Art & Specialty Claims Assistance

“I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know where to FIND it when I need it.”

-Albert Einstein

When encountering damaged art and speciality collection items, many claims professionals are uncertain about replacement cost values, available repair options or the cost effectiveness of treatments and repairs. For example, we received an email from an adjuster seeking information about a broken antique statue:

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Unknowns and uncertainties can be frustrating for both insureds and claims professionals. The difficulty of working through the due diligence research may slow down the process of closing a file. Having a go-to resource for general information makes it easier to gather practical options and recommendations on how to proceed.

Here is the information we were able to provide on this particular claim:

Hi, (Adjuster)!

Thanks for sending over the pictures. Based on the color, oxidation and the damage (which indicates that it is quite brittle), I think this is probably a cast zinc statue. These were less expensive alternatives to bronze or marble sculptures and they were mostly produced between the 1850s and 1950s.

The value range can be pretty wide and with a bit of Googling, you’ll find that higher value zinc sculptures are in sound condition, are attributed to a well known sculptor or have some other provenance that may support a higher value than the mass produced, consumer or decorative varieties.

I found a similar sized garden piece in excellent shape that recently sold at auction for $800. However, it is in excellent shape without serious pitting or oxidation. The auction reserve on it pre-sale was $1,000 - $2,000. Probably an unrealistic price expectation, in my opinion. Here's the link:

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Some antique zinc statues of this type do appear for sale for thousands of dollars, but as I mentioned, they possess some unique quality or artist attribution that may justify a higher price in the minds of some dealers.

If I had to give an educated guess on an estimate for this one in pre-loss condition, I would suggest a $200-$300 estimated RCV. Of course, there may be some information that the insured has that we don't know, which could marginally move this figure up or down. Even still, I don’t think that repair would be cost-effective or worthwhile in this case.

If you’re interested in reading more, here is a Smithsonian article about zinc sculptures:

Feel free to give me a call if you want to discuss this further. Hope this is helpful!

We are not appraisers, and in many cases, opinions on valuation are subjective. In some instances, you may find that you need to work with a professional appraiser, and in others you may just need some good working knowledge to get you started in resolving a claim.

If this type of information would be useful in pointing you in the right direction on a claim involving fine art or specialty collections, let us know. This information took about 20 minutes to put together and was provided to the adjuster free of charge.

America’s First Traitor – Espionage, Treason and Exile


Portrait of Edward Church, an oil painting on canvas by Jacques-Antoine Vallin, was brought to Carolina Conservation after suffering severe fire damage in our client’s home. As Edward Church’s great (times six!) grandson, our client is a direct descendant with a wealth of knowledge about his ancestor and the accompanying portrait of him.

Dr. Benjamin Church Jr.

Dr. Benjamin Church Jr.

He says that the story begins (and largely centers around) Dr. Benjamin Church Jr., Edward’s brother. Benjamin became rather infamous for his role as a Boston revolutionary and has been depicted by some historians as “America’s first traitor,” most notably because of his alleged espionage during the American Revolution. Benjamin was initially one of the main leaders to separate from England, writing newspaper articles, poems and other literature on his Whig ties. He was even chosen to escort George Washington to his new command post in Cambridge after being selected by the Philadelphia Congress. Not only was he an integral, if not mostly unknown, part of American history, he was also a revered surgeon and operated on John Adams. He inoculated soldiers, including Adams, for smallpox during the war and consequently saved many people during an epidemic. Benjamin was the leader of the Continental Forces until Washington arrived and was then appointed Surgeon General.

Things took a different turn when a coded letter Benjamin had written to his brother-in-law, a known Tory, was discovered. The letter was decoded and painted Benjamin as a traitor who had intended the letter to be given to the British. As a result, he was arrested and court marshaled. Scholars still debate whether or not he was guilty, despite the fact that he admitted the letter was indeed intended for the British. Benjamin always asserted that, though he wrote the letter as a way of contacting America’s rivals, it was purely a means of discouraging the British from attacking them. The letter included misinformation as a way to throw off the British and put a stop to the obvious slaughter he was sure that would happen if they attacked America’s far less prepared infantry. Even after defending himself, the majority of Benjamin’s colleagues said he should be put in jail and many even wanted him hung for treason. While he was in jail, he was unable to write or have visitors – not even his lawyer.

George Washington himself stepped forward during this period and said that no law against treason had been established in America, making it unethical to keep Benjamin jailed. He iterated that, until America wrote its own laws, they wouldn’t be able to convict him for treason. However, they exiled Benjamin as retribution and boarded him on a ship that was set for the West Indies. The ship was lost at sea and Benjamin Church was never seen or heard from again.

Before Benjamin was exiled, his brother, Edward, did everything he could to get him out of jail. Because of his association with his brother, his house was looted and his reputation was tarnished. Edward impoverished himself trying to vindicate his brother – writing lawyers, sending letters and trying to prove Benjamin’s innocence. Perhaps as an act of compassion, George Washington personally appointed Edward as America’s first Ambassador to Portugal, where he served for ten years. Eventually Edward was able to separate himself from his disgraced brother and was asked to live in Paris during the French Revolution so he could be the eyes and ears of America. During this time, the Portrait of Edward Church was painted. It was created in 1809 when Edward was 69 years old, though he’s depicted as being much more youthful. It is believed that the painting was framed in 1811 and eventually shipped to America that same year. During the painting’s journey, the ship was intercepted by a British vessel that looted the ship and kidnapped Edward’s servant. The painting, however, remained untouched and continued its voyage to America.

