Moving Fine Art is an Art

William C Huffby Jim Henderson
President of William C. Huff Companies and national speaker for estate downsizing and lifestyle transitions

Most homeowners have accumulated an array of collectibles over the years – everything from porcelain figurines to oil paintings; some never being moved for fear of damage.

A client recently asked me how to clean and/or move these types of items. Not having specific answers, I consulted Gordon Lewis of the Fine Art Conservancy of West Palm Beach. He is one of the foremost experts on porcelains, fine art and heirloom pieces in the United States. Although our company has extensive training and experience in art handling, cleaning was not our area of expertise.

With the valuable information obtained from Gordon, we decided to present a workshop at the National Estate Management Association’s Convention in September.

Our tips included: never completely immerse antique porcelains in water; a soft brush, damp cloth and mild dishwashing detergent may be used but only while cleaning a small portion at a time; and tap water has carbon dioxide which can create a chemical reaction with the minerals in the porcelain clays. Last spring, I watched a client soak several valuable porcelains in soapy water for hours; we can only hope that there was no damage.

A tip from Merv Richards, Chief Conservator for the National Gallery of Art, is never use white cotton gloves when handling art, sculptures and heirloom pieces. Cotton lint can change the patina on bronze or stainless sculptures and hand oils and sweat can seep through causing discoloration. Common grocery store Butyl-Nitrile gloves are preferred.

The most important thing to consider before cleaning or moving collectibles is your insurance company’s protocol for the appraised piece of art which avoids unnecessary risks and/or claims.

When working with a client who had paintings that were valued in the $20 million dollar range, I consulted Richards who said standard protocol was to prevent paintings from ever being carried.

They should be taken down and carefully placed into custom made wooden crates, then dollied, not carried in and out of the truck and home. Insurance companies calculate that the biggest risk of damage to fine art is not in the actual transportation but, in the improper crating and hand carrying.

Whenever there is a question regarding how to properly clean or handle valuables, never hesitate to contact us, a professional conservator or restoration specialist.

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