Lighting Specialists

Conservation Lighting is a specialty that is extremely important to the preservation of Museum objects. Conservators have tested various light levels and determined what levels do minimal damage to period objects. The energy from the ultra-violet light found in sunlight and fluorescent lamps and from visible light causes chemical changes in objects that result in weakening, embrittlement, darkening or fading, depending on the object. Some materials such as paper and textiles are highly sensitive (exhibited at 5 footcandles), while others, such as metals and ceramics are safe at higher levels (exhibited at 20 footcandles). Lighting specialists must work within these limitations to light exhibits that compliment the objects and allow the public to see them clearly.

comparison montage of lighting a room

Lighting for Safety and Clarity

The Museum Rooms experienced the most dramatic lighting changes at Winterthur. Before 2001, lack of adequate lighting for guest viewing was a serious concern. Each guide carried a flashlight to highlight otherwise invisible details. The Museum Rooms had grown darker over the years as layers of protective filtration were added to the windows and important period lighting devises were de-electrified to return them to their original condition. Installation of the new Lutron lighting system involved placing multiple lighting tracks above the ceilings in the period rooms and supplying each fixture with the appropriate type of bulb for the objects to be lit. Lighting specialists then adjusted the light level and focus of each bulb to create an evenly lit and harmonious appearance. After installation of the new lighting system, guides were able to adjust the lighting for more meaningful Guest tour experiences and overall lighting levels were actually reduced.

The Lutron lighting system offers lighting choices and flexibility in viewing the Museum Rooms with preset scenes or light levels of Naturalistic, Guest Viewing, and Study. Most tours use the Naturalistic and Guest Viewing scenes, light levels that allow for a period atmosphere without compromising clarity. The Study scene allows Guides of the Special-Subject and Private tours the option of temporarily raising light levels.

  • Naturalistic is the standard scene setting. At Naturalistic no particular objects are highlighted for viewing. Natural daylight, electrified candlelight and pathway light are reinforced to create a safe level for entering or passing through rooms.
  • Guest Viewing is the scene intended for most tours. Guest Viewing light levels are set to provide ample light for viewing objects while still maintaining the feeling of a domestic environment. Guides activate this level as they enter each room and return the room to Naturalistic as they leave.
  • Study is to be used only as needed for Collection maintenance and study purposes. Study levels are set above conservation standards. At Study the domestic atmosphere which Guests are meant to experience is replaced by a starker gallery feeling.


Top Image: (Left) The Flock Room before lighting upgrades appears dark due to uneven lighting. (Right) The Flock Room after lighting upgrades is evenly lit by a system that allows lights to be set at different levels that enhance both guest viewing and preservation.

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