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Portland Art Museum Takes Visitors Back to Ancient Japan

With a samurai exhibition coming to the Portland Art Museum, the art director wanted a visual experience as stunning as the armor of the Japanese warriors.

Michael Smith turned to a reliable weapon in his arsenal: ARC Document Solutions.

He’d worked with ARC in a previous job at an architecture firm. “I was an illustrator and graphic designer in marketing, creating presentation boards,” he said. “Everything we printed was through their color department.”

When Smith came to the museum four years ago, he knew where to turn for color solutions and began using ARC on exhibit panels.

Castles, Horses, and Battle Gear

For the “Samurai!” exhibition last year, Smith and the Portland Art Museum’s curatorial team wanted something special: an image of a castle to cover a 42-by-46-foot wall in a three-story sculpture court. The backdrop would create a dramatic entrance for visitors to a collection of samurai battle gear from the 14th to 19th centuries.

With full-size fiberglass horses and riders on a gravel-covered pedestal in the center of the court, the idea was to create a lifelike scene. “The horsemen were riding from the castle, so you’d get hit over the head when you came in,” Smith said. “It was more of an immersive experience.”

The castle wall was the Portland ARC office’s first project with Photo Tex, an adhesive fabric that’s easy to remove, said David Trask, ARC’s Pacific Northwest business development representative. It also was the biggest wall the team had done.

How They Did It

“We had one installer on the lift 40 feet in the air and a second lift with another gentleman on it below,” he said. A time-lapse video shows the full installation in the sculpture court.

The castle wall, which took a full day, presented several challenges:

  • The colors on each of the 54-inch-wide panels, which overlapped each other by an inch, had to match up perfectly.
  • The installers had to work around the people who simultaneously were building the foundation for the horses.
  • The castle image had to go over an 8-by-10-foot doorway that had a granite border jutting out several inches. The solution involved building a false wall with tension bars strapped between the doorway and half-inch Gatorboard mounted to the door opening. The team wrapped Photo Tex over the board, covering the door. “It blended perfectly,” Trask said. “You couldn’t see the opening even though it stuck out four to six inches.”

The image was as momentous for the museum as it was for the ARC shop. “This was the biggest piece we’ve ever done,” Smith said. “ARC did a phenomenal job. They came up with good solutions and were very flexible.”

Time Travel with Social Media

Trask said ARC showed its versatility with this job, taking on a large color services project. He said the Portland shop collaborated with another ARC brand, Riot Creative Imaging in Seattle, which focuses on consumer-oriented visual and color services. “ARC typically is known for technology services and reprographic services, which is the huge core of the business,” Trask said. “But across the company, we have the ability to do color services. We can do everything a traditional print shop can do.”

For the samurai exhibition, which was open from October 2013 to January 2014, ARC did color installations on two other walls. But at 20-by-10 feet, they paled in comparison to the castle image.

And that large image was a huge hit with visitors, who the museum encouraged to capture the moment with #samuraiselfie Instagram photos. Using the castle as a backdrop, their Instagram photos transported them to another time and place. One #samuraiselfie poster, using the hashtag for the museum, commented, “I’m in Japan… Nope Japan is in #pam!”


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