A Day in the Life of An Art Handler

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Packing up a natural history museum’s worth of taxidermy? Check. Full Tyvek suits and respirators in 105-degree weather? Check. Surviving off canned tuna in the wake of a hurricane landfall? Double check. You won’t see the same day twice as an Art Handler at Carolina Conservation, but that’s what gives the job its appeal to our incredibly dedicated and talented crew.

Because Carolina Conservation works nationwide to save our client’s collections, our Art Handlers are constantly on the road and have collectively logged over a million miles across the highways and byways of the U.S. One of our latest trips to Pittsburg, P.A. proved particularly interesting and painted an accurate picture of what their (often hectic) day-to-day life can look like.

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Tuesday

7 a.m. – Our Art Handling team packed the Sprinter van with all 160 items from a client’s completed job. The extremely fragile collection included delicate ceramics and ornate antique mirrors requiring specialized packing for travel. Proper load arrangement and packing ensures that no items are at risk during transit- even in the event we have to suddenly hit the brakes when cut off by a texting driver

11 a.m. – After our high-stakes game of Van Tetris, we hit the road for Pittsburgh, P.A.

5 p.m. – While driving through the Virginia National Forest and the majority of West Virginia, we endured a blizzard and near total darkness. While not ideal driving weather, we preferred it to the hurricane force winds and severe flooding we’ve experienced in the past

10 p.m. – We arrived safely in Pittsburgh, P.A.

Wednesday

9 a.m. – Since businesses and schools were closed, the roads were quiet on the drive into the client’s office building. Unsurprising, as most sane people stay indoors when the wind chill is a record breaking -19° F. By comparison, the average February temperature at McMurdo Station in Antarctica is -16.2° F

9:30 a.m. – Upon arrival to the site, the receiving door was frozen shut. We devised a secondary plan to unload the collection in small batches into a cart that we wheeled into the building and up the elevator to the third and fifth floors. In many instances, we had to wait for the wind gusts to die down so the artwork wouldn’t fly away

11 a.m. – With no freight elevator access, we had to wait until the main elevators weren’t in use to accommodate our carts and collection items. At one point, a custom built ramp was used to unload a large piece of petrified wood weighing hundreds of pounds. Throughout the entire process, the wind got progressively worse and the temperature continued to drop

3 p.m. – After a final delivery inventory and client sign off, we got back on the road expecting to arrive back to the studio around midnight. After hitting an hour and a half traffic standstill in West Virginia, we made the decision to take a detour using an alternate route. In doing so, the van got stuck on a steep hill covered in ice and snow. The only signs of life around the area were a barn and an empty house at the bottom of the hill we were stuck on. Sleeping in the barn was not a desirable option

6:30 p.m. – After digging, pushing, shoving, kicking, swearing and exhausting every possible effort to free the van on our own, a roadside assistance dispatcher advised that we call highway patrol for help. Thankfully, officers showed up within 10 minutes. Using tow straps attached to their squad car, they were able to successfully pull the van out. High-five officers 👏🙏

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10 p.m. – After our West Virginia Icecapades, we were able to drive to a hotel in Fairmont, West Virginia, where we defrosted and (fortunately) did not have to sleep in a barn

Thursday –

4:30 a.m. – After filling our tanks and our bellies, we finished out the trek back to South Carolina

While no two days may ever look the same, our Art Handlers’ advance planning and ability to adapt strategies in the face of a challenge means we consistently deliver a high-level service experience no matter what the day presents. Amidst the hectic schedules, inclement weather and things not always going according to plan, our passion for helping our clients during an often-tumultuous time remains a constant. That, and a large coffee, too, if you please.

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Preserving Our Hometown’s Past

After being forgotten for nearly 105 years, an old marquee sign with historical significance was unveiled on January 17, 2019 at The Grand, a boutique bowling alley located on Main Street in downtown Columbia. The revealing of the sign marked the establishment’s one-year anniversary celebration and showcased the efforts being made by The Grand in preserving Columbia’s history.

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The Grand, which has become a local go-to venue for entertainment, was originally a Vaudeville House and theatre that operated until 1914. It is one of the oldest remaining structures on Main Street and was originally built in 1866. During demolition for reconstruction in 2017, the original theatre signage was discovered in the building’s basement.

“It was an exciting find,” said Greg Middleton, the developer for the project. “The old sign became our inspiration for naming the new restaurant and boutique bowling venue. It provides a window into the past, where entertainment and culture were a part of Columbia’s Main Street.”

After developers unearthed the sign, Carolina Conservation was brought on to stabilize and prepare it to be redisplayed at its former home in the Robinson Building. We were immediately eager to take on the project and play a part in preserving our hometown’s history. This would be no run-of-the-mill conservation endeavor.

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The new owners of the property wanted the sign to retain its distressed character, while being functional and illuminated as it was in the early 1900s. The client’s desire to present the finished project as a mix of past and present offered a unique challenge that excited our conservation team.

