Moving Paintings, Fine Art, and Sculptures

Packing a painting in a padded box for transport.

Moving can be more involved than just boxes and furniture handling. Sometimes one has to move one-of-a-kind pieces of fine art. They may be worth millions of dollars or be of significant personal value. You won’t want to have careless, untrained workers treating them roughly. Some fine artwork is very heavy or strangely shaped. Most of it is fragile and probably not replaceable. When moving day rolls around, you need to be sure that your art is being moved by experienced professionals who have been there and done that many times over. It’s about quality of service.

The key to relocating any kind of art pieces is to be patient and pay attention to the nitty-gritty. That is, do detailed research before you begin, make sure you’re doing due diligence, and avoid last-minute moving stress. Here are a few handy tips for moving fine art and sculptures.

  1. Start Early
    Start planning your move as far in advance as possible to give you time to check movers in your area. Call a few different companies and find out if they offer packing and moving services for art and antiques. Some do, and some may just say so. You have to ask a few questions about their process to be sure. Find out if the company is insured and if there is extra insurance you can purchase to further protect your items beyond the industry standard.
  2. Procure Estimates.
    Get an in-person estimate. No reputable mover who knows valuables will try to give you a phone estimate because they need to be prepared adequately to do a perfect job. They need to bring the right tools, equipment, padding, and anything else they need to ensure that your expensive pieces are moved successfully.
  3. Call your home-owner’s insurance.
    See if or how much it indemnifies you against damage to paintings, sculptures, and antiques. If no or not enough, you may want to contact a fine art company that can sell you a special policy — especially if your art is original and not a replica.
  4. Document everything you have and take pictures and videos.
    Making your own inventory list ensures that all items are accounted for before the move. Then on arrival at your new location, you can easily check off everything. Make copies and give one to your chosen mover. It should have a description of all items, their size, weight, appearance, and current condition, including any damages.
  5. Wrap and pack each item carefully.
    If you should choose to pack everything on your own, consider hiring a professional independent packer aside from the moving company. Be sure to remove all art from installed areas carefully. Wrap and put each
    item in its own box or crate with lots of heavy padding, plastic wrap, blankets, and packing foam. If you would rather just hire a professional, your expert professional moving company can do the packing for you. ABA Moving, for example, can provide you a true white-glove experience, using securely reinforced and/or double boxes, bubble and shrink wrapping individual fragile items or parts and using the appropriate filler material, and custom crating if necessary.

Wrapping and Packing

Packing and protecting corners of picture frame

The way you wrap various pieces of art can literally make or break them. Avoid wrapping oil paintings on regular paper because it will stick. For glass-covered artwork, use special non-marking masking tape to create an X across the glass for added strength and to keep it together in the event of breakage. Wrap art and canvases in plain white or brown paper, not newsprint; otherwise, the ink will transfer onto the paint. Do not use cling wrap, which can create mold. If you want to wrap the artwork to prevent scratching, use a blanket, silicone release paper, unprinted newspaper, or plain wrapping paper.

For expensive and large artwork, consider a custom-built crate. The crate can be built around the painting on-site and then disassembled when it reaches its new home. In case the piece needs to be moved long distance or overseas, crating is not only recommended but definitely required.

Avoid packing multiple paintings in one box or crate, even without frames. They may scratch against each other in transit and damage the paint or canvas. If your artwork must go into storage, make sure it’s climate-controlled to prevent damage to the paint. Stick large red FRAGILE labels all over the crate or box.

How to Move Sculptures

If you have a collection of sculptures or figurines, facing a move from one home to another can make you very anxious. You may want to transfer them one by one in your car, but that may not be physically possible or practical.

Wrapped bronze statue ready to go

So how will you transfer all these precious pieces? Whom can you trust to handle the packing and logistics of the move? Knowing the track record and specialties of your chosen sculpture moving company will give you the peace of mind you need. Many of the same tips and caveats we mentioned about paintings also apply to the moving of sculptures and carvings.

Here are some extra items that are sculpture specific.

