additional step. But I am not sure how to make an attachment in the listserve format. Anything that I write or publish, I also allow anyone to download from by website as well, at www.spicerart.com/publications/publications.html.

Finding a solution for mounting textiles using magnets is not as simple as stitching on Velcro. It is a three part system that all work in tandem to achieve the best means for support. The goal of the hands-on session that I did at AIC this years was for participants to directly understand this. The three parts are:

1. The actual strength of the magnet itself; 2. The ability of the metal behind it to be magnetized 3. The space between, or the gap created by the layers between the magnet and its receiving side. Understanding how each of these parts interacts is critical to avoid any damage to the artifact. Damage that is mentioned is compression of any specific location of the magnet. This can be alleviated by adjusted one of the three components while also balancing the necessary pull force needed to prevent any sheer stress.


Best, Gwen Spicer www.spicerart.com



Philip Brutz 8/27/13

Another article on using magnets: http://www.asianart.org/collections/magnet-mounts

Philip Brutz Mount Maker Exhibition Production The Cleveland Museum of Art 11150 East Boulevard Cleveland, Ohio 44106-1797

T  216-707-2617 F  216-707-6687


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