In order to restore the sign, much of the structurally unsound and otherwise compromised materials were removed during the complete disassembly of the sign. Where possible, original elements of the sign, including the sheet metal, lettering and hardware were reused. Some replacement components were fabricated using donor materials, including a bag of debris-filled dirt provided from the discovery site.

We had the privilege of consulting with conservators from the H.L. Hunley submarine project in Charleston, who helped us develop a plan for the stabilization of the severely rusted sheet metal and wrought iron components. The newer materials used were synthetically aged and distressed to match the condition of the original elements. Additionally, our conservators installed new wiring with vintage-style filament light bulbs in order to safely display the sign and ensure that it will function as it did nearly 100 years ago.

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As with all conservation treatments, maintaining the item’s integrity was of utmost importance. We wanted to ensure that The Grand’s sign was stabilized and preserved for future generations to appreciate and that the historic and cultural value would be maintained. In the event that future conservation should take place, unused components, including the debris from the bag of dirt, have been catalogued and returned along with the finished sign. Carolina Conservation was honored to help The Grand preserve part of its original history and create a piece that’s emblematic of the establishment in which it is now housed.

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Sources:

http://www.thegrandonmain.com/story





Working With a Masterpiece

After a yearlong stint at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Jackson Pollock’s 20-foot-wide Mural has made its way to Columbia, S.C. The 1943 painting, commissioned by Peggy Guggenheim, marks a significant turning point in Pollock’s career and carries an estimated value of $140 million.

Carolina Conservation was fortunate enough to play a part in the installation of this momentous piece in the Columbia Museum of Art. Three of our staff members helped remove the painting from its crate, transport it to the exhibition space and mount it to the wall. Our lead Paintings Conservator, Jennifer Bullock, also helped the museum’s registrar assess the painting and record the condition on the incoming loan condition assessment form. Additionally, she was able to take pictures of the areas of concern on the painting that will be included in the assessment.

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Jennifer saw firsthand the treatments that have been carried out and how the painting has been stabilized for the future by evaluating the outgoing loan assessment. This document is a record for the University of Iowa, the current owner of the painting, which shows each conservator or registrar’s notations every time the work changes locations. The painting is part of an international tour through England, Germany and Spain, as well as other American museums, requiring the document to accompany the work each time it moves to ensure stable conditions.

The work underwent several treatments that included varnish removal and a stretcher replacement at the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute in July 2012. It was there that the revelation was made that Pollock took weeks to complete the artwork, as opposed to a single day, which was previously considered the case. The 1943 work, which was created with oil and casein on canvas, demonstrates Pollock’s groundbreaking (and now trademark) artistic applications. Pollock’s largest work spans the entirety of two galleries and will eventually be housed in the University of Iowa’s future art museum.

Mural can be viewed at the Columbia Museum of Art from now until May 19, 2019.

Sources:

https://www.columbiamuseum.org/exhibitions/jackson-pollock

http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/pollock/

WWII Map Conservation

WWII Map Conservation

During WWII, pilots used air navigation charts with bomb targeting sites during their operations over enemy occupied territory. Maps like this were often hand held in the cockpit by pilots and navigators during numerous missions. After the war, many of these maps were lost, discarded or destroyed. Some airmen brought these maps home where they would become heirlooms and an important part of family history. 

On-Site Disaster Response for Collections

On-Site Disaster Response for Collections

Recently we were called by a client and asked to respond to a large loss where our staff would have to work in a sterile and secure environment. For several weeks we worked in isolation as we recovered and processed millions of dollars worth of contents that had been affected by a Category 3 water loss.

Death and Taxidermy

Death and Taxidermy

There are few things that are so certain in life. Sooner or later we’re all going to die. Fortunately for anyone reading this, it is highly unlikely that you will end up stuffed and hanging on the wall of someone’s den. Although, just as surely as you and I will kick the bucket one day, as a contents professional you are eventually bound to make the acquaintance of some creature that has met exactly that fate.

Shattered Plaster Relief

Shattered Plaster Relief

A private client recently asked for our help in repairing this beautiful plaster relief that belongs to his family. It was severely damaged when it was accidentally closed in a car trunk. Due to the high sentimental value of the relief, it was was extremely important to the client that it be repaired properly and professionally.

Look Closely....Verrry Closely!

Look Closely....Verrry Closely!

The microscopic view of soot deposits on a fire damaged painting shows areas of potential damage not visible to the naked eye. Where prolonged heat exposure has caused a bubbling of the paint layer, there is a risk of secondary damage during cleaning.

Color Matching and Retouching

Color Matching and Retouching

In cases where there has been a partial loss to the paint layers, the loss is filled and retouched using reversible fills and retouching pigments. In order to keep the viewer’s eye from being drawn to the repaired areas of loss, the conservator uses a retouching technique referred to as mimetic retouching.

DIY vs DDIY

DIY vs DDIY

The satisfaction that comes from completing a process that starts with asking yourself “How hard can it be?” and ends with “I really impressed myself,” is undeniable, but where are the DIYer’s limitations? It is possible to bite off a bit more than you can chew.