Help me stop UPS from destroying my wife's artwork!
November 2, 2007 8:46 AM   Subscribe

My wife recently sold an art piece and is having trouble figuring out how to ship it. It's four rectangular panels with dried leaves sticking out perpendicular in narrow rows. The leaves, while fairly sturdy, are thin enough that they need to be suspended without anything touching the tops of them to prevent them from being smashed. Pictures are here and here and here. Each of the four panels is 4"x24" with the leaves about 4" high. The border of each panel is 1/4" deep and 1/8" wide. We've considered carving out styrofoam, but the narrowness of the border dissallows that. The only solution we've been able to come up with is to wood-glue some more of the panel material into slots for the panels to slide into, but we're not sure if that is the best option here. Any ideas, websites, suggestions or insights would be very, very much appreciated!
posted by phixed to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
How far does she have to ship it? Is there any possibility of her just driving it to its destination?
posted by occhiblu at 8:50 AM on November 2, 2007

Unfortunately we're in Chicago and the destination is in San Mateo.
posted by phixed at 8:55 AM on November 2, 2007

Agree that foam is a bad idea. I think you need a carefully fitted wooden crate, with slots or other similar structure to hold the panels by those edges.
posted by jon1270 at 8:56 AM on November 2, 2007

I would say build a lightweight wooden frame, if there is some way to attach the piece secure via the back to the frame. The biggest issue (as I'm sure you know, is going to be keeping it from sliding so the front doesn't get smooshed. Actually securing the piece into a regular art frame would do the trick if the molding exceeds the front by enough to place a piece of Plexiglas or press-board on top of the front of the molding then wrapping the thing in plastic wrap then boxing the whole thing with suitable packing materials. No way around this being a bit heavy.

I know what I'm thinking of, and am confident it would work hopefully this is clear enough
posted by edgeways at 8:57 AM on November 2, 2007

Are there galleries, or even frame shops, nearby that might have experience with these sorts of issues? Maybe they could offer advice (or even do it for you)?
posted by occhiblu at 9:00 AM on November 2, 2007

What if you were to create a styrofoam box bigger and *taller* than the panel, but first insert the long, small version of these under and over the leaves. You could then put a styrofoam lid on top of the box, so that essentially, everything would be encased in air. I'd probably put a layer of tissue paper between the leaves and the air bags just for added protection.

Another option would be to have the seller pay for some sort of 'white glove' delivery, where the artwork is shipped by truck rather than air. It's not an uncommon thing when you're paying for a more expensive item. I assume there's some sort of shipping insurance involved?
posted by dancinglamb at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2007

Put it in a sturdy wood box and screw from the outside into the rear of panels.

Or, put more of those mounting screws in, and use those to fasten it to the inside of the box.

Imagine the box is like the room the panels are hanging in. The empty space keeps the leaves safe.
posted by cmiller at 9:02 AM on November 2, 2007

Maybe I'm not understanding the pictures properly, but it seems to me like you could protect the piece by nestling it inside a deep cavity with a lid over it.

When I shipped a large framed artwork (with glass) across the country, Hubby bought a few sheets of thick styrofoam-like insulation panels at Home Depot. He cut them into 4 pieces, about 8" bigger than the picture frame, to leave 4" border on all sides of the picture. He then took 2 of the pieces and used a carpet knife to cut out a piece that was the size of the picture frame, so the art would lie snugly inside without slipping around. These 2 cutout pieces he glued on top of one of the non-cutout pieces, to make a sort of box. (I think he used Gorilla Glue, for what it's worth.) When the glue was dry we stuffed the art into the cavity (you'd probably have to stick yours to the box somehow to keep it from bouncing up and crushing the leaves on the lid). Then he taped on the remaining non-cutout piece with strapping tape, and finally wrapped the whole thing in corrugated cardboard. The artwork made it across the continent in perfect condition.

