Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Science of Crating Art

Crating one of a kind high value items can be a science… when fabrication is in the hands of an expert. The following is an excerpt from one of many seminars performed by Geoff Browne at Terry Dowd, Inc.; this one pertaining to the cushioning of crates and the correct usage thereof:

Typical packing foams for the cushioning of crates are Ethafoam and Urethane. In both cases, the foam acts as a shock absorber vs. a spring (like upholstery foam) – if indented, it slowly comes back up to full thickness rather than immediately bouncing back. Ethafoam (polyethylene) is closed celled, with a high load carrying capacity, high durability, and is virtually chemically inert – for this reason it is often preferred for storage use, mount making, etc. This foam is typically white, and may be used commercially on high end heavy electronics, molded or cut to shape. Urethane (ester polyurethane or polyester urethane) foam is open celled, with a softer feel, lower load bearing capacity, and due to its physical structure, better at absorbing vibration – this type of foam, typically dark gray, is typically used in camera cases, and in “egg crate” configuration, used as sound insulation. Upholstery foam (polyether urethane), which is distinguished by, and undesirable for its springiness, is also undesirable for its chemistry – ether is a powerful solvent as well as an anesthetic, and can easily be identified by odor. Also as a result of its chemistry, it breaks down rapidly, becoming rigid and crumbly. Styrofoam, commonly used in commercial packing, does not provide the cushioning necessary for artwork, particularly in long haul situations or traveling exhibitions, as it is prone to permanently crushing following a single impact. Styrofoam should only be used as thermal insulation, and only in its high density form – Dow Blueboard, USG pink board, etc.

It has been determined that damage occurs to paintings and objects like green pottery when they receive a shock in excess of 50 Gs – to put that in perspective, rapping a pen on a desk results in a 20 G shock. Statistically, the smaller an object, the greater shock it is likely to receive in a shipping environment, as it can be easily dropped when hand carried from a height of about 30″, whereas a heavy object, which is likely to be moved by mechanical means is thus subject to much lower shock levels from a likely drop height of not more than 6″. Research done in the 1990s determined that cushioning for artwork should adequately cushion an object dropped from 30″. In order to adequately protect a typical object (painting, green pottery) a minimum thickness of 2″ of packing foam is required – one can think of this as braking distance – the greater the distance / thickness of foam, the gentler the cushioning – in the case of hyperfragile artwork such as pastels, 4″ foam may be desirable.

For typical 2.2 lb. density Ethafoam (Ethafoam 220), the weight of the object vs. the area of the foam should not exceed 1 lb. per square inch. For typical 2 lb. density ester polyurethane packing foam, the weight of the object vs. the area of foam should not exceed 1/2 lb. per square inch. It is frequently possible to use either type of foam for cushioning, in which case use of softer urethane foam, which would necessarily be applied over a larger area of the object, will provide more even support. If an object at rest compresses the foam it is placed on, an insufficient amount of foam is being used – the static load bearing capacity of foam can be as much as 10 times its dynamic load cushioning capacity – if foam compresses under object load at rest, it may already be severely compromised.

…science indeed.

Pastel Crating & Illustration of Progressive Cushioning

Pastel Crating & Illustration of Progressive Cushioning

Top Section:
Inner case containing pastel is suspended in trapezoidal foam elements in crate. By adding mass, the inner case lowers the resonant frequency of the object and thus the possibility of loss due to vibration. (Outer crate construction not shown)

Bottom Section:
View into open crate, inner case lid removed Tapered foam cushioning elements in outer crate provide progressive cushioning. As the foam is compressed, more foam surface is brought into action.

© 2002 Terry Dowd, Inc.



Professional Art Handling

Striving to ensure a perfect transfer, for one piece of art or for an entire collection; this has been a goal at Terry Dowd, Inc. since 1978. Whether we’re transporting, installing or storing the artwork, an absolute sensitivity is maintained for each and every piece. In the world of art transportation one would hope this is commonplace; caveat emptor – buyer beware.

Artwork, artifacts and antiques are all precious by nature and many are simply irreplaceable. When entertaining the thought of using somebody else to handle your valuables, you need to make sure you’ve done your homework.

How long has the firm been in existence?
Experience is a key. You want to make sure it’s not a fly by night operation and that they’ve had success in handling the type of job you’re looking to accomplish. The last thing you want to do is hand your precious objects over to someone who doesn’t know how to handle them.

