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Being invisible

 ‘The less people notice my work, the better,’ says Callum Strong, Te Papa’s mountmaker of seven years, whose materials include steel, fabric, foam, plastic, acrylic and timber.

In August, Callum spent two blazingly-hot weeks in China to work out how to mount around 200 items that are now on display at Te Papa’s Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition. In 1974, a well-digging farmer discovered the underground tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihang, guarded by 8000 terracotta soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses (plus various non-military figures). Only 10 of the Terracotta Army’s category-one historical items are loaned at one time. Te Papa has brought over eight warriors (each weighs between 100 and 300 kilograms) and two horses, plus many lesser-category items – two replica bronze chariots and 160 ancient artworks. Callum, who visited five of the 20 institutions loaning the  items, examined 60 objects closely and discussed how to mount everything coming to Wellington. He has used used stainless steel mounts, and felt that has been rigorously tested to museum standards where the mount and the object touch. His biggest challenge? Mounting a 50-kilogram bronze goose whose legs snapped off years before – ‘so its legs seem to float below its body. Mountmakers are magicians and multi-instrumentalists.’

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality , Te Papa, until 22 April

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