Travels with a plaster bust
December 27, 2011 9:18 PM   Subscribe

Best way to transport a small nineteenth- or early twentieth-century plaster sculpture from DC to London? I have no expertise in transporting art.

This Christmas I was given a small plaster sculpture that's been in the family since the artist gave it to my great-grandmother when she was in Paris as a young woman. I would like to take it to my flat in London. I know plaster is a fragile medium, and this is old plaster, so I would like to know how best to transport it (or indeed whether I should).

I've linked to a blurry photo, but here's a description anyway: it's a rectangle about 4 inches high and 3 inches wide, with a bust of a long-haired helmet-wearing woman in relief. It's mounted on a plastic backing thingy: not glued, but held in place with little pegs.

The artist is a known name and his signature's on the back, so I think she has some value beyond the sentimental, though I can see that she's taken some knocks over the years. I wouldn't like to cause her any further damage or exacerbate any existing issues. Right now, my thinking is to pack the sculpture in bubble wrap inside a small sturdy box and take the box in my carry-on. But is bubble wrap the best cushioning medium? How would someone used to transporting pieces of art do this? O AskMe muses, I invoke ye.
posted by Pallas Athena to Travel & Transportation (6 answers total)
Assuming it's not worth far more than you imagine (e.g. not a priceless antiquity or something), your impulse sounds good to me.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 PM on December 27, 2011

I went through pretty much the same thing when I moved to London (I owned a couple of art galleries in New York, had to move lots of art and some I was uncomfortable shipping). Here's what I did, based in instructions from the movers.

Things you'll need:
  • Tape - two types, one very sticky one less so
  • Newspaper
  • as many styrofoam peanuts as you can get
  • a roll of bubble Wrap
  • a box big enough to leave plenty of open space around your packed sculpture
  1. Loosely wrap the sculpture in newspaper, seal with sticky tape but no tape should be in contact with the art
  3. Wrap the wrapped sculpture with bubble wrap, making sure to cover 360 degrees; seal with sticky tape
  5. Fill the box about one third full with styrofoam peanuts
  7. Place the wrapped sculpture upright on the styrofoam peanuts
  9. Fill all open spaces in the box with more styrofoam peanuts, covering the sculpture at the top
  11. Seal box with the less sticky tape, in case you've got to open it
Clearly label the box and its not a bad idea to drop a couple of business cards into the box as well, just in case something goes missing.

I left the US in 1997 and had to unwrap one of my sculptures at security. I have no idea how carefully they'll scrutinise your carry ons now but you'll want to travel with both rolls of tape just in case you've got to unwrap and rewrap. Obviously leave plenty of time for the TA folks to do their security theatre thing.

Hope this helps!
posted by Mutant at 10:50 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Newspaper print might transfer and discolor the plaster. I'd substitute plain white wrapping paper or even fabric for the inner layer.
posted by Scram at 11:32 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Even with the newer airport security rules, I've hand-carried art glass and glass vases on planes. I explained that I didn't want it to break, and I was allowed to place it in my purse while boarding, and then hold it while in flight or keep it in my purse/carry-on. Since it was never wrapped up, they were able to see clearly what it was and there were no problems. I was kinda suprised, actually, but maybe that will work for you.
posted by Houstonian at 3:52 PM on December 28, 2011

As a professional archivist, I do not recommend the use of anything adhesive, which can transfer to your actual artwork and make it sticky and/or dirty, and can cause some real preservation problems down the road. I also agree with Scram about the transfer of newsprint. In my experiences with transporting art, I have used foam-lined boxes, such as this:

It should provide enough cushioned protection for your piece to protect it nicely during your flight. If you can't find something sufficient, it is possible to make your own foam lined box fairly easily. I think most post offices or other shipping-supply places should have the materials you will need.
posted by chatelaine at 4:04 PM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thank you, all! I used a variation on Mutant's technique, but with tissue paper as Scram suggested. Bust and I are now in London. Hurrah!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:57 PM on December 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older How much of a higher salary for lots of traveling?   |   A small question concerning a music video. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.