Summertime Shipping Fiascos

Posted June 27, 2017
Wine Heat Damage

Avoid Baking Your Wine

Summer is upon us, and while we humans take restful holidays, our art may be hard at work, in dreadful heat, being shipped from place to place. It’s during the transit process that art and collectibles are at their most vulnerable to damage. It’s worth reviewing a few shipping fiascos, while keeping in mind tricks-of-the-trade to avoid them.


It’s nice to think that while we as customers are enjoying cocktails on the beach, the transit companies we hire to ship our Picasso’s are hard at work all weekend long, even over a 4th of July weekend.  Unless you’ve hired a specialty firm, chances are your driver is sitting poolside enjoying his/her own cocktail on family vacation, while your paintings suffer from neglect.

I try to avoid shipping over the holidays, period.  There’s just too much that can go wrong.  It’s especially important during seasons where weather can be extreme.  July 4th is often a very hot time of year for much of the country.  Given the opportunity, drivers will take a holiday, leaving your valuables at high risk of being damaged or lost in a third party warehouse or worse yet, stuck in the back of the truck for a few days abandoned without climate control.  Even if you paid for climate controlled trucking, if they temporarily store your items over a holiday weekend, that may not be available.  These large warehouse depots are impressive commercial operations where your art is treated just like the palettes of canned baked beans served at the BBQ.  It’s an added high risk opportunity for damage, best avoided.


Did you know that unless your shipping contract specifies otherwise, your goods can be passed from truck to truck to truck along its shipping route?  Worse yet, the company your hired at the start can pass your art to a different company, and they in tern can do the same with another company…  Third party shippers don’t always comply with the terms of your agreement, because they didn’t make it with you.

I’ve seen paperwork trails during claims processes that show up to 4 different trucking companies passing goods from one to another.  In one case, a reputable art shipper contracted with a client in New York to send millions worth of paintings to a new home.  During the thousand-mile route, the art was transferred twice to cheaper and less experienced trucking companies.  By the time the art was in the hands of the third company, it was no longer protected by climate controls, the driver of the truck didn’t have a driver’s license, and had been released from prison only weeks prior.  A claim was filed when the art didn’t arrive at its destination, and the truck and driver had gone AWOL.


When it comes to trucking valuables, climate controlled cargo is the preferred method of shipment, even for items relatively stable like furniture.  Unfortunately for some, the extra cost outweighs the perceived risk and they forgo climate control with disastrous results.

In one case, a multi-generational collection of fine wines was trucked across the country heading south during the hottest week of the year.  During part of the trip, the wines mysteriously ended up in non-refrigerated cargo – an unforgiving error.  You can guess how it turned out…  Most of the wines had gotten so hot they pushed out their corks, soaked their containers with wine, and were undrinkable.  Millions worth of fine wines were “baked”.

In another case, exposed to high levels of heat, protective blankets meant to pad antique furniture had fused to and imprinted the surface of the items.  On an antique where the original finish is highly prized, restoration was of little help.  And it’s no fun trying to piece back together the peeled puzzle of decorative inlays.

The International Safe Transit Association warns that the temperature inside trucking trailers can reach in excess of 140 degrees on a hot day in Texas – that’s while the truck is moving and benefiting from air circulation.  Trailers get even hotter sitting in a parking lot.  That’s hot enough to make bubble wrap stick like glue to an acrylic painted surface leaving a polka-dot pattern.  Yes, that’s actually happened.  And if you consider the recent heatwave scorching the Southwest last week, breaking 119 degrees in Phoenix, you could probably bake a cake in a non-cooled cargo space.


Even when using the best art shippers, there are times when the process is out of the shipper’s control and we have to pray for the best.  One such time is when items are shipped via airfreight.  This is the period after the shipper releases the items to airline handlers and before it gets safely tucked into the cargo area of the plane (and vice versa).  Given the way airline regulations work, it’s the cargo handlers and TSA inspectors – not the fine art shippers – who work with your items at the airport.  Imagine your art dealer in Dallas is shipping a work to you in Boston.  The fastest and safest way to get it there is by air, but it’s summertime, and it’s 110 degrees in Dallas, and there’s stormy rain in Boston.  If your crate happens to be one of the lucky ones that’s on the tarmac at lunchtime when the union calls break, that crate will sit there baking in the Dallas sun until they return.  The same can happen in Boston, that poor crate now being soaked with rain.  It’s happened, and it’s rather unnerving if you’re a courier watching it happen with not ability to change the process.

The best way to protect your art during these times is make sure the painting is housed inside a quality crate with the most thoughtfully engineered internal packing.  It’s amazing what an experienced crate maker can do these days.  ICEFAT in conjunction with museums and highly skilled craters have developed systems, materials, and standards for mitigating the damage of external extremes.  Obviously a good wooden crate protects the item from direct impacts, but careful selection of packing materials used inside can insulate a crate from extreme heat, or seal the box to prevent water intrusion.  Worth every penny in the right situations.


