Florida residents dread hurricane season, which starts in June and runs through Nov. 30. Just as Floridians are encouraged to develop hurricane emergency plans, the staff at The Ringling must prepare to keep staff, guests, and museum objects safe and sound during a storm.
At Ca' d’Zan, John and Mable Ringling’s 1926 36,000 square foot Gilded Age mansion, those preparations are taken particularly seriously. Sitting less than nine feet above sea level directly on Sarasota Bay, a hurricane-induced storm surge could be devastating for the house. Storing objects on higher ground when a storm approaches and sealing doors and windows with sandbags are part of the hurricane preparedness plan at Ca' d'Zan.
One object that is not as easy to move is the 416 square foot rug in the grand court. Purchased by the Ringlings to furnish this large space, the Napoleon III Aubusson rug (created circa 1870) anchors the room. Approximately 35 pieces of furniture sit on top of it.
The dense display of furniture, authentic to the time the Ringlings lived in the house, make it nearly impossible to safely remove the rug on short notice, so each year the rug is carefully rolled up and moved off-site. The process is not much different than moving a rug at home, just on a larger scale, and under the watchful eye of trained conservators.
First, the furniture must be moved off the rug. Registrars, preparators, and conservators step on to the rug in stocking feet. All “movers” must wear gloves with a special Nitrile-coated surface which provides a good grip on the objects while protecting them from oils from human skin. Two people to an object, the pieces of furniture are moved to the sides of the room, far enough away that the furniture will not impede the removal of the rug.
After the furniture is cleared away, a tube is placed at one end of the rug. The tube is wrapped in Tyvek, a soft yet strong material, which comes in a roll and is made from synthetic fibers. While one team rolls the rug, another works ahead smoothing out wrinkles and kinks in the surface of the rug. At the other side of the room, with the rug smoothly rolled, soft cotton twill tape will tie the rug into place. To complete the move another sheet of Tyvek is added to protect it from light, dirt, and moisture while in transport and in storage.
The rug will take a "hurricane vacation" until it returns just in time for holidays at the Ca' d’Zan.