The painting changed hands between relatives through the years and eventually ended up in California during the San Francisco Fire of 1851. Amazingly, the painting remained unscathed, despite the fact that the fire destroyed as much as three quarters of the city. As time went on, the painting continued to be handed from relative to relative (there were 200 Church relatives at this point) and was subsequently stored in a warehouse during the 1920s. Our client’s grandmother received a letter from the owner of the warehouse during this time saying that the storage fee hadn’t been paid in quite some time. She instantly sent a check to him and ultimately acquired the painting. The work was virtually black, as it had deteriorated with time and its varnish continued to darken over the years. Our client’s grandmother finally sent the painting to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1970s to be restored. Before this, the painting had never undergone any conservation treatments. After inheriting the painting and its stories years later, our client took an avid interest in learning his ancestor’s history.

Portrait of Edward Church  under UV light

Portrait of Edward Church under UV light

Unfortunately, our client’s home suffered a fire, and his cherished painting was severely damaged. Because of the damage, the conservation work on this painting will be lengthy and technical. In general, the goal of the first phase of treatment will be the reversal of fire damage and those previous restorations that the fire has caused to fail. This phase of treatment will involve the removal of a heavy layer of soot and the damaged varnish, which will likely include the removal of extensive previous retouching. The next phase of treatment will involve various undertakings to stabilize the painting. This will require the reversal of a failing and very damaged previous lining and of failing previously repaired tears and moisture treatment to return the canvas into the correct plane. This phase will include stabilization of the blistering and bubbling paint layer. The later phases of treatment will involve restorative treatments such as relining the painting to a new canvas support and stretching it to a newer, lighter stretcher, the addition of a new varnish layer, filling losses and reintegrating the areas of loss by retouching with reversible, conservation retouching pigments. The ultimate goal of treatment is full restoration of the portrait, returning it in appearance to 100% pre-loss condition. It is expected that after treatment the painting will be more structurally sound and will have a higher level of fills and retouching and will likely be in better condition than it was previous to the fire loss.

We are excited to see the outcome of the painting’s conservation and are confident that it will be restored and proudly redisplayed in our client’s home. Preserving our clients’ most precious items is our passion and we’re always eager to hear about why each piece is meaningful – in this case, both personally and historically.


Assessing the Kress Collection

An archetype for the self-made man, Samuel H. Kress was the son of a humble retail merchant who went from working in a stone quarry to building a business empire and becoming one of our country’s greatest fine art philanthropists.

In 1887, Kress opened the first location of his “Kress Five and Dime” chain of stores in Pennsylvania. By the 1920s, Kress’ entrepreneurial success afforded him a penthouse on Fifth Avenue across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. As active as Kress was as an entrepreneur, he was equally as active in collecting European masterpieces and promoting art-related philanthropy in America. Before his death in 1955, Kress had donated a large portion of his collection to museums across the country.

These donations helped to establish the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. as well as smaller local museums that otherwise would not have been able to afford Old Masters for their galleries. Kress’ collection focuses on European art from the 13th to 19th centuries, with a who’s who list of names you’re likely familiar with, including Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Bosch and Dürer.

While the S. H. Kress & Co. did operate a store in Columbia, South Carolina, Kress’ biggest impression on the state’s capital was made through his 1954 donation of 78 Renaissance and Baroque pieces to the Columbia Museum of Art, which was designated as a regional center by the Kress Foundation.


Though some of these works, including a Botticelli, are on display, a number of the pieces are currently stored in the CMA’s less traversed quarters, in a secure room below the main gallery floors. To further support the original goal of introducing European art to the public set forth by the Kress Foundation, the Columbia Museum of Art will loan out pieces from their portion of the collection to other institutions and museum in a traveling exhibition. The exhibition is funded by a grant the CMA secured through the Kress Foundation.


Before the selected works could be deemed fit for travel, the CMA contacted Carolina Conservation to perform the condition assessments. Through an on-site evaluation with CMA curators and registrars, Carolina Conservation’s Lead Paintings Conservator Jennifer Bullock worked to outline the overall condition of each piece, one dating as early as 1290, included in the proposed exhibition. Through creation of these condition reports, Bullock helped the museum staff to determine the risk factors for each piece, noting any issues such as flaking paint, loose panel supports and unstable frames that may need to be addressed before crating and shipping of the collection.


Understanding that a collection will be going out on loan and will be subsequently packed, unpacked, repacked and shipped multiple times, requires an in-depth examination of conditional issues that may worsen during the frequent handling and shipping. While stable enough for storage in a museum vault, the collection will require some preventative conservation prior to the level of handling and manipulation required for a traveling exhibition.


During the on-site evaluation, Bullock was able to educate the CMA’s curators, registrars and preparators about the specific reasons each piece would or would not be suited to travel in its current state. This discussion combined with detailed condition reports better prepares museum staff to make decisions about their interventive and preventative conservation options and helps to mitigate concerns over loaning out such an important collection.

The assessment concluded that the majority of the pieces were safe to travel to different museums and institutions throughout the country, though there were nine frames deemed high-risk for travel due to structural issues. In these cases, treatment recommendations were made to outline the work necessary to address the potential risks in handling frames with structural and superficial damage. These treatments will be carried out prior to the exhibition hitting the road early 2020.


If you are a small museum or institution in need of on-site collection assessment, we are happy to offer our services. Call us at 803-781-1515 for more information or to set up an appointment.


A Day in the Life of An Art Handler


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.



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.


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 👏🙏


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.



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.