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Helen del Guidice carefully runs a brush along the baseboards of a gallery in the San Diego Museum of Art. The room will feature the work of British artist Thomas Gainsborough within a few weeks. The white paint on her brush doesn’t once touch the “Gainsborough blue” of the wall.

“I’m a high realist painter,” she says. “I can paint an eyelash on a dime.”

Two other workers push waxing machines across the floor of one side of the exhibit, while on the other side, people touch up the crown molding. In the past week and a half, the half-dozen people preparing the galleries for the Gainsborough/Howard Hodgkin shows have used 55 gallons of paint, 375 feet of base molding and 100 feet of crown molding.

The show opens Jan. 29. So far, there are no paintings on the walls. From the offices in the basement of the museum to the gallery on the main floor, there is a sense of fierce concentration as people work to pull off what they hope will be a great exhibit that will enchant and educate. We’ve been following their progress for the last couple of weeks.

Downstairs in the museum offices, all types of other work is going on to get ready for the exhibit. Alexander Jarman, the manager of public programs, is starting to work on marketing some of the events he developed, including movie nights, panel discussions and lectures. He also takes the time to run over to the Old Globe to check on a dress the theater’s costume department will loan to the art museum during the exhibit.

Gwen Gomez, the interim associate director of education and manager of bilingual initiatives, works on a Spanish translation of all the text created to go with the show. She also proofreads the text that production assistant Naomi Salmon is printing out in the museum’s small sign shop.

Much of the printed information explaining the show will be done in individual vinyl letters stuck directly on the wall, rather than posted signs. Salmon is printing out the vinyl letters that will become that text. It isn’t a straightforward process. A machine scores the letters within the sheet of vinyl, but Salmon has to remove the background by hand along those seams. It’s called “weeding the vinyl.”

She swiftly but carefully cuts away the background from the letters. “It’s kind of soothing and mesmerizing,” she says.

Back in upstairs in the museum gallery, del Guidice points out this isn’t a slapdash job. She’s touching up a baseboard that had already been painted.

“They (the baseboards) were sandy and gritty and we wanted them to look fresh,” she says of her detailed, painstaking work. “We are into perfection.”

Have a question about the process behind the scenes? Dani Dodge can be reached at Dani@DaniDodge.com.

Kelly Bennett

Kelly Bennett is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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