Usually in our monthly newsletter, we often highlight the extraordinary art and heirloom pieces that The Conservation Center has cared for. And while we couldn’t fulfill the company’s mission without our expert conservators, they are in fact only a part of our whole team. Equally important—and often billed as the “gears and the grease” that keep the company running—to what we do here is The Conservation Center’s expert Shipping and Installation team: the skilled professionals whom we trust with valuable pieces, who spend most days out in the field with their boots on the ground, and who are instrumental in cultivating on-site relationships with our clients.
An art handler’s core responsibility is to protect art and heirloom pieces from sustaining further damage while they are moved from one place to another. But merely ensuring the safety of fine art is too broad of a description to encompass what The Center’s Shipping and Installation team actually does. The art handlers’ day-to-day tasks are essential to preventative care, mainly making sure that a conservator’s work doesn’t become undone and to avoid further damage in transport. Proper art packing is a service The Center offers that is extremely important. This process involves the construction of portfolios and “shadow boxes,” a thick cardboard box fit to the measurements of the piece it protects, as well as coordinating the logistics of artworks to and from our conservation studio. This includes uninstalling, shipping, and reinstalling pieces in private homes and/or businesses after they have been treated. Our preparators are also the first on the scene in the case of an art emergency, and have actually driven round the clock to arrive at locations in need of our immediate help. Every hour counts in these situations, and the Shipping and Installation team always arrive calm and collected—ready with a game plan to remedy potential hazardous situations for the pieces.
Additionally, but just as importantly, an art handler needs to be spatially oriented before the job even begins. “I’m always aware of the space I’m working in: measuring angles, counting the steps, taking a mental snapshot and inventory before moving a piece,” says Alfredo Garcia, one of The Center’s most seasoned art handlers. The hard work that goes into coordinating and successfully executing their daily responsibilities is not what makes Shipping and Installation team extraordinary, rather, it is their shared philosophy. “Whether it is a piece that has sentimental value or something worth millions, it doesn’t change the way we do things,” says another senior member of the team, Sean Roach, whose art handling ideology is echoed by his coworker, Jesus Mejia. “We have developed and refined a sensitivity to fine art which applies not just to the piece we are handling on any given day, but to fine art as a whole. It is something you learn along the way; it’s what makes an exceptional art handler."
This should come as no surprise, as the entirety of our art handlers are accomplished artists in their own right. They all began a career handling fine art while studying in college. All of our handlers hold advanced degrees in various mediums ranging from painting to sculpture. “To be afforded the opportunity, through working at The Conservation Center, to always be around art, has inspired my own creativity and allowed me to mature as an artist,” says Jesus. This notion is seconded by Alfredo, who makes it a daily point to absorb as much of what he can from the pieces and objects that come through The Center. “Every day there is new artwork; it used to be unexpected, how much I would learn about myself as an artist, from merely being around it all. Now, after nearly a decade, I look back and am able to recognize how this exposure has directly influenced my personal preferences and tailored how I choose to express myself through the artwork I create.” Our preparators certainty are afforded an intimate experience with art objects, of which not even the luckiest individuals are privy.
But being an art handler cannot always be so enjoyable and inspiring, or can it? “Not every day is proverbially sunny,” answers Paul Kirk, the team's leader. “When there are two of us, moving a 600 pound sculpture from a gallery or museum, or even in someone’s home, and it suddenly starts to downpour or snow, or whatever might happen, then no, I’m not taking the time to become inspired. I’m only thinking about how we can now, very quickly, move this piece without exposing it to potential damage.” There is the inevitable reality of being human and the mistake of damaging a piece while handling it, this is why The Conservation Center has an experienced Shipping and Installation team. Their over 50 years of combined experience allow them to know how to approach difficult situations, there is no variable our art handlers haven’t seen and nothing that they can’t anticipate.