  1. Avoid shipping over the weekend and around holidays such as July 4th. Wait for a Monday or Tuesday, and for a holiday free week of travel (or two).
  2. Use fine art shippers who have exclusive networks of fine art shuttles, and when necessary, restrict carriage to owned vehicles within a single company – no transfers to third parties or warehouses.
  3. Specify in the contract that climate control must be used on all legs, in all storage and transit containers.
  4. Hire expert crate makers for sensitive items traveling to dramatically different climates. Skilled craters can mitigate fluctuations in temperature and moisture through crate engineering.
  5. When in doubt, work with an experienced independent advisor who can oversee the transit, contracts, and crating on your behalf.


All images and content copyright BMS Art Inc.

Top 5 Mistakes Framing Prints

Posted December 14, 2015

Archival pigment print by Jean-Pierre Hébert, Courtesy of the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art

Printed images are everywhere, from the Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs hanging in the Art Institute of Chicago, to the new media images on exhibition at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, to photographs and editions on display in collector’s homes. Understanding how fragile these works are and noticing the variety of framing techniques being used by museums, private collections, and commercial galleries, I began to wonder what “good” framing actually means. And what are the best ways to protect these images?

To help answer this question, I sat down with Deborah Wood, an independent curator working with the Art Institute of Chicago’s Department of Prints and Drawings, to learn about the issues she encounters most often. Considering Wood’s advice, we developed a top-five list of useful tips that can help collector’s better understand mistakes framing prints and the long-term impact on works on paper.


In Wood’s experience, thinking an expensive framer will automatically be a good framer, is by far the biggest mistake. Many framers are not professionally trained in handling and preserving printed artworks. All too often, flashy and expensive materials that look great are recommended, and actually cause damage to the artwork over time.

Don’t fall for the “expensive is best” trap. What is most important is that the materials and services you are paying for account for the object’s future. Look for framers with conservation or museum backgrounds and listen for recommendations geared toward protecting the integrity of the work.

It’s also a good idea when buying a work that is already framed to have it inspected by a professional framer. In some cases, works framed by dealers and artists are meant for short term display, are more cost conscious, and reframing is expected.


When matting a work on paper, it is recommended that the material be pure cotton rag mat board and not contain wood pulp. Cotton is what museums prefer and is more historically proven, although there are newer products available which are chemically buffered wood pulp based mat boards, which are intended to trap acid away from the artwork. Wood pulp based products are inherently acidic and can damage the work over time causing unsightly yellowing or browning of the paper, known as “mat burn”.

Backing boards are the rigid material used to support the artwork from behind. This is where many framers fall short using a combination of mat boards, foam core, fiberboard and/or cardboard. Wood pulp based boards and foams are acid containing products and should never be allowed to come into contact with a work on paper.


Hinging is the process of attaching paper to a backing board so that the paper is securely held in place, while being allowed to move naturally within the frame. As temperature and humidity change throughout the seasons, so too does the shape of the paper inside its frame. The mistake is applying too many hinges, which can restrict movement and cause stress to the artwork, sometimes leading to excessive buckling or tears. In most cases, two hinges applied to the upper corners is sufficient, and should be made of acid free paper and removable water based conservator’s paste.

Never allow the use of modern tape as a fastening device! Masking, clear, and packing tapes, applied with abandon since their invention in the 30s are known to the conservation community as “job security”. They contain acidic glues not intended for long-term use, and their materials become brittle, brown and sometimes permanent reminders of poor framing.


Framing mistakes also include the choice of glazing and where the art is destined to hang. Unfortunately, what allows us to see the work on paper is destined by nature to destroy it, so considerations of lighting and the restriction thereof are crucial.

Resist the temptation to bathe your printed work in direct light. Whether it is illuminated by sunlight or by an artificial light source, they all contain damaging ultra violet rays, which will cause your work to discolor and become brittle over time. Not surprisingly changes are hard to notice since they happen gradually. After years of exposure, when it’s time to donate or sell the work, owner’s are shocked to learn how much the work has degraded and how severely fading affects value.

Technology has thankfully produced several solutions for reducing UV light exposure, without having to keep your works on paper in complete darkness. There are UV covers for light bulbs, UV filtering glazing, windows manufactured with UV blocking characteristics, and even film that can be applied to older windows to cut down on the harmful rays. The most recommended solution is to use UV filtering glass when framing, and reduce light exposure in general.

Don’t let claims that the inks used in the artist’s process will never fade, reducing the need for UV filtering glass. Conservators have yet to discover colored commercial pigments guaranteed not to fade for any reason. And keep in mind, UV filtering products have a limited lifespan and may need to be replaced over time to remain effective.


Finally, it is absolutely necessary to know how your printed work was created and with what media. This information is crucial for long-term care and preservation. New media prints can look like they were made with commonly known materials but react very differently. If you are not sure how something was printed, Wood suggests thinking conservatively and assuming that it was made with a water-based material, common for many printed images such as photographs and digital art.

Should you ever need conservator, it would be beneficial to know the exact process or ink type that was used. Identifiable materials can be researched and even traced back to their manufacturer to obtain vital information, which can save an artwork.

– Authored by Alexandra Senycia, Intern, BMS Art Consulting