Art Collections and Natural Disasters

As east Texas continues to evaluate the disaster that was Ike, as New Orleans continues to clean up from the disaster that was Ivan, as the Midwest continues to recover from the flooding of the last year, the attention of the art world remains mostly on the institutional art collections in these areas. Mine is drawn to the truly great repositories of art, the private collections. Maybe you only have a few nice prints, maybe you have a collection of originals worth thousands. And no matter what the level of collection you have, the value of your personal family albums is probably greater than any consideration of art. But it is worth giving some thought to the possibility of safeguarding your collection from fire, flood, or other disaster – and to know what can be done after a disaster strikes.

I’ve culled a few tips from the Chicago Conservation Center, which has a good deal of experience with art conservation in both private and institutional collections. They were involved in the recovery efforts in New Orleans and the Midwest.

From their Disaster Preparedness Tip Sheet

It is important to have a thorough inventory of the entire collection. This should include the artist, title, subject, date, size, medium, inscriptions or markings, distinguishing features, condition history, the value if known and a photographic image. While it is best to have this survey professionally done to ensure that all relevant information is recorded, another starting point is OBJECT ID, which provides an internationally recognized checklist. A copy of this inventory should be kept in a secure location at a site separate from the collection so it can be preserved in the event of any harm that may occur to the collection itself. If your collection survey is prepared by a professional conservator, they will also keep a copy of these records for you in secure storage. In the event of a loss this information will ease recovery. This is particularly true in the case of theft as the information can be easily updated to the Art Loss Registry.

And from this tip sheet on Disaster Response Procedures

The works of art should be removed from the fire, water or mold-damaged environment as soon as possible. Even if the scene appears secure there may still be particulates and other debris in the air that can settle upon and further damage the art.

After a water loss, never lean damaged works of art upright . Lay them flat on a level surface to prevent water from running down the piece and pooling at the bottom, which can cause severe localized damage. It is easier to restore a piece that has moderate damage dispersed evenly across the surface than to repair radical damage concentrated in one area.

Wet photos, books, postcards, stamps or documents that have stuck together should not be separated.   Either freeze them or keep them wet and send them overnight in a cooler packed with gel-packs to prevent thawing or drying.

If a piece under glass appears to be stuck to the glass, do not attempt to separate it , as this will likely cause additional damage. Use masking tape to mark the glass with an so that if the glass breaks during shipping, the tape can hold the broken shards of glass in place and prevent further damage to the piece. 

The CCC website is a wealth of similar tips and information. I suggest a careful browse, and since by definition we never know when the unexpected would occur – the sooner the better.

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~ by David Cupp on September 15, 2008.

One Response to “Art Collections and Natural Disasters”

  1. Art Collections and Natural Disasters…

    As east Texas continues to evaluate the disaster that was Ike, as New Orleans continues to clean up from the disaster that was Ivan, as the Midwest continues to recover from the flooding of the last year, the attention of the art world ……

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