Flag conservation

Flag conservation
Textile conservator, Gwen Spicer of Spicer Art Conservation at work

Friday, March 15, 2013

Preparing and packing artifacts for shipment

"Have artifacts. . . will travel"

By Gwen Spicer

Any time an artifact travels, there is a great deal of risk.  However, travel they must.  Especially since part of the mission for a museum is education and displaying the artifacts to the public, and sometimes the public is far away, perhaps even on another continent.  Such is the case with collections from several New York State institutions that are traveling to Germany for the exhibit: On the Trail of the Iroquois, to open in Bonn, Germany later this year. This is an opportunity for a broader audience to see these amazing artifacts.

Spicer Art Conservation has been fortunate to be part of this great exhibition.  Several former posts have discussed some of the artifacts that are included in this exhibit.  But this particular post is less about the content of the exhibit, and more about the logistics of getting rare, unique and exceptionally delicate artifacts packed up, put on an airplane, and ultimately delivered to the other side of the world.  And then of course displayed before being packed up and flown back home.

The important part of such an endeavor is for all of the artifacts to safely arrive and then return. That is where the experience of Professional Art Packers and craters come into place.

First the individual artifacts need to be carefully supported. Then they and their supports need to be boxed and placed into sturdy creates.  It is a mathematical and geometrical problem that needs to be worked out in three-dimensions.  It also must be performed so that all the parts can be easily understood.  Standard systems have been worked out over the years by specialized Art Packing companies.  However, since each artifact is so individual, there is also a lot of custom work that is necessary.

Below are a few examples of such packing techniques that were designed by professional art packers.

One type of packing is called cavity packing.  It consists of foam that is carved slightly larger than the size of the artifact, the cavity is lined with polyester batting and covered with a layer of soft Tyvek.  The foam fills the inside of a box, and several boxes fill a create.  The individual artifacts are arranged to fit a specific area.

shipping artifacts for travel, art conservation
The small artifacts were kept in place with small pillows attached to twill tape.
art conservation of artifacts for exhibit, shipping of museum collections
Cavity packing of a larger artifact.
Larger three dimensional artifacts are boxed.  Below are several stages of a support for a basket.  The box is made of Gatorboard.  Both the base that the basket sits upon, and the support mid-way up, slide out.

art conservator, shipping and packing of artifacts for travel and exhibit
Basket being fitted.
Internal support for the basket.

Below is the inside of a box for a ceramic pot.  The pot is secured and surrounded with the same materials and methods as Cavity packing.

custom made storage for transporting art for exhibits, art conservation of artifacts
The pots rests on a cushion and is secured with two halves that surround the neck
of the pot. The front sides pulls out, using the tabs. The pot can be safely removed.

The smaller boxes fit inside of this create.  The larger box is for the basket and the two smaller boxes are for two ceramic pots.

art transport and packing, fine art conservator, exhibit preparing
Create with the boxes installed.
art conservation, transport of fine art for exhibit, packing of artifacts
The vertical box behind is only to fill the space.

As you can begin to see, the artifacts are grouped by their needs, shapes and sizes.  For this group of artifacts, size was a determining factor, as well as weight.  One long crate was created for all of the long artifacts that included javelins, arrows, and a pestle.  The storage trays for each of these artifacts were incorporated into the packing.  Some additional supports were added.  The heaviest item, in this case the pestle, was positioned as the bottom tray.  The vertical Ethafoam sides of the tray supported the tray to be placed on top.

packing of fine art for shipment of artifacts to exhibit, art conservation,
Detail of buckle support.
Each tray's height was pre-determined.  So, when all of the trays were placed inside the crate and the lid is closed, all of the inside layers are precisely stacked and supported without too much pressure, but also not loose, for that would cause additional vibrations.

art conservation, packing and storage of artifacts for transport and exhibit, collection care
The Cane and Blow gun.
Another crate was sized for two larger artifacts, one being an overdress.  Other mid-sized artifacts were groups to fill additional trays.

ethafoam, art conservation, packing and storage of artifacts for exhibit and transport
The Ethafoam frame work is incorporated in the design to
support the upper trays when placed in the crate.

art conservation, storage packing and shipping of artifacts for exhibit and transport of collecition
Individual bumpers were secured to the underside of the straps
that secured the mounted Snowshoes.
textile artifact, Native American garments, art conservation, shipping and storage of artifacts for exhibit
Straps were not used with this artifact, instead an Ethafoam
beam was  used to provided overall gentle pressure. 
exhibit shipment, traveling artifacts, art conservation, archival custom made storage
A Volara layer was secured to outer surfaces of the Ethafoam bumpers.

Archival packing and crating is a geometric three-dimensional puzzle.  The individual packing occurs on site, but before the professional art packers arrive, there is extensive work that is done first.  A full plan is mapped out where all of the artifacts are to go.  Each tray and the amount of space is predetermined and pre-cut Ethafoam pieces are provided that are pre-sized.

It is critical that an institution provides as many accurate dimensions as possible. The dimensions must include not just the standard, height and width, but also depth.  If storage trays or other supports are present, these too need to be disclosed.  No company that is being asked to perform this task can know the size of these, and communicating as much as possible is necessary.

So many steps exist prior to an exhibit opening.  The orchestration of borrowing artifacts from several institutions, and then conserving, conditioning and packing these artifacts will be for nothing if they are not transported with the utmost care by the experts.
Gwen Spicer is a textile conservator in private practice.  Spicer Art Conservation specializes in textile conservation, object conservation, and the conservation of works on paper.  Gwen's innovative treatment and mounting of flags and textiles is unrivaled.   To contact her, please visit her website.

1 comment:

  1. You're spot on. Extra care must be given for handling these artifacts, so that they don't end up getting damaged while being transported. This is of the utmost importance, and it's great that you don't take this for granted. With your work, more people will still have access to these historic works and artifacts for years to come. Thanks for sharing!

    Thelma Bowman @ Quality Strapping