I think you could probably do the same sort of thing for your artwork, although you might need more layers of foam board to make your box deep enough to avoid crushing the leaves. That's a pretty piece, by the way - my compliments to your wife.
posted by Quietgal at 9:05 AM on November 2, 2007

I would hire a specialized art shipper and purchase insurance for the piece. The gallery owner would be a good resource, or any artist friends that she might have, or anyone who has purchased art from her before in the Chicago area and purchases art on a regular basis. Personal recommendations are key.

That is a beautiful piece. I'm sure you're very proud of your wife--I would be--wow! So make sure to take care of it. :)
posted by sondrialiac at 9:09 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I failed to mention that if you have an art shipper crate it and/or ship it for you, they will possibly have their own insurance arrangements, which could give you and the buyer additional peace of mind.

Another good place to ask might be a local museum. Museums often loan each other valuable artworks, and they probably have a relationship with a good art shipper.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:12 AM on November 2, 2007

Wow. THese look super delicate. If this were me, and I'd been paid well for them, I'd probably rent a truck and drive them myself from Chicago to California, with each laying on their backs on the floor, surrounded by foam or a frame to keep them still. I just can't see any way you could feasibly protect those enough to sleep at night.

They're beautiful, BTW.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 9:23 AM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of affixing the panels to a sturdy frame, then encasing that frame in an air-inflated plastic cover. Thick plastic sheeting, puffed up with air, sealed at the edges with a heat gun. Put the frame in the crate leaves side up, fill the remaining crate space with light styro on top of the plastic protective bubble.

Good luck!
posted by cior at 9:33 AM on November 2, 2007

ICON is a well known Chicago art mover. I don't know if they go to California though. They would have a packing service too. And I would not send it UPS.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:42 AM on November 2, 2007

Nthing the specialized art shipper. Be aware that it will cost a lot (like $1-2000).
posted by infinitewindow at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2007

Speak to these guys. Chicagoland specialists in packing and shipping fine art.
posted by brautigan at 9:46 AM on November 2, 2007

ICON's crating service page, even if you don't use them to ship it.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:49 AM on November 2, 2007

How about sliding each piece into a 6- or 8-inch diameter sonotube, and then a screw from the outside of the sonotube into the back of the piece (or some kind of strapping attached to the back of the piece)?
posted by Rock Steady at 11:06 AM on November 2, 2007

Thank you everybody! Both my wife and I have been overwhelmed by the responses and suggestions and are incredibly grateful.

We're going to try creating a frame with slots and then pack the frame in a sturdy box with Styrofoam surrounding the frame. We considered using a specialized art shipper but the shipping cost would be more than double the price of the piece!

For all of you that liked it, my wife (who's more talented than I could possibly ever dream of being) is making them to order, though future ones will have a wider border around the panels to make packing easier. You can view her Etsy page here.

Thanks again and I'll let you know how the shipping goes.
posted by phixed at 11:19 AM on November 2, 2007

I would be concerned that vibration, or a drop, could cause the leaves to break..

If that isn't a problem, it isn't too hard to pack effectively.. Double box as follows.

First create an internal package for each panel:
Rigidly attach panel to a backing (plywood?). Attach a 'roll-cage' frame to that backing (2x2 wood posts?). Seal this assembly with panels so there can be no intrusion (glue cardboard to the 2x2s, probably best to do it double thick). The structure must be strong enough to withstand a drop, but it doesn't need to absorb shocks, that will be taken care of later.
Attach the 4 panel packages together rigidly, to create a single large internal package. Rigid and strong connection is important, they must not bump against each other.

Finally, get a box that is at least 10" larger than the internal package in every dimension. Suspend the internal package in the middle of the external box (5" from any side) using peanuts or balled up newsprint. Don't over fill - the box sides should not bulge at all when the lid is sealed up.
posted by Chuckles at 11:29 AM on November 2, 2007

then pack the frame in a sturdy box with Styrofoam surrounding the frame.

Styrofoam chips (or peanuts, or whatever), I think.. Styrofoam sheeting might transfer shocks from the external box to the internal package.
posted by Chuckles at 11:33 AM on November 2, 2007

A couple other thoughts on attaching the pieces to a larger frame, in case the slotted frame proves difficult - by the edges, using copious numbers of plastic mirror clips, or directly to the back using something from the 3M Command Adhesive line.

