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What is a Preparator?

Georgia Museum of Art Hanging Permanent Collection
Andrew Davis Tucker
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Preparator Elizabeth Howe, left, hangs a painting as she is assisted by preparation intern Brittany Giles in rehanging the permanent collection inside the Nancy Cooper Turner Gallery at the Georgia Museum of Art.

Do you know what a “preparator” is? Everyone’s heard of “curators,” but these museum workers, “preps” for short, are responsible for a huge amount of your experience in the galleries. Preparators are called that because they prepare the galleries and works of art for viewing.

They paint the walls and patch nail holes. They make custom mounts for works of art, such a cradle that to hold open a book or something to show both sides of an ancient coin. They design and manufacture labels and wall text and then install them, adhering vinyl lettering or neatly lining up mat-board-mounted labels and sticking them to the walls. They work with curators on exhibition design, using computer programs with virtual models of the galleries to plan which works of art will go where. In doing so, they have to consider beauty, functionality, accessibility and creativity! They mat, frame, move and hang art, which can sound simple, but if a work is large or fragile or extremely heavy those things can be difficult and require a lot of planning. Sometimes they move art not just within a museum building but to or from the museum, and they pack works of art for travel, even constructing custom crates on occasion. If you need to know how big a mat should be for a work of art or the formula to hang a painting in the right place on a wall, don’t ask a curator, ask a prep!