Does the firm have a packing strategy?
Informed packing decisions depend on multiple factors: the object structure, the risks to be mitigated, the type of shipping method employed or the length of storage. Should crating be required, the crate should be designed from the inside out, starting with support required for fragile media and forms, followed by cushioning dictated by the object itself. Crating effectively is a science of its own and the firm you choose should understand its importance.

Does the firm use museum quality, archival packing materials?
In many cases, the packing will only be as good as the materials used. It’s extremely important to pack an object with the correct type of packing materials, but if lower grade materials are being used, abrasion could defeat the purpose of a nicely packed piece.

Does the firm instill confidence?
Your contact at the company should be knowledgeable, reassuring and caring. Project management is the real difference in a job going smoothly or not and it all starts with the initial conversation. You should be asked many questions as to the parameters of the job: piece description, piece dimensions, piece count, working conditions, wall surfaces, shipping destinations, building requirements and of course your major concerns. A good company will ask to set up a site visit for more complex jobs and scenarios.

You never want to leave moving your valuables to chance; informed decisions are the basis for any success. Terry Dowd, Inc. has established itself as the standard in fine art service by providing all the experience, knowledge and confidence to get the job done. Terry Dowd, Inc. is proud to be the official art handler for the members of Conservation & Design International.

Chris Maravich, Terry Dowd, Inc.

The Chicago Area Registrars Committee Meeting

Questions on disaster planning & response to Terry Dowd, Inc. prompted by quick response and successful evacuation of the University of Iowa’s art collection during the Iowa flooding of 2008

Whether it’s the monetary value or the emotionally priceless feeling one gets from a portrait painted by a great grandmother, one question remains the same: What can I do for my artwork in the event of a disaster? That is exactly the question The Chicago Area Registrars Committee posed to Terry Dowd, Inc. when we were invited to speak at their last committee meeting on June 18th, 2009. It was our quick response and successful evacuation of the University of Iowa’s art collection during the Iowa flooding of 2008 that prompted the invitation.

After a brief accounting of what we did to ensure the safety of over 400 pieces of artwork in just 3 days, the floor was opened up to discussion. The main point we came back to with most of the questions asked was the importance of a Disaster Plan. This plan should first and foremost be an order of operations:

Priority – what is the very first piece of artwork to be addressed and which pieces are to follow? The list should contain identifying information such as artist, title, dimensions, brief description and should descend in order of importance.

Location – where in the facility or residence are the pieces from the priority list located? A floor plan with a numbering system is always the best way to do this.

Materials – do you have enough materials on hand to safely pack the pieces for removal? Prefabricated crating is a great way to ensure quick and safe removal, but you should have enough polyethylene, bubble wrap, cardboard and tape as well. In addition you want to make sure you have knives, tape guns, permanent markers and flashlights with your materials.

Transportation – do you have an idea of what it will take to transport the pieces to a safe area? Space in a truck can get small fast and you don’t want to run out or compromise the pieces by over packing the truck. The pieces should be transported via an air-ride truck for optimum safety and they should remain in a climate controlled environment.

Storage – do you have or know of a safe place the artwork can be stored while the aftermath of the disaster is dealt with? This safe area should have enough space to properly store your collection, it should be fully climate controlled, the security should be on par with the value of your collection and it should have ample space for any restoration work that might need to be performed.

If you have even the simplest of a disaster plan that follows this format, the speed at which you’ll be able to evacuate the collection will greatly improve; whether it’s one or one hundred pieces. A quick and safe evacuation can be the difference between little or no restoration and a costly or possible total loss scenario.

After our success in Iowa and while in communication with other successful organizations brought in to help, it became apparent that there was a need for a full services disaster response company solely for artwork. Disaster Planning and Response Art Rescue (DPR Art Rescue, is a company that answers the need for such an organization and was born from three companies that worked side by side in Iowa. DPR Art Rescue is a collaboration between Terry Dowd, Inc., Bernacki & Associates, Inc., and Parma Conservation, Ltd. that offers all the services associated with disaster response under one roof. Disaster planning, packing, evacuation, transportation, storage and conservation are offered for any sized scenario, all performed by one company, all with one phone call. You can never plan 100% for a disaster. However it’s our hope that the formation of an organization like DPR Art Rescue will go a long way towards easing many minds.

Chris Maravich, General Manager
Terry Dowd, Inc.