The Art Of Shipping Precious Artwork

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in situ, but even the most precious art is portable. Whether it’s traveling to a museum on loan, going to a gallery for sale or moving with you to your new home, your art should get the care a masterpiece deserves.

Planning Your Move

When shipping valuable art, plan every stage of the process before the first move takes place, suggests Randall Decoteau in the New England Antiques Journal. You can decide where to put your favorite throw once you’ve moved, but antiques and fine artwork should have a final destination in mind well before the move. Note where sunlight falls and where heat sources are located within a room that will eventually contain precious art. Damaging ultraviolet rays in sunlight are potentially lethal to some of the delicate pigments in watercolors, oils and textiles, so hang art out of direct sun.

For precious artwork, find a company that specializes in art shipping. Making arrangements early gives you the chance to discuss important questions such as modes of transport, insurance and packing options. Moving companies with experience transporting valuable artwork for museums and galleries are especially important when shipping large or irregular items. As staff writer Ashley Sepanski notes in the Toledo Blade, artwork that’s more than 10-feet tall presents its own moving challenges. Museum personnel had to measure every doorway and hall even before the first piece made its way to the moving van.

Handling Precious Art

Works of art are more than accessories; they’re a legacy for future generations to enjoy. While a smudged fingerprint may not be visible on an antique watercolor today, the natural oils could leave a noticeable stain half a century from now. Make life easier on future conservators by handling precious artwork the right way. Self-described art addict, blogger and gallery owner Paige West recommends using white, lint-free cotton gloves for handling any artwork. Even when you are wearing gloves, touch works of art as little as possible when preparing for a move.

Shipping Solutions and Custom Crating

Another reason for custom crating is protection. There are three layers of protection custom crating must provide: an inner wrapping to guard the art’s surface, padding against vibration and an outer casing to protect against blows or punctures. The innermost layer provides protection from surface damage, including high-acid packing materials and grit. Padding cushions protect art from sharp impacts and the sustained vibration of travel. They also create a buffer zone against light and moisture. A wooden or plastic exterior framework prevents damage from impacts.

Art on the Move

Deciding on the right avenue for art shipping is vital to protecting it properly. Like people, art can travel by air, land or sea. Air freight speeds paintings to their destination but can be costly. Transport over land is a less expensive option, but long trips could be hard on fragile pieces. For overseas destinations, transportation by ship takes time but typically costs less. Work with your shipping company to decide on the mode of transport that best serves your needs.

Insurance is a top priority when shipping art. Most commercial shippers offer base-rate coverage for items up to a set value, but to get protection for more valuable pieces, buy additional insurance. Your shipping company can help you decide on the amount and type of insurance that’s best for your artwork.

Unpacking a Masterpiece

When your art arrives, unpack it as carefully as it was packed. Custom crates are typically designed to open easily with the right tools, but avoid using anything that could damage the art inside. Your fragile Rococo porcelain collection shouldn’t have a crowbar anywhere within 50 feet of it. Put on the white cotton gloves, and always work with a partner when positioning large or heavy items.

Art is meant to move you; when it’s moved by you give it the care it needs. With meticulous planning, gentle handling and sturdy protection, your art can endure for generations to come.

By Brett Dugan, a writer living in the greater Denver area with a passion for assisting brands to achieve their marketing goals through the development of online relationships.