I wonder if you should be thinking about the particular carrier as well - i.e. whether FedEx or whoever is more likely to provide personalized attention to the package if you clarify its issues before hand. I don't have an answer to that but maybe some others will weigh in.

Finally, duh, but make sure you insure it fully.
posted by nanojath at 12:31 PM on November 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

The one concern I have with the slots is side-to-side movement with the width of the edge only being 1/8". Basically you want no movement at all within that frame or the leaves on the edges could be broken. Also, it might be best to make the wooden frame more like an actual crate, to be put within a larger box or crate with foam/peanuts/whatever in between.

Really interesting art, BTW.
posted by 6550 at 12:56 PM on November 2, 2007

A few words of advice from someone who works in cargo claims and sees large, expensive and sentimental items (including artwork) get damaged in transit all the time. I can't tell you how best to package your artwork, but I can tell you this:

A few people above mentioned hiring an art shipper. This is a good idea, but make sure you read their terms and conditions of shipment, specifically their limits of liability. If the shipment is damaged in transit, will the art shipper reimburse you in full or defer you to the carrier's limits, leaving you to deal with the claims process and ultimately only collecting a check for $50?

You can also look into hiring a cargo underwriter if you plan on packing and shipping it yourself. It's basically insurance offered by a third party; typically it is more favorable than the carrier's policies, and much easier to deal with. The underwriter cuts you a check based on your coverage and deals with collecting from the carrier themselves.

BUYING "INSURANCE" FROM THE CARRIER MAY NOT BE ENOUGH TO PROTECT THE VALUE OF YOUR CARGO. Day in and day out I see people who insure their shipments for thousands of dollars, only to find out after their shipment is destroyed in transit that deep in our terms and conditions is a clause stating that we'll only reimburse for the cost of materials (canvas, paper, etc.) or that glass and ceramics fall under lesser liability limits.

Just be warned. Limits of liability are important, so make sure you know who is going to assume responsibility for any damage that occurs during transit, and how much you will be compensated for it.

Another thing, VERY IMPORTANT:

Also, make sure the recipient opens the crate and inspects the piece before signing any delivery document. This is the other thing that burns lots of people who don't really deserve it. When you sign the delivery receipt, you are telling the carrier you received the shipment in good condition. Most people sign it without even checking the contents, and then when they go to make a claim on their insured shipment, it gets denied because the recipient signed a document saying they received it in good condition. Therefore, we assume the damage occurred AFTER it was delivered, while the shipment was in the recipient's possession. And hence their claim gets denied, leaving them out thousands of dollars, even though the shipment was insured. This applies to all shipments, not just large freight.

I point all this out to you because you don't seem like the type to ship large cargo regularly, and you're the type of customer that too often gets screwed in the end.

posted by Ziggy Zaga at 4:35 PM on November 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Double boxing is always a good idea.
posted by R. Mutt at 4:59 PM on November 2, 2007

I would actually consider building a box made of foam core board - such that the artwork can't move around even when shaken, and then pack that box inside a box. I'm at a loss as to what material to use to brace the front of the work so it won't shift and hit the side of the box however. Unless styrafoam peanuts won't damage it?

But that's mostly a suggestion I'm posting so I can thank you for linking the Etsy page - I enjoyed looking at her other work! But I'm still wildly curious - what kind of leaves are those? As in, what tree? I assume they didn't come off the tree that way, but the shape looks so familiar...
posted by batgrlHG at 5:57 PM on November 2, 2007

I'd love a follow-up on this one.
posted by nanojath at 1:42 PM on November 6, 2007

Update! The piece was boxed up and shipped out this morning. While we aren't sure if it arrived intact yet, we're pretty confident that it will. The total cost for shipping and supplies was $145, not bad, but we only charged $25 for shipping and handling. It's ok though, we see it as a lesson learned and are just excited to have figured out a way to send it.

Click here for a slide show outlining the steps we took to send it.

Thanks again everybody for your help!
posted by phixed at 7:04 AM on November 19, 2007

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