Most importantly, explain to your moving crew all the unique constraints associated with the piece, even if you have discussed them previously with the estimator. Has the piece ever been moved before? Was it moved in or assembled in place? Are there any damages that need to be accounted for in packing? Are there any recommended procedures or instructions for packing or moving the sculpture? All these will apply no matter the size of the piece. Sometimes a sculpture may appear big and bulky except for a few key fragile pieces that need extreme special care.

Aside from your knowledge and specific instructions from the artist, the material and size of the piece will help decide the packing methods involved. Five sculpting materials frequently used are: stainless steel, bronze, wood, marble, and corten steel. We will go over each of these briefly.

  • Stainless Steel
    Sculptures made from stainless steel are durable and resistant to corrosion and thus quite heavy, so the size and weight is the main consideration during a move.
  • Bronze
    Bronze has long dominated the world of arts as a prime material for sculpture. It has become a common place material in statues seen in museums and even homes, and ABA Moving, for one, is no newbie to dealing with this metal. They are well equipped and ready to take all the precautions necessary to ensure that Bronze products are transported safely. The process starts with wrapping the statue in bubble wrap and protective blankets to ensure the item receives no physical damage while in transport.
  • Wood
    Wood sculptures are more susceptible to scratches and breakage than the previous two types while still being possibly quite heavy. Extra care must be taken to avoid mishaps.
  • Marble
    One of the more beautiful materials, marble, does become more durable as it ages, but still, it just takes one blow to crack or break a piece so that it cannot be repaired. Also, marble has the ability to look thin and light while actually being quite heavy. Experienced sculpture movers will be ready for this.
  • Corten Steel
    This weather-resistant steel is often used for outside sculptures. Moving these will require the proper tools to unfasten the sculptures from the ground, where they may be firmly attached with bolts.

Here are some guidelines that should be followed to ensure the smallest possible risk of damage.

  • Take measurements before packing sculptures.

    Before you start packing, check the dimensions of your artwork in order to prepare

    Crating wooden statue for shipping abroad.

    the right-sized boxes. Disassemble the sculpture if it is possible – it will make the process of protecting it easier. With two or more smaller parts, your task will not be so demanding, and you will be able to pack them as a real professional. If you have more miniature figurines, they can probably be placed together into one or two boxes after you wrap them properly.

  • Packing to avoid collision and breakage protection

    Fill in crevices with foam padding before wrapping the sculpture in a generous layer of bubble wrap. In the end, use tape to fix the bubble wrap and reinforce it. You may want to add an additional layer of paper as extra protection. Use bubble wrap, shredded paper, packing peanuts, or blank newsprint papers for additional padding.
    Place foam padding or packing peanuts inside the box on all sides of the sculpture to prevent any movement.
    Sculptures should be packaged individually to prevent breakage from friction or banging together in the truck.
    Mark the box as fragile and indicate which side of the sculpture’s box should be facing up with large, red labels on all sides.

  • Double box method

    What is the Double-Box Method? Some very fragile pieces require this sort of packaging. In order to ensure extra protection, you use a second, bigger carton with additional padding at the bottom. Place the smaller box in the bigger one and fill in all space between them with packing material to cushion then close  both cartons and seal them securely with tape.

  • Wooden crating

    Some sculptures are very bulky and cannot be disassembled, so it’s tough to find the right packages to fit their dimensions. Those situations require using other supplies, such as wooden crates, for example. If you own any such pieces, you will need a (possibly custom made) wooden crate. Wooden crates are the oversized, sturdier versions of a regular box. Take the same steps as you would with a cardboard container. Don’t forget to put a few layers of protective material at the bottom and around the item after placing it inside.

  • Equipment

    A padded furniture dolly should be used to load the sculpture onto the truck via a lift-gate. If it’s really oversized a forklift will be necessary.

As you can imagine, it is no easy feat arranging the safe and secure transportation of fine art and sculptures, which is why you need a reputable company with experienced operators and the foresight to send an estimator out well beforehand to get all details about the piece/s before a moving crew ever shows up to actually do the job. ABA Moving has moved several sculptures, both for private collectors as well as local art galleries, so we know how to take care of people’s valuables, and hence we have a lot of referral business from this class of satisfied customers.

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