How to choose the best rigging system for your art
1: Choose a system that is discrete: Select hardware that is safe, strong and functional, yet discrete enough that it does not disrupt the integrity of the architecture.
2: Choose a system that is flexible: When planning a system for hanging art, design it for the greatest flexibility. In churches with high ceilings that can’t be reached without scaffolding or lifting equipment, the idea is to install the system one time only. Options for raising and lowering a number of configurations should be carefully considered (or forever hold your peace!).
It all comes down (or should we say up?)
In theater settings, complicated and expensive pulley systems are installed to enable rapid and frequent set changes. This is not the case in most churches where art installations stay up for several weeks or months. A simple system of metal pulleys that use weighted lines to hoist objects is adequate for most installations.
Pulleys are among the most simple machines. They utilize a wheel, an axle and a cable to hoist heavy objects with relative ease. Pulley systems can be fixed, movable, or a combination of the two and are used in more ways that can be counted. A pulley can be constructed very simply with an empty spool and a wire hanger, or as complicated as motorized systems used by professional movers to hoist a grand piano in or out of a building, fly systems used by theatrical stage crews, and massive construction cranes.
A pulley system is like a…
Larry Hoy, of Lawrence Hoy Studios compares pulley systems to fishing poles by pointing out the similarity of the rod and reel: “It’s the same thing; you’re suspending a line that you can extend and retract.” Hoy suggests exploring websites that sell fishing equipment for information on how fishing poles are constructed and to discover creative uses of fishing equipment in the context of hanging art. The image below shows a swivel head pole hoist, which operates like a fishing pole. It includes a winch, a pole, a pulley and a drop line. With a little imagination a similar configuration of parts could be assembled and used for raising, lowering and securing the position of hanging objects.
Similarly useful, Hoy says is boating equipment. Many types of fittings and hardware designed for boats can be creatively used for art installations. When his firm suspends a heavy crucifix, for example, they head to the boat yard for ¼” stainless mast boat cable that can hold up to 2500 lbs or more.
Another way to think about a rigging system is to compare it to a flagpole, and in fact, unless a winch is installed as part of the rig, it will function manually with counterweights and cleats just like those that are used to raise and lower a flag.
The following images represent a simple manual pulley system used by the arts ministry team at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Naperville, IL for the raising and lowering long banners. No winch is needed as long as the weights are securely fastened to the banner cords and the banners themselves don’t exceed a manageable weight.
Speaking of winches…
Hoy says “When you’re raising and lowering something that has a lot of weight, you don’t necessarily want to do it by hand, and let go of the cable.” In cases when the weight of art installations will vary throughout the year, it will be worth the time of the art committee to consider installing a winch. A variety of sizes, capacities, and power sources including electric winch motors, ratchet winches, and strap winches are available. More information on winches and automated rigging systems can be found here.